2018 Tech Predictions, Impact Investing and Bananas! 🍌
Newsletter 003 • January 29, 2018
We hope you enjoyed your holidays and recharged your batteries for 2018. Ready for the year’s first dose of curated content around technology, entrepreneurship and finance for impact? Here we go!
Positive Breakthroughs happened last year. Mashable compiled its annual list of innovations that improved the world in 2017, including a 20 cent device to diagnose infectious diseases. Top 10 Conservation Tech included a portable field lab, and drones to monitor wildlife habitat. Other things we liked: 3D printed houses that are assembled in as little as 8 hours, and the rise of clean meat with its promises to put a dent in the environmental impact of animal farming.
What should we expect for 2018? Exponential View’s Azeem Azhar shares his 18 technology predictions with the WEF (and MIT Tech Review). Azeem predicts tech investments will be concentrated in later stages, and corporate investment will focus on AI, with a technology stack diverging from traditional software. Speaking of which, Google CEO Sundar Pichai just said at Davos that “AI is probably the most important thing humanity has ever worked on”.
So much happening in healthcare right now. Key trends in 2018 should be an increased adoption of blockchain, analytics and AI (unsurprisingly). Amazon, Apple, Google have all increased their patent activity on health monitoring. Meanwhile, according to WIRED, fake news and anti-vaccination campaigns on social media are putting us under serious risk of a massive disease outbreak. Finally, hard not to mention the possibilities opened by gene editing technology CRISPR-Cas9, which will soon enter trials-on-humans stage (take a quick graphic lesson).
Struggles with machine learning: the best way Google found to erase racism from their search mechanism was by totally erasing the label Gorillas from the Photos service’s lexicon. And psychedelic stickers are puzzling computers.
CES fatigue? The world’s biggest consumer tech event failed to impress, and found, as the Guardian puts it, “an industry out of touch with the problems it really needs to solve”. Meaning, mostly gadgets, smart home crap and a clothes-folding robot. When will tech events reinvent themselves to promote “innovation that matters”? 82% of all wealth created in 2017 went to the richest 1% and none of it went to the world’s poorest half, Oxfam shows in its new annual inequality report. This, like climate change and others, is a massive problem waiting for a solution.
All I see is crypto. Hard to avoid the hype, but a few well-articulated predictions can help you keep a cold head, such as Don Tapscott’s 10 crypto predictions for 2018. Among our favourites: a) most utility tokens will be worthless and future of ICOs lies in equity tokens; b) tokenization and smart contracts could bring much impact on carbon credits trading and natural asset conservation. Meanwhile, Yannick Roux places two bets on Token Economy: centralized exchanges will die this year, and only 2 of the top 10 coins will keep their status (will others join the dead pool?). But as The Atlantic writes: “It is Silly Season in the Land of Cryptocurrency” with companies rebranding to surf the hype and inflate their valuation. High-profile examples raising doubt include KODAKCoin or Telegram’s TON. Lower-profile, but funnier, include bananas or even a Jesus Coin.
How can we bring more (mainstream) capital to impact investing? We can hope that BlackRock CEO’s message “contribute to society, or risk losing our support” will help spark a larger movement. An interesting model is the aligned intermediary, which syndicates institutional investors with a set of services (expertise, deal flow, investor coordination, etc). This, advocates hope, could help the private sector bridge the funding gap of $2.5 trillion per year to achieve the SDGs. Pioneers of this model include eponymous funds Aligned Intermediary and Align17.
Impact management is hard for both investors and operators. An attempt to make this process more efficient is Ixo Foundation’s “Proof of Impact” protocol, which uses the blockchain to register “impact events” with the aim to reduce the cost and time of evaluating projects. In South Africa, Amply is using their protocol to replace an existing paper-based system to register children for a government-funded preschool subsidy. In its latest report, the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) looks at how investors can keep the mission alive after “responsible exits”.
On the corporate side, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi launched a massive $1B VC Fund for new mobility. Battery technology is their first bet. After their failed collaboration with Better Place, the company is eager to work again with cleantech startups.
Y Combinator is getting into bio, focusing on specific verticals per batch (first one on healthspan and age-related diseases) and with a check much bigger than their usual: $500k — $1 million for 10–20% ownership, scaling linearly. The program is designed for early-stage companies and will offer free lab space (TBD).
Announced at Davos. The World Economic Forum is launching UpLink: a new digital platform to connect impact-driven startups with a global leadership ecosystem. The promise is that it will provide “a diverse mix of stakeholders, tailored knowledge andsolutions to accelerate and support Startup growth”. Very excited to see how this unfolds!
Deep Science Ventures turns one. Co-Founder Mark Hammond reflects on the challenges and learnings the team has come across during the first year of the London-based science company builder, and celebrates their 14 deep tech company portfolio: “a principally customer development driven approach, which works so well for both tech-push and purely digital venture acceleration, really wouldn’t be sufficient to drive the kind of class-leading impact that we were aiming for.”
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