Lux Capital closes $400 million fund to back startups ‘inventing the future’

Lux Capital’s portfolio companies sound like they ripped their product concepts from the pages of science fiction. Among these are self-driving car startup Zoox, a company gathering oceanographic data from fleets of autonomously operating boats called Saildrone, Desktop Metal whose 3-D printers that can make objects out of alloys on the spot, and 3Scan, a startup that makes detailed 3-D models of human tissue to help doctors better diagnose diseases. The firm has also backed several neuroscience startups including Kallyope, Halo Neuroscience and Cala Health.

Today Lux Capital partners revealed that they have closed their fifth fund at $400 million to continue investing in the startups that are “inventing the future without destroying humanity.” Lux Capital also announced that long-time venture investor, attorney (and karate black belt) Renata Quintini is also joining the firm as a partner. She was previously an investor with Felicis Ventures, where she worked with Cruise Automation and Dollar Shave Club, and was an investment manager for Stanford’s endowment.

Lux’s Josh Wolfe told TechCrunch, limited partners in the new fund were a mix of new and prior backers who are high net-worth individuals, endowments, family offices and foundations. He declined to name LP’s, however. The fund, which brings Lux’s assets under management to $1.1 billion, closed within several weeks of announcing, he said.

While Lux had the option to raise a larger fund, it decided to stick to a fund-size that would enable it to focus on early stage deals with some capital for later rounds to support portfolio companies’ growth. Wolfe said, “When funds get too big the number of things they can allocate capital to will shrink. We invest out on the edges. The idea is the next great thing comes from the last one.”

As an example, Wolfe pointed to the firm’s investment in Zoox, a company working on self-driving cars. On a visit to the startup’s offices years ago, he saw engineers sitting around “playing games,” he said. There he learned that “in silico” they were test-driving vehicles, running them through scenarios in simulation before testing them on the track or the open road. “I asked what are these simulations running on, and they said GPUs, from Nvidia. Then we got excited about GPUs totally displacing CPUs, and that led to us investing in Nervana Systems.” Nervana Systems and its AI-ready chip technology were acquired by Intel for $350 million, a nice exit for Lux.

Lux’s newest partner, Renata Quintini, said she was drawn to Lux’s emphasis on big, scientific and technological breakthroughs. She said her own interests are currently around “everything tied to health and happiness,” and technology that enables different types of creative expression. “People are worried about longevity, trying to live longer. I think the more interesting opportunity is how to make people live healthier with greater cognition, happiness and mindfulness,” she said.