541 Ventures invests as a lead in frontier tech startups, predominantly in their seed round.  As frontier tech is a fairly novel concept in many of the ecosystems we’re focused on to find extraordinary founders from, we’ve received tons of questions since our launch on July 5th about what we mean by frontier technology and what kind of companies we’re looking for to partner with.  One thing about 541 Ventures is that it’s always fully WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) and I’d like to take this opportunity to answer the questions and be transparent about the spaces we’re super exited about. So without further ado, here we go!

 

 

What does 541 Ventures mean by frontier tech?

While the term “pain-point” is widely used in the industry, we think we have to be careful about what it should imply as people generally regard it as a pain-point of today.  This is because it takes a significant amount of time to build a meaningful solution – be it a technology or a product, to a  problem. This discrepancy between the time frames of the generally regarded concept of pain-point and solution building very frequently makes the solution obsolete even before it’s finally finished and launched.

Frontier tech is a reverse-engineered version of such approach. Instead of responding to the problem of today, frontier tech startups’ founders “time travel” into a future based on their unique knowledge, experience, insights or what not and see what problem will have to have been solved to arrive at that future. Then they travel back to the presence and build a technical solution for that exact problem which will have to be solved. This is why we always say the best founders for us are like time travelers.

Therefore, we define frontier technology as a “forward-looking fundamental technology that will be critical for the technical advancement and enablement in the future therefore everybody will have to adopt and use in that future.”  In practice, we observe this manifests in the founders’ vision as they go something like “Given the current developments of {{something}} in {{something}} industry, it will be perfectly logical to predict that the industry will evolve into {{something}}. However for the industry to evolve as such, it is critical to overcome the technical challenge of {{something}} because that’s what’s at the bottleneck toward the technical leap. Our vision is to solve that technical challenge before everyone else.”

 

What does that mean in the investment perspective of 541 Ventures?

541 Ventures aspires to partner with deeply technical early-stage companies that are to potentially start an industry.  What this means for us in terms of our investment strategy is that we play offense to find extraordinary frontier tech startups that can be aligned with massive inflection points to emerge in the market, so they can capture and preempt the enormous opportunities.  For this, we at 541 Ventures constantly study multiple industries to understand where we’ll see the biggest changes in the near future and align our investment thesis accordingly.

As a result, while we’re not stubborn and remain just sufficiently opportunistic about other spaces, we’re super excited about the potent opportunities in the following spaces and keen to meet deeply technical early-stage startups and founders in them.

 

541 Ventures Investment Thesis

Our investment strategy is to partner with deeply technical frontier tech startups that can be aligned right before the massive inflection points in the market so they can preempt the opportunities and even potentially start an industry.  Given the pace of innovations and the potent needs in respective industries, and while we remain just sufficiently opportunistic about other opportunities in other spaces, we’re passionately looking to partner with exceptional early-stage startups and founders in the following spaces!

 

1. Big Data Processing and Enablement

Big data has been the buzzword of interests for the past decade and plus but we have hardly seen data that are big enough to qualify themselves to be big data until now. However the recent technical advancements have enabled us to collect unprecedentedly large amount of data and now we’re finally about to see big data in so many industries. Such increases in the data volume have made AI engineers and data scientists use more and more computing power to process the enormous amount of data. As a result, the required computational power to process such large data are doubling every 3.4 months (Good bye, Moore’s law!) and it will only be  accelerated sharply in the future.

It is almost certain that we cannot accommodate and cope with such increase in the data volume based on the current methods of computing. Chips – be it CPUs and GPUs, as the main sources of computing are too costly to scale. Therefore it would be logical to predict that we’ll have an enormous amount of needs for new ways to cope with the even further increase in the data volume in the future and to manage and process such real big data. 541’s super bullish about this opportunity and is looking to empower exceptional founders that can create and productize fundamental technologies for enterprises and service providers to more effectively and efficiently manage and process an enormous amount of data and preempt the huge opportunities in this space.

 

2. Sustainable Ultra High-performance Computing

As AI becomes a common place in so many segments in life and business with so many unprecedented applications, coupled with an accelerated growth in the data volume and increased processing complexity of various unstructured data, the demand for ultra high-performance computing (“UHPC”) to power both the infrastructure and devices is also exponentially increasing. UHPC also places a critical role to enable the next generations of AI and applications such as AutoML and beyond.

This needs for UHPC have propelled the chip industry to grow faster than ever in the recent years as we all know. On the other hand, it is questionable if the current approach to a faster computing is sufficiently efficient and even sustainable because the 10 inch-long and 3 inch-thick GPUs and massive data centers around the world that are filled with them are gulping up an insane amount of energy for computations. Of course some data center operators are trying hard to improve the energy efficiency and minimizing carbon footprint in their data center ops but they’re not the fundamental solutions to the root problem. If we continue computing as we are, we simply may not have any computing in the future.

New ways to UHPC that consumes less energy per computation is not just important for sustainability, as it is also critical to enable smaller devices such as smartphones, wearables, robots and etc to run algorithms and applications on them.  Therefore we at 541 Ventures believes astronomical opportunities are there with more sustainable ways to do more computations with less energy.

 

3. Human-device Interactions and Cybersecurity

Machines are now getting more and more deeply integrated with our lives as both the connectivity (e.g., 5G) and the on-device computing capabilities continuously improves. This creates new opportunities for innovations in the fields of how we – humans, can better interact with the machine.

Let’s take autonomous vehicles for an instance. Cars are not yet fully self-driven but when it finally happens, will the cars have the same form factors as those of today’s? Highly unlikely because first of all it will eliminate the needs for any openings (i.e., windshields, windows, etc) because you won’t  have to watch and drive anymore. And when that happens, what could be the best way to interact with your fully self-driving cars? We know for sure that it’s not going to be steering wheels and pedals nor keyboards or touchpads.

This change and the needs for new and better ways to interact with various machines will occur in all aspects in our life, includes anything from our smartphones and wearables to DTx, autonomous vehicles, future of work and beyond!

Such innovations on how to better interact with machines will also inevitably create lots of opportunities in cybersecurity as every interaction of ours with our machines will be digitalized and transmitted over the network and having such transmissions and interactions secured and privately will be one of the most important concerns.

 

4. Energy Solutions and Infrastructures

Whether it’s Los Angeles, Seoul, Tokyo or Singapore, today’s urban environment wasn’t designed and built with the recent needs for cleaner energy in mind. As a result, virtually in every city, we’re not prepared with the means and, more importantly, the physical space to adopt and incorporate such cleaner energy sources and the necessary infrastructures within our urban environment (e.g., hydrogen is a great alternative for gasoline but where in Seoul, Tokyo or San Francisco could we find the space to build the storage and charging stations?).

This will generate category defining demands for the solutions to more effectively and efficiently generate cleaner energy and to distribute, store and supply it. In fact the demands will not just be for our urban landscape but also across all existing and future the human habitats because we will have new lifestyles  – both urban and non-urban, and expand the concept of the “habitat” beyond the surface of the earth.

Our search for the future energy solutions and the infrastructures may be a bit longer shot than those in other spaces, as the industry involves many other elements in such solutions’ massive adoption, such as law and policy making and government (both federal and local)-level plannings. However, we’re certain at 541 Ventures that we’ll be faced with the real needs for such solutions in the future not to distant from now and we’re deeply interested in finding and empowering the visionary startups that are to pioneer in tackling these challenge.

 

You Can’t Be Too Early To Talk To Us!

We call it frontier tech for a reason and we understand that frontier tech startups will have to fight a lot of uncertainties and complexities especially in their early days because frontier tech founders are building solutions toward a unique future that no one else sees. In fact that’s precisely what makes it a frontier tech. Thus our ethos at 541 is to partner with extraordinary founders with a solid vision for a unique future from their Day 1 and empower them to finally start an industry.

You simply cannot be too early to talk to us! If you have a deeply technical vision for a unique future, not just for the above mentioned spaces but for any other spaces, that no one else sees, please don’t be shy and reach out to us! It will be our honor to listen to your vision!

(On how to reach out to us, here’s a tip: How to Get Intros Like a Boss)

 

About 541 Ventures

541 Ventures globally invests in frontier tech startups – predominantly in their seed and pre-seed stage, with at least one Asian founder. As a pioneer in empowering super technical early-stage frontier tech companies with Asian founders from their Day 1. 541 Ventures aspires to be an iconic investor for Asian founders in frontier tech. As a global investor based in Los Angeles, we invest in deeply technical startups in the US and APAC ecosystems such as Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Australia. 541 Ventures runs dual offices in Los Angeles, CA and Seoul, Korea.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *