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Echodyne marks the latest in a series of investments by Bill Gates in companies spun out of Intellectual Ventures, run by Nathan Myhrvold, right. (GeekWire File Photo)

Bill Gates and Madrona Venture Group are leading a $15 million investment in a new company called Echodyne, which is developing secretive new radar technology based on artificial materials that can manipulate and control electromagnetic radiation.

echodyneEchodyne, based in Bellevue, Wash., is promising to disrupt the traditional market for radar technologies. The startup, whose existence is being announced publicly for the first time tonight, is spinning off from Intellectual Ventures, the company run by former Microsoft technology chief Nathan Myhrvold.

It’s just the fourth spin-off from Intellectual Ventures, the technology company whose large patent holdings have been a lightning rod in the tech industry. Gates has now invested in all four IV spin-off companies.

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CEO Eben Frankenberg

Echodyne’s CEO is Eben Frankenberg, an Intellectual Ventures veteran, and its CTO is Tom Driscoll, a former Duke University researcher who specializes in metamaterials, described by the company as “artificially structured materials used to control and manipulate a range of physical phenomena including electromagnetic radiation.”

“Echodyne’s innovative use of metamaterials holds great promise for a wide range of new radar applications,” said Gates, in a news release issued by the company.  “I’ve worked with Eben for almost a decade and I’m looking forward to what Echodyne will accomplish with his leadership.”  

The company declined to reveal further details about its technology, for now.

CTO Tom Driscoll
CTO Tom Driscoll

This is the first time that Madrona Venture Group, the Seattle-based venture capital firm, has invested in an Intellectual Ventures spinoff. The managing partner leading the deal for Madrona is Tim Porter, who is joining the Echodyne board. In addition to Madrona and Gates, investors in the round included Vulcan Capital, Lux Capital, and The Kresge Foundation.

It’s the latest bet by Gates on a company emerging from Intellectual Ventures. The Microsoft co-founder is also an investor in TerraPower, a company developing an alternative nuclear reactor; Evolv, a company developing new security scanning technology; and Kymeta, a company that is developing a new type of satellite broadband antenna.

Like Echodyne, both Evolv and Kymeta are basing their products on metamaterials.

Echodyne CEO Frankenberg made it clear that Echodyne has big ambitions.

“I’m very excited about the market potential for our breakthrough metamaterials-based radars. They stand to be disruptive to existing radar markets, but also enabling for whole new categories of radars never before contemplated or thought possible,” Frankenberg said in a news release. “I’m grateful to our investors, who share our vision, to IV for inventing and incubating the technology, and to commercial and government customers and partners who are giving us a positive and welcome reception.”

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