When Avidan Ross was planning his wedding, he bought a Jinan G. Weike LG500 laser cutter to make his own escort cards and table numbers.
“She got a diamond, I got a 90W laser,” he said.
It was that mentality that led Ross to launch a $30 million fund — or, more precisely, a pi-inspired $31,415,927 — this month, called Root Ventures, which will focus on early-stage hardware startups. With Root, Ross says, he hopes to capitalize on entrepreneurs with origins in the Maker movement who are comfortable with emerging technologies, data, and rapid prototyping.
“People say ‘oh, you’re either a Maker or an entrepreneur,'” Ross said. “But I think the two are connected more closely than that.”
Before Root, Ross invested in hardware startups under the name Lion Wells Ventures. Several Lion Wells startups, including Particle IO, formerly known as Spark IO, remain in the Root portfolio.
Venture capitalists have become increasingly interested in hardware in the wake of Fitbit, Oculus Rift, and Nest. But Ross says that hardware presents challenges that investors accustomed to software development aren’t equipped to deal with.
“The reason that we’re seeing hardware funds pop up is that the VC firms that are currently investing don’t have the Rolodex and bench they need to help,” he said. “It’s not just a Silicon Valley problem. You need to have relationships in China. You need to have relationships in Minneapolis.”
High profile startups in Root’s portfolio at launch include Particle IO and Shaper, formerly known as Taktia, which is building a handheld CNC router. It also includes Momentum Machines, which is developing a robot that makes gourmet hamburgers.
“I’ve lived, breathed, and died hardware for years, so I understand the pain points you go through,” he said.
Root Ventures isn’t the only new hardware fund aimed at hardware startups. Last month, for example, Shenzhen-based drone manufacturer DJI launched a $10 million investment fund called SkyFund, which the company says will be used to fund startups working on unmanned aerial vehicles.