Funding Complexity

VC Firms Invest in Two Additive Manufacturing Startups Adding New Materials Capabilities

Within the past few days, various news sources have reported that two new additive manufacturing startups, Voxel8 and Impossible Objects, have received venture funding from Braemar Energy Ventures and OCA Ventures, respectively. While Cambridge (MA)-based Voxel8 is focused on printing embedded conductors, wires and batteries, Northbrook (IL)-based Impossible Objects is targeting composites, such as carbon fiber, fiberglass and kevlar. Their material palettes might be quite different, but the theme of the investments strikes the same note: there is much to be gained from the ability to print varied and complex materials.

The technology behind Voxel8 stems from Harvard Professor Jennifer Lewis‘s research on printing functional materials using an ink-based approach. With funding from a number of federal programs, including the Department of Energy, ARPA-E, NSF, Office of Naval Research, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, as well as BASF and Harvard, Prof Lewis and her group have developed new inks and printheads that potentially have far-reaching applications. While Voxel8 seems focused on embedded electronics and energy devices, consistent with Braemar’s investment, Prof Lewis has demonstrated that the approach has biological applications as well. Although the size and terms of Braemar’s investment in Voxel8 remain undisclosed, it does represent another data point in the trend towards unlocking increasing amounts of university research, which I have discussed in previous posts.

Along the same vein, Impossible Objects is seeking to create commercial printers capable of outputting fully finished products, although instead of embedding functionality, they are looking to print strong, lightweight materials in the form of reinforced composites. Impossible Objects joins MarkForged in the fiber-reinforced additive manufacturing market. Given the importance of composites to the aerospace and defense industries, as well as the huge growth in the use of carbon fiber in products from cell phone cases to surfboards and golf clubs, the space is an attractive one and has the need for customization of parts. The OCA Venture-led round (which reportedly included two angel investors with VC ties) netted a reported $2.8 million, a very strong opening round investment, indicating the company and its team have already created substantial value.