Business & Real Estate

Chasing a moonshot: LA venture capitalists fund companies seeking to change world for better

future.ventures

Future Ventures co-founders Steve Jurvetson and Maryanna Saenko finalized their 10th investment last month, with the venture capitalists drawing from their $200 million inaugural fund.

Well versed in aerospace innovations, the Los Altos-based team is now seeking out every conceivable sector generating tech “unlike anything they’ve ever seen before,” Jurvetson said.

According to Saenko, Future Ventures only invests in companies committed to fostering positive change without “preying on people’s frailties and fears, addiction and so on.”

Maryanna Saenko
Saenko

“We don’t do much in consumer (sectors),” Jurvetson said.

“Right,” Saenko replied, laughter echoing through their 465 First St. conference room, adorned with space paraphernalia from various Apollo missions.

Launched in February after approximately three months of raising capital, Future Ventures’ recent investments include SpaceX, Boring, Comonwealth Fusion and Medcorder. Jurvetson’s LinkedIn profile reveals he serves on the boards of SpaceX and Tesla.

Odd mix of ‘weird bits’

Saenko listed a range of industries Future Ventures has backed, including an “off-the-wall” assortment of companies offering nuclear fusion, neural implants, medical recording apps and security systems for edge devices. All of the up-and-coming fields are foreign yet familiar; Jurvetson described them as “adjacent” to confirmed evolutionary developments.

“It means that we are on the lookout for something that will surprise us that’s at the edge of what was formerly understood,” Jurvetson said, citing another investment, Berkeley-based Memphis Meats, as an example.

Established in 2015 by cardiologist Uma Valeti, Memphis Meats grows cells for reproduction. Currently small scale and not yet a cheaper option, Jurvetson said, Memphis Meats’ mission is to lower the amount of land, water, power and chemicals necessary for the cycle of meat production.

“If they succeed, they’ll change the landscape physically and metaphorically for the planet,” he said. “If they don’t, we’re in deep trouble. … We go on and on about what the world looks like if we don’t find alternatives.”

Although approximately two decades Jurvetson’s junior, Saenko said their stories are “frighteningly similar.” Both studied engineering and pursued their doctorates, only to decide it was not right for them. After dropping out, each explored new frontiers: Jurvetson worked on chip designs later fabricated at Hewlett-Packard, while Saenko became a scientist. Their experiences were fruitful during an impressionable time in their professional lives, Jurvetson and Saenko agreed, but they moved on to consulting, where they discovered an interest in working with those involved in venture capitalism.

Milo
Jurvetson

Saenko worked at Draper Fisher Jurvetson, where she met Jurvetson. He had come into contact with many venture capitalists by that point, Jurvetson noted, but none shared the sense of “serendipity” he found in helping society and investing in “things that matter” like Saenko did. It helped that they had the same niche interests, Saenko added, and enjoyed “bouncing around wild ideas with the most passionate people you’ll ever meet.”

“There was a mutual feeling of like, ‘Wow, where did she come from?’ when we first met,” Jurvetson said of Saenko. “Each of us had independently found and invested in similar sectors that were so unlike what anyone else is doing, like quantum computing.”

“It was the oddest mix of, ‘Oh, you like all the weird bits, too,’” Saenko said.

Home base

Los Altos is not the hub of venture capitalism in Silicon Valley; most VC firms have set up shop on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, in the South of Market and North Beach neighborhoods of San Francisco or even in neighboring Palo Alto. But Jurvetson said Future Ventures’ office space in downtown Los Altos is anchored by Interstate 280, making meetings easy for prospective clients. He speculated that highway proximity may have been the factor that turned Sand Hill Road into a VC home base, too.

Beyond the location and the ability to turn the space into what they imagined – Jurvetson’s artifacts decorate his office, while Saenko slung a hammock between two steel poles in hers – the business partners like the idea that they might be the only ones in the area “with such high aspirations … to do something that seems impossible,” Jurvetson said.

“We wanted to be a little different,” he added.

For more information, visit future.ventures.

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