Dot-com era tech executive Naveen Jain is getting ready to launch his next startup, an innovation factory that hopes to “change the trajectory of how we actually want to live.”
Jain said he’s never been afraid of a moonshot, pointing out that his other venture, Silicon Valley-based Moon Express, is literally trying to go to the moon. His new company, called BlueDot, will be staying on Earth for now, but it’s targeting similarly challenging feats, like curing diseases with ultrasound and harvesting ambient energy to wirelessly power devices of the future.
“The minute you start thinking something is impossible, it becomes impossible for you — but not for anyone else,” Jain told GeekWire on Wednesday, the first time he shared details of his new venture.
BlueDot will be based in the Seattle area. Jain, a controversial and charismatic executive who is best known for founding early Internet business InfoSpace, says he’s already recruited about five people to work for the company, though he’s not ready to announce who quite yet. He also has commitments for $5 million in initial funding.
Jain said 99 percent of what BlueDot does will be based on technology it licenses from universities and national labs. He said a lot of government-backed research has wide-ranging applications, but it’s only being used in narrow fields like national defense. BlueDot will license the technology, nurture and prototype new applications and then spin out businesses once it’s ready to stand on its own — or at least that’s the plan.
“Our thinking is that the work has already been done. The billions of dollars of taxpayer money has already been spent,” Jain said. “So why not at least use that for the benefit of humanity?”
The name BlueDot is a reference to a famous quote by scientist Carl Sagan, which said all of humanity exists on a single “pale blue dot” suspended in outer space.
Super excited about my new venture BlueDot, born on Carl Sagan's birthday. https://t.co/haYvq7du1N. Committed to taking care of this BlueDot
— Naveen Jain (@Naveen_Jain_CEO) November 10, 2015
BlueDot will begin with two projects. One aims to harvest ambient energy in order to charge devices. Jain says that would enable an entire new field of medical or IoT devices that are held back by batteries and charging cords today.
The company’s other project hopes to use noninvasive technologies, like ultrasound, to identify bacterial and viral pathogens in the human body. Jain said he thinks this kind of device, which could be used to diagnose diseases, could cut back on our use of antibiotics and move healthcare forward.
This is just the latest venture from Jain, a controversial figure in the Seattle area tech scene. InfoSpace, the company he founded in 1996, was once the region’s shining star with a market cap above $30 billion. The company eventually imploded during the dot-com crash, and Jain was pushed out in 2002 amid accusations that he misled investors. Jain has vigorously defended himself against those allegations over the years, saying that the situation arose when a broker mishandled shares in his kids’ trust accounts.
Jain went on to find future success, co-founding Intelius as a new way for people to peruse criminal records and conduct background checks online. That company was acquired by a private equity firm earlier this year for somewhere north of $100 million. In 2011, he also co-founded Moon Express, which hopes to be the first privately-backed firm to land on the moon within the next couple of years.
Jain says we’re living in the middle of one of the most innovative times ever, as technologies are converging and making the unimaginable possible. And he wants to get in on the action.
“What’s really amazing about this time is that a small group of people are doing things that were only being done by the large companies or even the large governments, the superpowers,” Jain said. “It is becoming possible for a small group of people to do things that were just not possible before because technology has democratized.”