Element Six Sets up Shop in Silicon Valley

Element Six, a subsidiary of diamond miner De Beers, has opened a VC office in Silicon Valley, and plans to expand its investment in start-ups utilizing man-made diamonds and other so-called “supermaterials.”

Thanks to its exceptional hardness and high thermal conductivity, synthetic diamonds are used in a number of industrial applications – from cleantech to semiconductors and electronics. Over the past few years, Element Six Ventures Group has invested in seven start-ups, including Fremont, Calif.-based semiconductor company Group4 Labs Inc.; and Advanced Oxidation Ltd., a maker of electrochemical reactors for the treatment of industrial wastewaters and landfill leachates. Last November, Element Six announced the spinout and Series A financing of Electrolytic Ozone Inc., which develops compact ozone generators for health, food safety and medical uses.

Managing Director Susan Wheeler says the firm has put “tens of millions” into its portfolio companies, and is building a pipeline for further investments in Silicon Valley. “We are looking to invest,” says Wheeler.

Element Six isn’t investing out of a specific fund, she says. And Wheeler declined to disclose details about how much the venture arm plans to invest, other than saying that the company was putting “increased effort” into venture activities.

“It was a strategic decision to come to Silicon Valley, because this is the hub of innovation,” Wheeler says. “We believe that diamond is not as well understood as it should be. We will be able to increase interest in synthetic diamonds generally, and increase our portfolio of investments.”

Element Six was started by De Beers more than 50 years ago, and describes itself as the “world’s leading manufacturer and supplier of synthetic diamond supermaterials.” The company is comprised of two businesses: Technologies, which is owned 100% by De Beers; and Abrasives, owned partially by the materials group Umicore.

Before joining Element Six, Wheeler was vice president of M&A and strategy at Boart Longyear, a maker of mineral exploration and drilling products and former portfolio company of Bain Capital, Advent International and Macquarie Bank. The Element Six venture team also includes Oxford-educated physicist Dan Twitchen as chief technical officer; and principal Art Claybon, who was previously a vice president with investment firm Third Security. The firm’s offices are located in Santa Clara, Calif.