Spatial Labs, a web3 infrastructure and hardware company, announced today the closing of a $10 million seed round led by Blockchain Capital with participation from Marcy Venture Partners, the firm co-founded by Jay-Z. Iddris Sandu founded Spatial Labs in 2020, seeking to create products and shopping experiences using augmented reality.
“The metaverse to us is not a virtual space that people go to spend time in. It’s a world in which we can add more context to your real world and make your real world more enjoyable,” Sandu told TechCrunch. “We’re going to be responsible for catalyzing a completely new generation to be more conscious of their environment; more conscious of how they spend and how they buy.”
“It’s always crypto winter being a Black founder.” Iddris Sandu, founder, Spatial Labs
Spatial Labs company made a splash in the industry two years ago by selling clothes designed by Sandu, which were embedded with a microchip called LNQ (pronounced link) that provided consumers with the item’s provenance and ownership history, seen, naturally, on the blockchain.
Almost like a QR code, tapping the LNQ chip with a phone unlocked online and in-person experiences, such as virtual concerts. Last year, Spatial Labs launched a marketplace for buying and selling items. It also sold microchips to those wishing to sell their own embedded products and upload their own exclusive offerings for potential buyers. The chip, for example, allows brands to add loyalty programs directly into their products rather than, say, signing someone up for an email list. To gain access to the loyalty benefits, all consumers must do is bring their phone within proximity to the chip sown into the item they purchased from the brand.
“There was a time when nutritional facts weren’t available on products, so people were just consuming anything,” Sandu said. “We want to give and create a new nutritional fact ecosystem for the products that you put on your body, as well as the objects you put into your home.”
This seed round makes Sandu, now 25, one of the youngest Black men to raise a double-digit seed round—and a solo founder at that. He’s already part of a somewhat rarified club. Per Crunchbase data, only 1% of all VC funds were allocated to Black founders last year; out of the $21.5 billion raised by web3 startups globally last year, $60 million of that went to U.S.-based Black web3 founders, one of whom was Sandu.
He said it took around six months to close his round. Asked what it was like raising during what was also a crypto winter, he said that for Black founders, there is little difference between a bear and a bull market due to persistent funding discrimination. “It’s always crypto winter being a Black founder,” he said. “It’s challenging, but it’s worth it.”
With the fresh capital, Spatial Labs plans to continue scaling its blockchain-enabled technology and expand into other industries, such as media and entertainment. Later this year, it also plans on launching a device called Node to simplify how long it takes to develop and deploy augmented reality experiences. “We’re also thinking about reducing the barrier of entry into web3 and augmented reality using our chip technology,” Sandu continued.
Sandu has come a long way from where he started. Born in Accra, Ghana, he moved with his family to Los Angeles at the age of three. Inspired by the launch of the iPhone, he spent time at his local libraries, first in Compton and then later in Harbor City after his family moved, to teach himself computer programming with hopes of one day becoming an entrepreneur.
By high school, he was working for Google and building his own apps. He was recognized by then-President Barack Obama for his work in STEM, forwent attending MIT to focus on building technology, consulted with Twitter, Snapchat, and Rihanna, created software for Uber, and helped create the first smart retail store with the late Nipsey Hussle.
At the same time, he realized there was an information gap affecting Black youth like himself, where even his textbooks in Compton were outdated.
“If you want to keep people out of space, the easiest way to do that is creating separatism as it relates to information,” Sandu said. He considers himself a lucky one in that, at a young age, he was able to find his way around pushing boundaries but notes that it shouldn’t have to be that way. Next year, he hopes to launch a personal fund to support people of color and will focus on tech and hardware innovation.
Until then, though, he’s building Spatial Labs. He wants it to become one of the fastest-growing unicorns and, overall, wishes to inspire the next generation of technologists; naturally, of course, he wants also to create products that, well, change the world.
“Legacy for me is centered around how many lives we can impact, more so than how many products we can sell,” he said.
“It’s the purpose that I feel I’ve been called here to do,” Sandu continued. “To open doors and to hold them as long as possible and eventually make sure that those doors simply do not exist. No one can gatekeep if there is not a door there.”