Technology

Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold invest in new fund to back metamaterials tech startups

A military-style Polaris RZR off-road vehicle plows through desert dunes with a Kymeta satellite antenna installed on top. Kymeta is one of the metamaterials companies that spun out of Intellectual Ventures, which has connections to a new venture fund backing startups in this space. (Kymeta Photo)

New fund: MetaVC Partners is raising its first fund to invest in early-stage startups in the metamaterials space. Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold, the Intellectual Ventures founder and CEO, are both investing in the fund. MetaVC Partners is based in San Francisco and was created by two physicists and tech industry veterans: Chris Alliegro and Conrad Burke.

Metamaterials uses: Metamaterials are manufactured materials that can have bizarre, wide-ranging properties and applications. They can shift the focus and path of electromagnetic waves without moving parts, manipulating light and energy. Metamaterials can be used to transmit power wirelessly, make cameras without glass lenses, build high-performing radar systems, amplify 5G internet signals and are being tested in self-driving cars.

Microsoft and Intellectual Ventures connections: The ties between MetaVC, Gates and Myhrvold all go back a few years, and in some cases decades.

On the Microsoft front, Gates was co-founder and CEO of the Redmond, Wash.-based company; Myhrvold was chief technology officer; and Alliegro was an executive there for six years beginning in 1995.

As to Bellevue, Wash.-based Intellectual Ventures, Myhrvold created it, Gates has helped fund the firm and Alliegro and Burke have both worked for it. Alliegro managed Intellectual Ventures’ Invention Development Fund for nearly eight years and its Invention Science Fund for the past two years, ending in April. Burke launched Intellectual Ventures’ Invention Science Fund Incubator in 2017. Earlier in his career he was founder and CEO of Innovalight, a nanomaterials company in the renewable energy space that was acquired by DuPont.

Gates, Myhrvold and metamaterials: This fund is natural match for Gates and Myhrvold. Intellectual Ventures researches and launches technology startups in groundbreaking areas, namely metamaterials, nuclear power and blockchain.

“Thanks to the backing of Bill and Nathan, the field of metamaterials has morphed from almost pure science to a viable commercial industry over the past 10 years,” Alliegro said in a statement. “But we have just scratched the surface. Over the next 10 years, we will see an explosion of opportunities using metamaterials in computing, renewable energy, communications, medical imaging, and many other areas.”

Gates has put money into multiple metamaterials companies that have spun out of Intellectual Ventures, including Pivotal Commware, Kymeta, Echodyne and Lumotive.

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