Leap Motion won't ship its cutting-edge 3D gesture-control technology until July 22, but the company and one of its main investors, think that its ecosystem offers so much promise that they're starting a $25 million fund to support developers for the platform.
Highland Capital Partners, which led Leap Motion's Series A round last year, is launching the so-called Leap Fund in order to help boost entrepreneurs and companies developing for the Leap, a new technology that lets users control their computers with nothing more than movement of their hands. The $80 technology is accurate to a hundredth of a millimeter and has little, if any, lag.
Rather than trying to develop all applications using the technology itself, one of Leap Motion's earliest major business decisions was to open up an Apple-style app store, which it calls Airspace. There, developers can make their Leap-fueled tools available to the public, for free or for a fee. As Apple does, Leap Motion will collect a percentage of any revenue brought in through Airspace.
The company's decision to go with an Apple-style app store approach is no coincidence, as its president and COO, Andy Miller, is a former Apple senior vice president. He's also a former partner at Highland Capital Partners (HCP).
The Leap Fund was designed so that HCP can invest in promising technologies and companies utilizing Leap Motion's technology. Given that that technology has obvious applications across a wide range of industries, from gaming to medical to architecture and beyond, it's easy to imagine any number of potential investments for the fund. Highland also plans on offering mentorship and other advice to those receiving money through the Leap Fund. Leap Motion and Highland together plan to be involved in "joint community activities to help foster innovation and entrepreneurship around Leap Motion's technology platform," they said in a release.
Leap Motion has adopted a multipronged approach to getting its technology into consumers' hands. It will sell its Leap device, which connects to Windows and Mac computers via USB, on its own Web site, as well as through Best Buy's Web site and retail stores. At the same time, it has struck deals with Asus and Hewlett-Packard under which those computer makers will bundle Leap Motion's technology, and in HP's case, will embed it in as yet unidentified devices.
The Leap Fund, of course, is hardly the first built around investing in a specific technology ecosystem. A-list Silicon Valley VC firm Kleiner Perkins famously launched the $200 million iFund to invest in the development of iOS apps. While Kleiner Perkins, Google Ventures, and Andreessen Horowitz created the Glass Collective to boost development of apps for Google Glass. Samsung also created a $100 million fund to invest in cloud and mobile technologies.
What's not known, of course, is how successful the Leap Motion ecosystem can be. On the one hand, tens of thousands of developers have expressed interest in building tools for the platform, and there will almost certainly be many breakout hits using the technology. But there's no way to know yet if those tools will generate any significant revenue. That may be one reason that the Leap Fund is getting started with a relatively modest amount of money, at least as compared to, say, the iFund.
To date, there are only a relatively small number of apps that have been built for Airspace, including several from big names like Autodesk, Corel, Disney Interactive, and the Weather Channel.