Feld, Herron, and O’Driscoll Talk Startups and Investments at Eureka Park

1/10/13Follow @jpruth

Beyond the glitz of new big ticket electronics, startup innovations sparked chatter at this year’s International CES in Las Vegas—especially after a trio of high-profile VCs came to Eureka Park, the startup-focused exhibitor area at the show.

Frank Gruber, founder of Las Vegas–based media company and events organizer Tech Cocktail, moderated the spirited chat that featured Brad Feld, founder of Foundry Group in Boulder, CO; Christine Herron, director with Intel’s investment arm Intel Capital in Santa Clara, CA; and Rory O’Driscoll, managing director with Scale Venture Partners in Foster City, CA. Startup America Partnership brought them together on opening day of CES at Eureka Park in the Venetian Hotel where they discussed what got their blood racing to invest and the role crowdfunding plays in product development.

Brad Feld, founder of Foundry Group and co-founder of TechStars.

Feld, also a co-founder of startup accelerator TechStars, said his firm invests in companies across country, and he’s particularly interested in startups that innovate in human-computer interaction. He joked about a future when self-aware machines dominate their organic creators. “I believe machines have already taken over; they’re just waiting very patiently because they’ve got no incentive to kill us off,” he said.

Matrix-style nightmares aside, Feld said he also funds companies that make their hardware as essential as their software. Foundry’s investments include San Francisco’s Fitbit, a maker of wearable health tracking devices; 3-D printer developer MakerBot in Brooklyn; and Modular Robotics, the Boulder, CO–based maker of Cubelets robot kits for kids. Cube-shaped Cubelets, which were on display at Eureka Park, perform different functions and react based on how they are connected to each other.

Feld said he also likes ideas that are one step away from activities that people already do, such as exercise, and that enhance users’ interaction with the world. Eureka Park exhibits that got him excited included Instabeat, a startup from Lebanon developing waterproof heart rate monitors that affix to swimmers’ goggles. “We’ve got a bunch of stuff for runners and cyclists,” Feld said, “For swimmers, there’s a couple of products and they kind of suck.”

Christine Herron, director with Intel’s investment arm Intel Capital.

Though Intel’s Herron said she invests in social commerce platforms and some infrastructure platforms, she also takes interest in consumer products such as mobile personal devices. “There’s nothing like making something tangible that you can actually drop on your foot,” she joked. Intel Capital’s investments include Palo Alto–based file sharing service Box, MongoDB developer 10gen in New York, energy management platform developer JouleX in Atlanta, and recipe search site Yummly in Palo Alto. Herron said her team tends to focus on early investments though Intel is stage agnostic.

While she finds Internet investments interesting because they can iterate quickly and generate immediate feedback, physical products such as Cubelets catch her eye as well. “It’s like cool Tinkertoys with the engine attached.” Other Eureka Park exhibitors … Next Page »

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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