A National Frontier Tech Public-Private Partnership to Spur Economic Growth

Authors: Katie Rae, Michael Kearney, Orin Hoffman


The United States government needs to radically change our national approach to the commercial growth of frontier tech technology companies (e.g., new energy production and distribution, advanced manufacturing, synthetic biology, materials, robotics, mobility, space exploration, and next-generation semiconductors). Frontier tech startups can advance our nation’s future global competitive advantage, providing an opportunity to create high-tech and low-tech jobs and reshore other jobs. Coupling investment in the frontier tech innovation ecosystem with workforce training will allow the U.S. to reinvent and revitalize aspects of our declining or offshored industrial sectors and rebuild the country’s manufacturing capabilities.

The U.S. government should create a $500M fund and an administration authority that allows relevant government agencies to create public-private partnerships. This requires collaboration with private capital providers that utilizes public funding to incentivize private investment in early stage frontier tech companies. The goal is not to subsidize private investment capital in areas where the current free market system is working, but rather to identify those critical national industrial base areas where private capital is insufficiently investing and use matching grants to spur early stage private investment. This early partnership will allow increased access and collaboration between historically siloed government and venture capital innovation ecosystems. For frontier tech companies, whose growth requires both public and private capital, the U.S. must utilize our resources more efficiently to create a globally competitive future economic base.

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About the Authors

Katie Rae serves as the CEO & Managing Partner of The Engine, a venture capital fund built by MIT, that invests in early-stage companies solving the world’s biggest problems through the convergence of breakthrough science, engineering and leadership. She serves as a Board Member at Commonwealth Fusion Systems, Form Energy, Via Separations, and Lilac Solutions. Katie has advised hundreds of founders and invested in over 100 companies. She holds an MBA from Yale and BA in Biology from Oberlin College.

Orin Hoffman is a Venture Partner on the investment team at The Engine. In addition to investment responsibilities, Orin leads The Engine’s government affairs team which is dedicated to reducing friction for the frontier technology ecosystem to engage with government. In this capacity, Orin serves on multiple congressional, industry, and other government initiatives. Orin was most recently a senior government civilian at the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) where he served in both investment and CTO roles. Prior to DIUx, Orin spun out and served as Chief Technologist at Endeavor Robotics, which was later acquired by FLIR systems. Orin started his career in R&D at iRobot, where he led the development and deployment of robotic systems to various disaster and conflict responses. Orin holds BA and MS degrees in physics and electrical computer engineering as well as several patents.

Michael Kearney is a Senior Associate at The Engine, where he brings over a decade of operational and research experience in commercializing energy technology. Michael’s background combines training in economics and systems engineering with expertise in energy technology, market development and operational experience as an entrepreneur. Michael holds a Ph.D. from MIT Sloan School of Management, where his research focused on frictions in the commercialization of science, regulatory barriers to innovation and entrepreneurial strategy. Previously, he was the first employee at a clean-tech startup called Ambri, where he led business development efforts for five years, working with customers across the United States. Michael received an M.S. in Technology and Policy from MIT and a B.A. in Mathematics and Political Science from Williams College.