From Cul-de-sac to Constellation

The Top Frontiers in U.S. Strategic Tech Innovation

Alumni Ventures
9 min readFeb 12, 2024

Pete Mathias is a Partner at Alumni Ventures’ US Strategic Tech Fund. Pete was previously Senior Director at the $1.5B+ VC arm of Bertelsmann across the EU, China, and U.S. startup ecosystems. He was also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and American Council on Germany, and was appointed by the U.S. Department of State as a cultural attache. He holds a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, an MBA from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business.

Drew Wandzilak is an Associate at Alumni Ventures’ US Strategic Tech Fund. Drew has worked in high-growth industries as both an investor and operator, including roles at Holistic Industries, a multi-state operator for cannabis, and Mirage, an NFT marketplace. He has a BS from Northwestern in Education and Social Policy, serves as an ambassador of the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and was named to Chicago Inno’s “25 Under 25” list.

The report highlights the critical role of U.S. strategic technologies in ensuring national security and prosperity. It focuses on three key areas: Homeland Security, Digital Strategy (AI & Cyber), and Space Innovation. It discusses trends and innovative companies in these sectors, showcasing how these technologies are vital to our future — especially now.

In this piece, we spotlight trends and illustrative companies in these areas — including some Alumni Ventures has invested in. These founders are safeguarding national interests, fortifying our digital resilience, and securing space dominance. And if you’d like to learn more on this topic, please join our webinar.

Join Our Webinar

In this webinar, discover the future of American innovation with Pete Mathias and Drew Wandzilak of Alumni Ventures in a compelling webinar focused on U.S. strategic technology.

  • Gain expert insights from leading venture capitalists on the cutting-edge of U.S. strategic tech.
  • Explore investment opportunities in key growth areas: homeland security, AI, cybersecurity, and space innovation.
  • Hear success stories and strategies from the Alumni Ventures portfolio, showcasing tangible results of strategic tech investments.
  • Understand the national significance of advancing these technologies for economic resilience and security dominance.
  • Be at the forefront of discussion on transformative trends and how they shape the landscape of American innovation and investment potential.

Register below for the webinar or to receive a transcript.

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Safeguarding America’s future demands continued effort. From local neighborhoods to the national stage, from global influence to leadership in the farthest reaches of our solar system, U.S. strategic technologies are essential to security and prosperity. That’s true now more than ever.

At Alumni Ventures, we know this. AV has been among the most active backers of American innovation. For starters, we have long been dedicated to revitalizing U.S. security capabilities (PitchBook).

A stronger America requires continued investment in key strategic areas of technology innovation:

  1. Homeland Security
  2. Digital Strategy (AI & Cyber)
  3. Space Innovation

1. Homeland Security

Homeland Security innovation stretches from government capabilities to fortification of the U.S. industrial base. We track several transformative trends here.

Government Operations and Public Safety

The first trend is Government Operations and Public Safety at all levels– municipal to federal. By investing in startups harnessing cutting-edge technologies enhancing government services and public safety operations, we fortify the institutional foundations of the United States. One great example is AV portfolio company OpenGov — which optimizes government services, handling everything from budgeting to recruiting. Here’s what OpenGov CEO Zac Bookman says: “Local governments face unprecedented challenges in recruiting talent, upgrading technology, and responding to ever-changing demands… there has never been a better time to streamline business processes, digitize workflows, elevate collaboration, and strengthen trust and responsiveness with councils, boards, and residents.”

Critical Infrastructure Protection

Homeland Security innovation also requires Critical Infrastructure Protection. Starting with the pandemic, we’ve seen over the last few years what shocks, disruptions, and unforeseen challenges can do to our national fabric. We must build competencies to protect the lifelines and lifeblood or our infrastructure. For example, AV portfolio company Hyfé is transforming wastewater streams into next-gen feedstocks for biomanufacturing. This is a huge innovation that resolves infrastructure challenges and resource conservation simultaneously. As former ExxonMobil chemical engineer and Founder & CEO of Hyfe, Michelle Ruiz explains, “We take process water from food manufacturers through a co-located unit after it’s done being useful and before it becomes wastewater. We remove everything from the water, which we process through our platform, and return fresh water for reuse at the manufacturer’s site.”

Materials, Industrials, and Manufacturing

Third, Homeland Security has another need: Materials, Industrials, and Manufacturing capabilities. A thriving industrial and manufacturing sector forms the backbone of a nation’s security and economic resilience. By supporting companies that lead the charge in advanced manufacturing, we ensure the U.S. remains at the forefront of industry. From aerospace and defense to pharmaceuticals and semiconductors, advanced manufacturing technologies are transforming the way we produce goods, making them more efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable. For example, KoBold Metals is accelerating a clean energy future by finding new lithium, cobalt, copper, and nickel deposits.

From the KoBold Co-Founders, “We’re trying to transform mineral exploration from a manual, judgment-guided, trial-and-error process into a data-driven and scalable science. It’s the mother of all needle-in-a-haystack problems: Find the significant minable deposits of cobalt, copper, lithium, and nickel resting anywhere from 100 to 2,000 meters deep in the Earth’s surface.”

It’s the mother of all needle-in-a-haystack problems: Find the significant minable deposits of cobalt, copper, lithium, and nickel resting anywhere from 100 to 2,000 meters deep in the Earth’s surface.

2. Digital Strategy: AI & Cyber

From the back offices of three-letter agencies to the frontlines of contested geographies, competencies in AI and cyber are mission-critical. American commercial and government organizations are collecting insights and data at a rate never seen before in history.

Artificial Intelligence

AI has given organizations the ability to not only analyze and understand data but also to make determinations and decisions nearly autonomously. One extraordinary company that showcases this is AV portfolio company Unstructured.io. By empowering agencies like the U.S. Air Force, the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and Space Force with LLM capabilities, Unstructured.io revolutionizes how data and insights are processed and acted upon, shaping the future of autonomous decision-making in critical missions. In the words of ex-CIA CEO Brian Raymond, “To truly take advantage of LLMs, we had to figure out how to connect, transform and stage any natural language data in any format at speed and at scale. So we built Unstructured to do just that.”

Cyber

The Information Age connects industries with both efficiency and threats–so national security now spans cyber frontlines. By investing in this innovation, we fortify the security and reliability of our digital infrastructure, ensuring the protection of critical data against evolving cyber threats. AV portfolio company Galvanick saw the emergence of new cyber threats firsthand within industrial security systems: “Cyberattacks against industrial systems are on the rise, and they not only affect a firm’s bottom line, but can pose a physical hazard to facilities and employees,” said Joshua Steinman, CEO and Co-Founder of Galvanick. “Hiring industrial cybersecurity specialists is hard; the Galvanick platform was built with industrial systems in mind, and enables your existing team to watch over these critical environments while preserving uptime and reliability.”

Cyberattacks against industrial systems are on the rise, and they not only affect a firm’s bottom line, but can pose a physical hazard to facilities and employees.

3. Space Dominance and Satellite Technology

Space is the ultimate frontier in securing American interests. The global space economy has grown to more than $546 billion as governments and organizations look towards the solar system as an opportunity to enhance and protect life on Earth. By investing in satellite technology, space situational awareness, and space-based communication systems, we fortify U.S. dominance beyond Earth’s atmosphere. This strategic focus is pivotal in maintaining communication, navigation, intelligence, and surveillance capabilities crucial to national security.

Impulse Space, an AV portfolio company, is building foundational infrastructure to support the growth of the space economy by providing in-space transportation solutions. “This is an exciting time for both Impulse and the space industry,” says Impulse Founder and CEO Tom Mueller. “With smaller satellites and launch costs decreasing, space is more accessible than ever. There exists, however, the challenge to efficiently move payloads into higher-energy orbits. At Impulse, we don’t see this as a problem needing a solution but rather a question needing an answer. And we’ve got it.”

With smaller satellites and launch costs decreasing, space is more accessible than ever.

CONTINUING THE DISCUSSION

In an era defined by rapid technological advancements and global competition, the United States finds itself at a critical juncture in securing its strategic technology interests. From safeguarding our local governments against cyber threats to maintaining leadership in space exploration, the need for strategic investment in these domains has never been more urgent. Now is the time for bold initiatives to secure America’s future. By backing these strategic technologies, Alumni Ventures intends to do our part in securing that future.

Join our webinar to learn more about investing in strategic technologies and some of the innovators in the space.

FURTHER READING

Other great resources to contextualize:

  • The New York Times: The Pentagon Road to Venture Capital
  • CNBC: Startup Investors Are Fueling a Boom in U.S. Defense Tech
  • Forbes: VCs Fuel the Boom in Defense and Military Startups

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From the KoBold Co-Founders, “We’re trying to transform mineral exploration from a manual, judgment-guided, trial-and-error process into a data-driven and scalable science. It’s the mother of all needle-in-a-haystack problems: Find the significant minable deposits of cobalt, copper, lithium, and nickel resting anywhere from 100 to 2,000 meters deep in the Earth’s surface.”

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Alumni Ventures

Alumni Ventures offers individuals access to professional-grade venture capital, a key asset class missing from the portfolios of many sophisticated investors.