Ren Tech

February 19th, 2023 | 1:39 PM
Author: Sean Hoge (Starship Ventures, Founder & GP)

Part I: Introduction to Ren Tech

“Ren Tech”— Renaissance Technology —is a thematic approach to investing I have developed at Starship Ventures that utilizes past innovations as an aid for investing in the future. I have always loved history and by studying the people and ideas that came before us we can use the past as a roadmap for building a better future.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes and as explorers in this new age we are able to build upon the work done by those that came before us. I define a Ren Tech approach to company building as an implementation and revival of a technology that had previously been consigned to history. Ren Tech companies are often led by visionary founders, bring immense change to industries, and ignite a wave of startups pursuing the same set of technologies in their wake.

Ren Tech is not a recent phenomenon. The pages of Leonardo da Vinci’s & Thomas Edison's writings were teeming with brilliant ideas that eventually came to pass, brought to bear by future tinkerers yet to be born. We can thank da Vinci for the concepts that became robots, parachutes, helicopters, and scuba equipment; Edison conceptually invented movies, the mining separator, solar panels, and more.

Ren Tech founders compound the technological innovations of our forerunners, and pair this with the contextual understanding to know when the time is right to remix a dormant idea from history. Many successful Ren Tech companies have been the catalyst for accelerated growth of entire industries. There are five primary conditions of change that I typically assess when evaluating prospective Ren Tech investments:


Materials & Manufacturing

Material science has been advancing at a breathtaking rate. Novel composites mix and match materials with new and useful properties. Combining new materials with better tools and manufacturing methods enables rapid prototyping, complexed geometry for parts, and scale.

With Ren Tech, by investing in technology that already existed before our time, we get to make logic shortcuts:, in 1910 the margins made sense for materials and labor? Great. We can probably do it today with materials and technology that are orders of magnitude better and at a fraction of the cost!


Capital Availability

Typically, when people say “that idea is crazy”, they usually just mean expensive. Access to capital has increased by many orders of magnitude since the inception of the Venture Capital financing method. Venture Capital has enabled the proliferation of ideas at an accelerated rate, and for 50 years has demonstrated repeatedly that it is the best financial catalyst for innovation. ~1% of assets are invested into Venture Capital, yet this is responsible for 70% of the market cap of NASDAQ. In addition to improved capital access, macro economic trends make it easier to attempt certain ideas.


Business Practices

One of the greatest innovations of Silicon Valley is how to run a business. Over the past few decades operational business doctrine, legal innovations (SAFE Notes, etc), and the never ending SaaS software stack have made it easier than ever to start and run almost any kind of business. The ease of starting and running a company enables founders to focus more on what really matters, innovating.


Public Perception

Introducing a conceptualized but truly novel technology to the world can sometimes be scary to the public. I have found there is a sweet spot for making an idea familiar enough, to get people to buy into the concept. Humans often need to tether novel concepts to ideas they already understand to accept something as plausible, or to trust it. Science fiction as a genre does much of the heavy lifting of educating the population on new ideas. For technologies that actually existed in years past like Airships; enough time needs to pass for the public to forget outrage & fear. The widely circulated video footage of the Hindenburg disaster was the first moving image news reel that many people ever set eyes on. This single disaster soured public perception of the technology stagnating further Airship development.



Regulation spurred by public outrage often results in the implementation of onerous rulesets that stifle innovative pursuits, and in some cases may prevent further deployment of an existing technology entirely. The nuclear industry in the United States is a perfect example of this. Strict regulation by the NRC & DoE combined with public opinion has resulted in obstinate costs for new nuclear power plants. Contrast the U.S. with France, a nation that derives 70% of it’s power from nuclear reactors is able to store all of their nuclear waste in a 20,000 square foot room because of modern reactor design. Nearly a century after nuclear fission was discovered, a recent wave of startups (TerraPower, X-energy, and Kairos Power) have set out to combat our energy crisis with an improved version IV reactor design. In 2022 Congress ordered the NRC to write new rules that replace a regulatory framework that was originally developed in the 1950’s. When these new rules are expected to be implemented in 2025, nuclear power can once again make up a larger % of the U.S. power grid.

Part II: Parsing the Past

Ren Tech Case Studies

Modern Computing | Apple

In December 1968, the American Federation of Information Processing Societies held their Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco. On December 9th at the conference, Douglas Engelbart of the Augmented Human Intellect Research Center at Stanford Research Institute, gave his presentation "A Research Center for Augmenting Human Intellect". Rather than a traditional speech, he gave a live demonstration of how things would evolve from hours of using command lines to interface with computers into most of the intuitive technology we have come to use every day."At the time, Doug was a voice crying into the wilderness." said Engelbart's collaborator, Bill Paxton. Now he is known for founding the field of human–computer interaction.

Apple's first logo used at the company's founding in 1976 depicted Issac Newton being hit on the head by an apple which initiated his discovery of the concept of gravity.

Engelbart’s presentation is still considered one of the most significant events in the history of computing and is today known as the “Mother of All Demos”. His demonstration included the use of a computer mouse, graphical user interfaces, windows, hypertext, video conferencing, and more, meaning users wouldn’t need to spend hours interacting with computers through command lines.

Even within the startup and venture capital ecosystem—supposedly a haven for deep thought, technology, and contrarian ideas—people often forget that Silicon Valley’s namesake has origins with actual silicon chipsets. The innovations that Engelbart showcased at the end of 1968 were possible because in 1947 the transistor replaced the vacuum tube (originally using germanium rather than silicon) and in the late 1950s integrated circuitry allowed size reduction and mass production of microprocessor technology.

Apple, one of the most successful companies in history, is a Ren Tech company. In 1984, Steve Jobs unveiled the Macintosh computer, with many of the features originally theorized and debuted by Engelbart. Steve Jobs set out to implement and expand on Engelbart’s ideas over the first 30 years of the company’s history. Taking computers out of the laboratory, into our home, and then our pockets.

Space | SpaceX

NASA Apollo 11 - 1969
SpaceX Starship - 2022

We went to the moon in 1969?!? that long ago?!!!? and we haven't been back since 1972?!?............why? Everyone born after 1972 can probably relate to this childhood discovery and subsequent letdown. A key reason for this is the artificially high cost of space programs, making it difficult for space agencies like NASA to develop and implement new initiatives. The ‘cost plus contracting’ business model means that contracts for space programs are awarded based on the estimated cost of a project, with a profit margin added on top. This means that the contractor is guaranteed a profit, regardless of whether the project is completed on time or within budget.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has taken a different approach to this traditional model. Instead of seeking to maximize profits through government contracts, SpaceX has focused on affordability and efficiency to make commercial space flight more accessible. We see the Ren Tech approach in SpaceX's evolving Soviet-era rocket engines into proof-of-concept and eventually developing “reusable rockets." Recovery and multiple reuse of rockets after launch, advanced propulsion systems and new spacecraft designs, reduce the cost and complexity of spaceflight.


When I was a child, I remember looking at images of Concorde, the first supersonic passenger-carrying commercial airplane. Concorde’s final flight was in 2003; when I asked if we could take a flight on one and break the sound barrier, I was told "we don't make them anymore, they're too costly and dangerous." It seemed as though these incredible things were only going to be experienced by those who came before me. The rationalizations and reasons why felt thin and empty, even to a child, and there simply seemed to be an aversion to anything “risky” or new. If the economics for Concorde in the 1970s and 1980s even slightly made sense, then why can’t we do better today?

A major barrier to the continuation and proliferation of commercial supersonic aircraft was the sonic boom created by shockwaves as the aircraft passed through the air. Advances in materials and manufacturing over the past 50 years make the return of supersonic passenger air travel in this decade seem not only plausible, but inevitable. These innovations include improved aerodynamic design, simulation. and evolution of materials technology. It is now possible to build aircraft structures that are more flexible and able to absorb or dissipate the energy of shockwaves, and reduce the sonic boom associated with supersonic flight.

In 1970, there were a little over 3 million annual air travelers. By 2019 this had increased to over 4.5 billion. As the world becomes more interconnected and globalized, people are increasingly looking for ways to reduce the time of traveling, particularly on long-distance routes. Renewed attempts at realizing commercial supersonic passenger air travel are underway, and a Ren Tech approach underpins the two maturing startups: Boom Supersonic and Hermeus.

I have been implementing Ren Tech as a strategy within the Starship Ventures portfolio for a number of years, and we have a few maturing companies that fit squarely within the Ren Tech framework.

Part III: Past -Portfolio


In 1908, you could order a six room house from a Sears catalog. Today Atmos is enabling you to build the home of your dreams from your computer.

Sears Catalog - 1908
Atmos Home & Floorplan - 2023


As it turns out, moving things through tubes is pretty effective. Our rules, systems, and regulations are what have gotten in the way. Today, it is safer and easier than ever to move matter than people. Pipedream will enable the delivery of goods across mile distances in under a minute.

Pneumatic Tube Operator - 1910’s
Pipedream - 2023


In 1920, Thomas Edison said, “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that. I wish I had more years left.” Starship Ventures portfolio company Reflect is beaming down sunlight to greatly improve the yield of solar farms at night.

Solar Power Satellite Development 1978 - Committee on Energy and Natural Resources United States Senate

Reflect - 2023

We are on the precipice of a Technological Renaissance. I have high conviction that this decade will be remembered as one where many revolutionary technologies were brought to the world at scale. An effervescent wave of founders, builders, and investors have set out to fix many of the problems in our world through technology, and many of these companies that change the way we live for the better will be Ren Tech companies.

Ren Tech

by Sean Hoge

Praveen Mandal


Praveen is a veteran of 7 successful formative stage start-ups and a seasoned tech executive at 3 publicly traded companies. He is named co-inventor on 10 patents. As a founder, his 7 early stage startups have yielded 3 acquisitions, 2 unicorns (2 IPOs) and 0 failures. Companies he has founded: Pipal Systems (acquired by Riverstone Networks), ChargePoint, the Emerging Technologies Group at SGI, and 2predict. Praveen has held SVP of R&D or CTO positions at Riverstone Networks, Lucent Technologies, SGI and is currently CTO at Volta.

David Holz


David Holz is the founder & CEO of MidJourney, the most popular AI image generation platform on the internet. David began his startup journey as co-founding CTO of Leap Motion, one of the first AR/VR companies. Prior to founding Leap Motion, David worked for NASA’s Langley Research Center and conducted neuroscience research while at The Max Planck Institute. He studied Applied Math at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, ultimately leaving his PhD program to co-found Leap Motion in 2010.

Georges Sudarskis


Georges lead the private equity practice at the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) for 11 years. He shaped ADIA into one of the most sought-after sovereign wealth funds in the world, directing their investment into some of the most successful private investment vehicles of the digital age. Georges has been recognized as one of “The 100 most influential people of the decade in private equity” and one of “The 30 most influential LPs in Europe”.

Bharat Mediratta


Bharat joined Google in 2004 and lead Google’s search team for over a decade until 2015. In the industry, he is considered the architect of modern search. Under his leadership, Google captured 92% of internet search queries worldwide powering 30 billion searches per day and over 10 trillion searches per year. Bharat recently joined Coinbase as the first “fellow”.

Stephanie Sher


Stephanie Sher was on the early team at Datadog, shaping and executing on GTM strategy. She has led product and growth at robotics and machine learning companies, and now focuses on her portfolio of 30+ companies building social, machine learning, and software infrastructure in SF, NYC, and Europe.