Upfront Ventures Raises $650M for Three New Funds

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

Upfront Ventures Raises $650M for Three New Funds
Sustainability on Agenda at Celebrity-studded Upfront Summit

Los Angeles-based venture capital firm Upfront Ventures has raised $650 million that will be spread across three different funds targeted at various points in the startup lifecycle. According to a press release from the firm, the Upfront Venture VII fund will invest $280 million into early-stage founders focusing on “healthcare and applied biology; defense technologies; computer vision; agtech and sustainability; fintech; consumerization of enterprise software; and gaming infrastructure.”

Upfront will set aside $250 million for a growth-stage fund (the third such fund for the firm), with the remaining $175 million going to a continuation fund.

Upfront’s existing portfolio contains a number of Southern California companies, such as Apeel Sciences, Invoca and Goat. It also contains national and international businesses, including Clair and Ÿnsect.

dot.LA spoke with Upfront Managing Partner Mark Suster by email to get a deeper look into the guiding philosophy behind the fund. The following Q&A has been edited for clarity.

dot.LA: You’ve raised this money across 3 funds each targeting different stages of growth. But what is the thesis underlying your investment strategy in general? You've got a pretty diverse portfolio, what are you looking for as you search for new partnerships or continue existing ones?

Mark Suster: Upfront seeks to fund companies that are using technology to fundamentally change industries or society at large. We don't mind taking high-risk bets provided we believe that the founders we're backing have knowledge others don't have and are building defensible IP such that if they are right about the market they can sustain a leadership position. We say we invest in three distinct things: product / market fit, founder / market fit and founder / Upfront fit. That's what we're looking for. And people who are building businesses for the right reasons rather than trying to make a quick buck.

A lot of your current portfolio is SoCal-centric, will you be preferentially targeting L.A. startups with the new money?

To be successful as an investor you need to have "edge," which means you have relatively proprietary access to deals for some reason. You will never have markets to yourself but you do want to have some competitive advantage. Sometimes our advantage is the fact that we work in an industry like Applied Biology that has fewer investors. And sometimes it will be geography. With a 25-year history of backing great L.A. companies we feel better positioned to compete in this market and win our relative fair share of deals. We remain very excited about the long-term potential of L.A.

Are you hiring at all? Where?

We believe that success in the next decade will come down to how VC firms best serve their founders operationally. We have therefore continued to invest heavily in our platform team, building out our talent, finance, operations, marketing & legal teams.

What sized checks are you hoping to write from each fund?

Our first-check sizes range but for our Seed fund it tends to be around a $3 million first check but can go as low as $500k or as high as $10 million by exception. Most are $3-4 million though. Our Early Growth fund typically writes $10-15 million first checks.

Why now? So many other VC funds are pulling back right now. Why are you expanding?

Firms that are pulling back fall into different categories. For some they were crossover investors like Tiger who were deploying very large amounts of capital into later-stage technology companies. They may choose now to deploy some of their funds to public companies and other of their funds to much earlier-staged investments than they had previously. Either way, it has dialed back the total dollars they have allocated to the sector. Some newer funds will likely slow down pace because they have to be mindful of how challenging the fundraising environment will become for VCs going forward so perhaps some will conserve capital. The fact that we didn't have an aggressive investment pace in the past several years means we weren't over deployed on capital and it makes now the perfect time for us to invest.

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Why Pierced Media Is Betting on Creators To Be The Next Generation of Podcast Stars

Nat Rubio-Licht
Nat Rubio-Licht is a freelance reporter with dot.LA. They previously worked at Protocol writing the Source Code newsletter and at the L.A. Business Journal covering tech and aerospace. They can be reached at nat@dot.la.
Why Pierced Media Is Betting on Creators To Be The Next Generation of Podcast Stars
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NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System
Evan Xie

NASA’s footprint in California is growing as the agency prepares for Congress to approve its proposed 2024 budget.

The overall NASA budget swelled 6% from the prior year, JPL deputy director Larry James told dot.LA. He added he sees that as a continuation of the last two presidential administrations’ focus on modernizing and bolstering the nation’s space program.

The money goes largely to existing NASA centers in California, including the Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory run with Caltech, Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

California remains a hotspot for NASA space activity and investment. In 2021, the agency estimated its economic output impact on the region to be around $15.2 billion. That was far more than its closest competing states, including Texas ($9.3 billion) and Maryland (roughly $8 billion). That same year, NASA reported it employed over 66,000 people in California.

“In general, Congress has been very supportive” of the JPL and NASA’s missions, James said. “It’s generally bipartisan [and] supported by both sides of the aisle. In the last few years in general NASA has been able to have increased budgets.”

There are 41 current missions run by JPL and CalTech, and another 16 scheduled for the future. James added the new budget is “an incredible support for all the missions we want to do.”

The public-private partnership between NASA and local space companies continues to evolve, and the increased budget could be a boon for LA-based developers. Numerous contractors for NASA (including CalTech, which runs the JPL), Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and Northrop Grumman all stand to gain new contracts once the budget is finalized, partly because NASA simply needs the private industry’s help to achieve all its goals.

James said that there was only one JPL mission that wasn’t funded – a mission to send an orbital satellite to survey the surface and interior of Venus, called VERITAS.

NASA Employment and Output ImpactEvan Xie

The Moon and Mars

Much of the money earmarked in the proposed 2024 budget is for crewed missions. Overall, NASA’s asking for $8 billion from Congress to fund lunar exploration missions. As part of this, the majority is earmarked for the upcoming Artemis mission, which aims to land a woman and person of color on the Moon’s south pole.

While there’s a number of high-profile missions the JPL is working on that are focused on Mars, including Mars Sample Return project (which received $949 million in this proposed budget) and Ingenuity helicopter and Perseverance rover, JPL also received significant funding to study the Earth’s climate and behavior.

JPL also got funding for several projects to map our universe. One is the SphereX Near Earth Objects surveyor mission, the goal of which is to use telescopes to “map the entire universe,” James said, adding that the mission was fully funded.

International Space Station

NASA’s also asking for more money to maintain the International Space Station (ISS), which houses a number of projects dedicated to better understanding the Earth’s climate and behavior.

The agency requested roughly $1.3 billion to maintain the ISS. It also is increasing its investment in space flight support, in-space transportation and commercial development of low-earth orbit (LEO). “The ISS is an incredible platform for us,” James said.

James added there are multiple missions outside or on board the ISS now taking data, including EMIT, which launched in July 2022. The EMIT mission studies arid dust sources on the planet using spectroscopy. It uses that data to remodel how mineral dust movement in North and South America might affect the Earth’s temperature changes.

Another ISS mission JPL launched is called ECOSTRESS. The mission sent a thermal radiometer onto the space station in June 2018 to monitor how plants lose water through their leaves, with the goal of figuring out how the terrestrial biosphere reacts to changes in water availability. James said the plan is to “tell you the kind of foliage health around the globe” from space.

One other ISS project is called Cold Atom Lab. It is “an incredible fundamental physics machine,” James said, that’s run by “three Nobel Prize winners as principal investigators on the Space Station.” Cold Atom Lab is a physics experiment geared toward figuring out how quantum phenomena behave in space by cooling atoms with lasers to just below absolute zero degrees.

In the long term, James was optimistic NASA’s imaging projects could lead to more dramatic discoveries. Surveying the makeup of planets’ atmospheres is a project “in the astrophysics domain we’re very excited about,” James said. He added that this imaging could lead to information about life on other planets, or, at the very least, an understanding of why they’re no longer habitable.


Three Wishes Cereal Co-Founder Margaret Wishingrad on ‘The Power of No’

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

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