The Los Angeles firm's goal of commercializing technology created by research scientists isn't new, but its approach of pursuing only those ideas that address existing needs is different. Typically, venture investors find the technology first and an appropriate market second. What really burnishes this star is that it has exclusive commercial access to the fruits of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and HRL Laboratories, which is jointly owned by Boeing, General Motors, and Raytheon.
"These labs and scientists have a history of developing technology that changes the way the world works," Tota says. HRL is credited with creating the first laser and first liquid-crystal display, and with discovering the principle behind the mass manufacturing of semiconductors. NASA's lab is renowned for its advances in instruments and software for deep-space exploration, many of which are now used on Earth.
Tota, who in addition to starting his own VC firm, co-founded a hedge fund seven years ago at the ripe old age of 24. He has already pinpointed two technologies as candidates for X-Laboratories, the commercial launching pad Arcturus helped establish with an $850,000 investment to bring together scientific and business minds. One idea is a microchip that enhances high-speed Internet security; the other involves scientific tools and algorithms for DNA sequencing.
Besides his business successes, Tota has a starry creative career. Two years ago, he wrote and directed a short film, Trickle, which won the grand prize at the American Independent Film Festival. He's also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, a poetry award.