Lemnos, a seed-stage, hardware-focused venture firm in San Francisco, is today announcing the close of its third and newest fund, with $50 million in commitments.
It’s a proud moment for co-founder Jeremy Conrad, whose pitch for Lemnos wasn’t met with a lot of enthusiasm when the firm was founded in 2011, but whose passion for hardware now resonates with plenty of investors.
Successful outcomes for hardware companies like Fitbit, Square, Oculus and GoPro have helped, despite rocky moments for each. But perhaps even more appealing to investors are two tweaks that Lemnos is making to its model. For one thing, the firm, which has been running an incubator program since the outset, is dropping that operation to focus exclusively on operating as a venture firm. “We felt that as a bigger firm, when you’re writing bigger checks, it’s a different model,” says Conrad. (Lemnos closed its second fund with $20 million in 2014.)
The outfit is also expanding its mandate to invest in both startups with a hardware component and software companies that are developing a particular technology that will be used in a hardware device. Think a computer vision software startup looking to sell to robotics companies.
As for check sizes, those will be changing, too, as you might imagine. Whereas the firm began writing $50,000 to $100,000 checks to startups back in 2011, it might now start off with a check that’s $100,000, but it has money to invest up to $1.5 million in a $3 million round.
To date, Lemnos — operated by Conrad, co-founder Helen Zelman and partner Eric Klein — has invested in roughly 40 companies.
It has just two small exits under its belt so far: the fleet management startup Local Motion, which sold to Zipcar for undisclosed terms in 2015; and Sproutling, maker of a smart monitor for babies, which was acquired by Mattel last year, again for undisclosed terms.
Still, Lemnos has stakes in a number of companies worth watching, including the satellite-powered data company Spire (it listens to radio signals from space and has raised more than $66 million from investors). Lemnos was also the first outside investor in the aerial information platform Airware, which has now raised roughly $110 million from investors.
Asked what Lemnos understood that its own investors were both most excited and most concerned about, Conrad said that their mood changed while the firm was on the fundraising trail. “When we started, a lot of investors were wondering about the exit environment for [hardware companies], but a number of them started to go public, and despite hard times, companies like Fitbit and GoPro are still unicorns.”
It also helped that “Fortune 500 companies that no one would have expected to be making large acquisitions” bought Cruise Automation [maker of an auto pilot system for regular cars that was acquired last year for reportedly more than $1 billion by General Motors] and Dollar Shave Club [acquired by Unilever for $1 billion last year], he notes.
Asked what most excites Conrad, Zelman and Klein these days, Conrad immediately offers “robotics. The technology has been trapped in cages in factories. We’re very excited about robots interacting with the real world.”
Among its most recent related bets is Simbe, a company whose robots identify when items are out of stock in a retail environment — and restock shelves. Another includes DishCraft, which makes robotics for commercial kitchens.
To learn much more about what the young firm is up to, check out our video tour of Lemnos’s San Francisco-based, 8,000-square-foot warehouse, above. Interestingly, it was once a fish factory.