VCJ Report: Hardware is Sexy Again!

Baxter the robot (pictured here) is quite the celebrity at Venture Capital Journal.

In June, VCJ contributor Tom York reported on the resurgence that robot technology is getting from the venture industry and how it’s not just for science fiction movies anymore. (VCJ subscribers can click on the two stories here: Robotic Startups Hungering for Venture Capital and First Robbie, Now Baxter).

And so we went to Menlo Park and visited the office of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, one of the investors in Rethink Robotics, the maker of Baxter. And we photographed Baxter, along with Steve Jurvetson. They were both good models.

Then for our July issue, our very own VCJ reporter Mark Boslet delved into the latest trend by a lot of VCs—to invest in a new kind of hardware (Falling in Love With Hardware). This includes not just robots, but wearable computers, such as smart watches and health and fitness monitoring products, like the Fitbit.

The new hardware also includes 3D printers. Just two months ago, we reported on an emerging hardware category we saw beginning to take off—3D technology and printers (3D Makes Everything Better). That story came out several weeks before VC-backed 3D printer MakerBot was acquired for up to $600 million. And now that we have that huge exit, we may really begin to see 3D printers and related devices soar, don’t you think?

Some of our other related hardware coverage is also in the July issue. VCJ reporter Joanna Glasner does a deep data dive into drone investments (Data Report: Droning On), while contributor Danielle Fugazy takes an early look at Google Glass (If Only Google Glass Could See Into Its Future). The takeaway on Glass investments is that it’s too soon to tell. Still, one thing is for certain, new hardware is hot!

As Brad Feld of the Foundry Group, an investor in 3D printer MakerBot, tells VCJ: “[The new hardware is] complicated stuff that continues to change, and is very different from the last wave of hardware investing in storage and networking equipment.” (See our story: Ask the Experts: The New Hardware Cycle.)

Fueling this current enthusiasm in hardware are, among other things, changes in the way companies are built. Capital-efficient approaches to company formation are leading to leaner business models and lower-risk experimentation, thanks in part to crowdfunding and the emergence of hardware-focused incubators and accelerators, such as San Francisco-based Lemnos Labs, whose occupants have made everything from coffee makers to satellites. Hardware accelerators may not churn out a bevy of $600 million acquisitions, but a new hardware company seems just as easily to launch these days as a mobile app. (See our story: Changing the Game in Hardware.)

Todd Chaffee of Institutional Venture Partners puts it best when he tells VCJ that the new generation of hardware deals is exciting.

And if the actions of Jurvetson, Feld, Chaffee and other VCs are worth their salt, then we better get used to seeing Baxter’s mugshot around a lot more.

Photo of Baxter at the office of Draper Fisher Jurvetson by Oscar Urizar, Red Eye Collection.

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