Hardware-focused incubator Lemnos Labs raises $20 mln fund, beating target

Lemnos Labs, a San Francisco-based incubator that has helped fuel interest in hardware startups, announced it has closed on $20 million for an early-stage VC fund.

Partner Jeremy Conrad, who co-founded Lemnos Labs in 2011 with Helen Zelman, told VCJ, a peHUB affiliate, the capital came from institutional investors, but he declined to disclose names of LPs. He said some of the angel investors who participated in the incubator’s $1.85 million debut fund in 2012 returned to invest in the $20 million vehicle, which had a target of $15 million.

“We look at this fund as a validation that the hardware renaissance we first saw happening more than two years ago is real,” Conrad said.

Investors in Lemnos’ first fund include Naval Ravikant of AngelList, as well as Accelerator Ventures, Alex Vikati, Ash Patel, Matt Mullenweg’s Audrey Capital, Daniel Abrams, Don Hutchison, Edwin Ong, Jack Herrick (founder and CEO of wikiHow.com), Othman Laraki, Paul Sethi and Seraph Group.

Conrad said the new fund will allow the incubator to make Series A investments in hardware startups that are selected to work out of its new 8,000-square-foot warehouse in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood.

The new fund has already made Series A investments in two startups: Ceres, which is developing technology to monitor crops and water consumption using drones and aerial photography, and 6Sensor Labs, which is building sensors to help people with food allergies test food.

Conrad anticipates the new fund will support 10 to 12 investments per year and that the size of the deals will range from $100,000 to $250,000. He said Lemnos aims to be the first money in and to acquire 10% equity stakes with its investments. Lemnos also plans to invest in follow-on rounds.

Venture capitalists and entrepreneurs have shown more interest in hardware in recent years. Wearables and 3D printing, in particular, have garnered a lot of attention.

It is a good time to be a hardware entrepreneur, since “there are more VCs who are looking to invest in hardware these days than there are hardware startups,” Conrad said.

Investors are starting to see some exits from their hardware deals:

  • This week, Facebook agreed to buy virtuality reality headset maker Occulis RIft for $2 billion in cash and stock. The company, which raised $2.4 million via a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, went on to raise $90 million more in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Spark Capital, Matrix Partners, Founders Fund and other investors, according to CrunchBase.
  • Earlier this month Intel Corp purchased wearable fitness tracker Basis for $100 million. Basis had previously raised about $36 million from DCM, iNovia Capital, Intel Capital, Mayfield Fund, Norwest Venture Partners, Peninsula Ventures and Stanford University, according to Thomson Reuters (publisher of VCJ and peHUB).
  • Two months earlier, Google bought smart thermostat maker Nest Labs for $3.2 billion. Nest had previously raised $80 million from Google Ventures and Venrock a year earlier. It also had backing from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Shasta Ventures and others.)
  • And last year, 3D printer MakerBot was acquired by Stratasys for $403 million. That was a big win for Foundry Group, which led MakerBot’s single round of financing totaling $10 million in 2011.

None of the hardware startups at Lemnos Labs have achieved an exit yet.

Companies being incubated by Lemnos include startups in robotics, transportation, agriculture and connected devices. Conrad, who’s a former officer in the U.S. Air Force, said he receives about 500 applications a year from potential hardware startups. About one-fifth are focused on aerospace technology, such as drones and satellites, he said.

This story first appeared in Reuters Venture Capital Journal. Subscribers can read the original story here, which includes a table of deals by Lemnos Labs. To subscribe to VCJ, please email Greg.Winterton@ThomsonReuters.com.

Photo Courtesy of Lemnos Labs: Partners of Lemnos Labs (left to right) Helen Zelman Boniske, Eric Klein and Jeremy Conrad.