Turning a startup into a profitable business is hard. For zanier science-focused startups that spend a lot of time in the lab, it can be even harder.
And while the government does most of the heavy lifting in this area by funding research at universities and other facilities, the government’s job isn’t to find business applications for scientific research. For the Thiel Foundation’s seed-stage fund, Breakout Labs, that presents an opportunity. And today, Breakout Labs is adding four new startups working on “radical scientific advances” to its roster.
Breakout Labs is a seed-stage fund housed within the nonprofit Thiel Foundation that awards grants (up to $350,000 each) to startups focused on technically complex projects that are harder to bring to market. The grants are later swapped for equity stakes, and any profit yielded gets reinvested in the Breakout Labs program. The Thiel Foundation is named after and run by Peter Thiel, one of the most prominent investors and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, and a guy who has long complained about the state of STEM support in the U.S.
The four recipients announced today are focused on areas ranging from agriculture to aging. Maxterial is working on something that will dramatically reduce the wear and tear on objects ranging from smartphones to shipping containers. CyteGen wants to bring a Ray Bradbury novel to life, targeting age-related health decline. NanoGriptech is making an extra-strong adhesive, and the MIT-born C2Sense is working on cheap sensors that can measure if the food in your fridge is on the verge of becoming food waste.
In an interview, Breakout Labs’ executive director Lindy Fishburne explained the organization’s investing strategy. She also gave some insight into the program’s philosophy, which sounds exactly like something Peter Thiel would support.
“We engage when there’s more technical risk on the table, and we engage earlier than when market-rate investors get involved,” Fishburne said. “If [the startups] hit the technical milestones we set for them, they’re more attractive and palatable for investors who come on.”
Fishburne added that the Foundation “sees companies as the agent of change” even if they fail to develop a sustainable business.
“Philanthropy should play a role when markets are broken. We think about that in housing or food supply, but the market for early-stage science innovation is also broken.”
To date, Breakout Labs has brought aboard 26 companies (including the new batch) with the goal of guiding them to a Series A round or some other exit. Fishburne said that of the previous 22, six were able to raise a Series A, and one was acquired.
“We’re very happy with the companies we’ve worked with so far,” she said. “Ultimate success is that the technologies we fund get into the world and affect people’s lives, the environment and the economy. But that’ll take a long time.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.