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MIT’s new investing Engine raises $200 million

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

CEO Katie Rae sees a recognition that the venture capital world must find better ways to evaluate new technologies.

By Globe Staff 

When the founders of Analytical Space first visited venture capitalists in an attempt to raise money for their project aimed at improving satellite communication, they ran into a common obstacle for startups taking on complicated technological issues.

Investors were interested, but they didn’t want to buy in before the Boston company had actually deployed its product in space. Problem was, the company couldn’t afford to do that without raising more money.

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Such disconnects between investors and “tough tech” innovators are common enough that MIT last year founded The Engine, which provides startup founders with money, technical expertise, and access to specialized equipment to help them get started.

On Tuesday, The Engine is expected to announce that it has raised $200 million to invest in the companies, and that Analytical Space is among the first group of companies added to its portfolio.

The Engine had set out to raise $150 million , including $25 million from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Katie Rae, The Engine’s chief executive and managing partner, said the interest from private investors reflects a recognition that the venture capital world must find better ways to evaluate the technical promise of emerging technologies, and give them time to succeed.

“There’s deep alignment with our investors around going after very important high-impact companies that could be world-changing, with the understanding that the time frames could be longer,” she said.

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The link to MIT didn’t hurt the fund with investors, and it made a big difference with startups. Six of the Engine’s first seven investments have ties to the school. The founders of Analytical Space met at Harvard Business School. The company makes equipment that can quickly transfer data gathered by satellites back to the ground.

Dan Nevius, cofounder of Analytical Space, said the technical expertise of Rae and her team was an obvious cut above what they had heard from other potential investors.

“We felt like for a lot of them, the first hour or so [of a pitch] was us just trying to teach them physics,” Nevius said. The Engine, on the other hand, “immediately understood what we were working on and had a lot of interesting questions that showed they understood at a concrete level what we were trying to do and how it was different than what had been done before.”

The company, which has raised a total of $4 million, hopes to send a device into space next year.

The Engine, whose companies work out of its space near Central Square, also included the following companies in its first group of investments:

 Baseload Renewables , which is building energy-storage technology to make renewable energy a more reliable provider of round-the-clock power

 C2Sense , which is developing a technology that can translate smell into data for applications including food, agriculture, and workplace safety.

 iSee , which is creating artificial intelligence that works with people in settings including autonomous vehicles.

 Kytopen , which is trying to make it easier and faster to develop genetically engineered cells.

 Suono Bio , which will use ultrasonic technology to deliver therapeutics.

 Via Separations , which is building a more efficient process for the industrial separation of materials.


Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter @andyrosen.