CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The Engine, the venture firm spun out of MIT that invests in early-stage Tough Tech companies solving some of the world’s biggest problems, announced today it has raised $230M toward its Fund II, bringing total capital commitments across its two funds to $435M. Since the launch of its first fund in 2017, The Engine has collaborated with leading research institutions to more quickly move innovation out of labs and into the market. The Engine’s initial fund has backed 27 companies that harness breakthrough science and technology, often from top research institutions, to solve important, global challenges across climate change, human health, and advanced systems. The Tough Tech investment firm will begin making investments from its Fund II this fall.
The Engine’s Fund I portfolio companies are tackling some of the biggest problems in human health, including COVID-19. For example, Biobot Analytics is deploying their wastewater epidemiology platform to monitor the virus in communities to support public health decision-making. Investments that address climate change span companies building a fusion power plant, tapping geothermal energy through deep drilling, and coal-free, emissions-free steel production. Last month, Commonwealth Fusion Systems published research showing a compact nuclear fusion reactor can produce up to ten times the energy it would consume. Earlier this year, Form Energy announced a pilot with a midwest utility to enable its transition to a renewable electricity grid. Within The Engine’s advanced systems investment focus, companies include semiconductor, space, and autonomous vehicle innovations. In September, Zapata Computing announced the commercial release of its quantum computing toolset.
MIT conceived The Engine and provided anchor funding for Fund I and Fund II. Harvard University joins MIT in Fund II as a limited partner, to further The Engine’s mission to provide capital and access to talent and vital specialized infrastructure for Tough Tech entrepreneurs. Both universities have rallied their researchers to work on game-changing technologies alongside The Engine.
“We launched The Engine to help young companies focused on Tough Tech challenges that have the potential for enormous societal impact. Our aim was to provide them with a new model of sustained assistance and an ecosystem of talent, expertise and support,” said L. Rafael Reif, President of MIT, “so we are truly thrilled that Harvard has joined us in this mission. Through investing in The Engine’s Fund II, MIT and Harvard will help The Engine’s innovative startups speed their progress from idea to global impact.”
Formally joining The Engine’s ecosystem builds on Harvard’s already robust research and teaching efforts to tackle the climate crisis and support technology and healthcare innovation. For instance, Harvard has expanded its efforts to combat climate change by establishing new funds for early-stage research across the University, making the campus a living lab to test and deploy sustainability efforts, reduced campus emissions by 30% and committed to make its entire campus and operations fossil fuel-neutral by 2026 and fossil fuel-free by 2050. It recently extended those efforts to its endowment, which will become net-zero of all greenhouse gases by 2050.
“Harvard’s deep commitment to scientific entrepreneurship and The Engine’s focus on spurring innovation make this a strong partnership with a clear mission. I have seen first-hand the remarkable people at both Harvard and MIT who are dedicated to studying, researching and solving global challenges,” said Harvard President, Lawrence S. Bacow. “At Harvard, we have mobilized and supported our researchers who are working on emerging technologies that can make a difference in the world. But their ability to have an impact will depend on risk capital willing to support the translation from academic lab to commercial impact. By partnering with The Engine, we can speed that transition, scale technologies and enable start-ups to advance more quickly towards solutions to global threats.”
MIT and Harvard extended partnerships with The Engine include:
- Investment: MIT is once again the lead investor in The Engine’s Fund II and Harvard joins the fund. These investments help provide long-term capital necessary for development and transitioning Tough Tech research to commercially viable solutions.
- Infrastructure: As was announced in August 2019, MIT is supporting the expansion of The Engine’s physical space with the conversion of a 200,000 square foot building in Cambridge, MA, with the capacity to accommodate approximately 100 companies and 800 entrepreneurs. The expansion of The Engine will be a focal point of the innovation ecosystem inspired and cultivated by MIT. The space is designed for companies at the convergence of technology disciplines across engineering and physical sciences. The Engine’s new location is expected to open in 2022. MIT and Harvard will continue to open access to their facilities for The Engine’s portfolio companies.
- Access: Additionally, The Engine has a symbiotic relationship with MIT and Harvard, where academics and thought leaders from both universities participate in The Engine’s programs and share insights in The Engine’s publications and at the Tough Tech annual summit. The Engine’s leadership regularly engages with both academic communities as guest speakers, hosts and lecturers for programs such as: Harvard MS/MBA program, The Harvard Energy & Environmental Club, among others, as well as MIT’s STEX25 (a start-up accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange) and the Industrial Liaison Program (ILP). The firm has created and shared Tough Tech curriculum for programs such as MIT Innovation Initiative. MIT’s Anantha P. Chandrakasan sits on The Engine’s Board of Directors.
- Diversity + Inclusion: Diversity has been core to The Engine’s values since the beginning. Providing capital to those who have not historically had access is a central tenet to its investment philosophy; today, 80% of The Engine’s Fund I companies have minority founders. MIT and Harvard join The Engine in helping them seek out talent to improve their inclusion efforts.
“MIT was first to acknowledge that Tough Tech startups have largely been underfunded and underserved, and we continue to be incredibly grateful for MIT’s vision and its ongoing support of our mission to bring these innovations to the world,” said Katie Rae, CEO and Managing Partner of The Engine. “We share Harvard’s commitment to support clean energy technologies that will enable humanity to avoid the worst effects of climate change and, as we formally welcome Harvard into The Engine ecosystem, there’s a tremendous opportunity to build on this shared goal. A large portion of our portfolio is tackling the effects of climate change, so tapping in and leveraging Harvard’s global environmental studies network provides a big advantage.”
The Engine is cultivating a local ecosystem to nourish and scale technologies in a way that both positions startups for success, and catalyzes economic growth in the Greater Boston region. The Engine’s Fund I has invested in 17 startups spun out of MIT, including: Biobot Analytics, Boston Metal, C2Sense, Cambridge Electronics, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, E25Bio, Form Energy, ISEE, Kytopen, Mori, Quaise, RISE Robotics, Suono Bio, Sync Computing, Vaxess Technologies, Via Separations and WoHo. Harvard-affiliated portfolio companies include: Analytical Space, Cellino, Hyperlight, Vaxess Technologies and Zapata Computing.