Impact Tech, Crypto Boom & Happy Holidays!
Newsletter 002 • December 22, 2017
HO HO HO 🎄
As you have been a good person this year (or so we hope) we will reward you with some good news on the frontiers of impact. If this is your first time reading us you might like to check out what Good Tech Lab is all about. Enjoy!
At the HelloTomorrow Global Summit, deep tech entrepreneurs showcased solutions to energy transition, fossil-free materials and sustainable agriculture. Global Startup Challenge winners included circular materials made from methane gas, modular self-driving minivans, and biodegradable sanitary pads from banana fiber, serving women in rural India. During the event, we also listened to AI rockstar Stuart Russell explain the challenges of making it human-compatible, in the most didactic and sometimes hilarious way. Congrats to our friends from HT for another great edition!
On AI: MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito published a provocative manifesto questioning the “singularitarian” belief that AI will supersede humans, and that any issue can be fixed by science and engineering. He is calling for responsible technology development inspired by complex biological systems, as an alternative to blind faith in unlimited economic growth. We could not agree more, especially when McKinsey predicts that 800M jobs could be lost to automation by 2030.
ImpactAlpha just published their 2017 highlights on Impact Tech. They range from the cleantech renaissance to the momentum of the “new protein” space, passing through inclusive fintech and agritech, and blockchain-based solutions for the 2030 goals such as those prototyped at the Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition.
At NUMA’s TechForPlanet in Station F, we tasted the Ohoo edible water bottle (Emmanuel Macron did not) and caught up with a couple tech for good startups such as bio-sourced dyeing Pili and circular washing machine Increvable.
Despite continued criticism of Silicon Valley, we are happy to see many promising companies from the Bay Area are targeting massive global problems.Examples include Modern Meadow (animal-free animal products), Freenome (early cancer detection) and Zipline (drone-based healthcare delivery).
Impossible Labs launched Airminers, a useful index of companies working in carbon capture and sequestration. Meanwhile, other chemical elements like rare earth and precious metals are nearing depletion, increasing pressure on tech supply chains.
At Slush’s 10th anniversary edition, we saw investors banking on the positive impact of technology. Besides the opening keynote from an optimistic Al Gore, we loved to hear from pioneer impact seed funds like Fifty Years, Obvious Ventures, Norssken and Katapult. Another highlight: Atomico’s annual report on the European tech scene, which states Europe is entering a “new age of entrepreneurship” where technology is used to solve the world’s biggest challenges.
SOSV and HAX founders published a very nice history of VC innovation on TechCrunch. Since ARDC’s very first 500x investment, and the maritime origins of the concept of “carried interest”, Sean O’Sullivan, Cyril Ebersweiler and Benjamin Joffe made a great synthesis of how accelerators, startup studios, platform VCs, angel networks, crowdfunding or ICOs have transformed the space of investment so far.
Speaking of ICOs, we are heading to $4B total in 2017 according to CoinDesk, even though it seems to have slowed down recently, while the price of Bitcoin literally exploded in December. Total crypto assets are now worth $500B, Vinay Gupta shares his thoughts for 2018: either the crypto community proves it can solve intractable problems (and not only cryptokitties), or it will all have been a bubble. Concerns about the climate cost of Bitcoin, are (re)surfacing, even though calculations are still messy as reported by Stefano Bernardi and Yannick Roux’ weekly Token Economy roundup.
Meanwhile, Estonia wants to become the global haven for trusted ICOs, by offering legal support and services (like identity verification based on its e-Residency system) to crypto token creators. The country is also planning their own “estcoin”. Other interesting efforts in ICO governance include Blockstack’s token model, as well as Neufund’s efforts to “tokenize” real company equity.
Beyond blockchains, we often hear data science will be a VC gamechanger, with Capital-As-A-Service. With that idea, Social Capital wants to remove all biases and inefficiencies in the investment process. And doing so: employ 10+ million people, positively impact 25% of the world’s population, and make a trillion dollars by 2045. As Chamath Palihapitiya says: “To do that, you have to be technological and to think very broadly about building things that can stand the test of time”.
Attempts to reduce discrimination in VC funding are emerging, giving more opportunity to founders coming from different backgrounds and geographies, like Unilever and Sundial’s $100 million fund for women of color.
Other stories we liked in Venture Funding: a great overview of deep tech investing by Deep Science Ventures, and the emergence of co-investment platforms for systems change, in both philanthropy and impact investing.
Are we witnessing the end of the startup era? This is the thesis of TechCrunch’s Jon Evans, which explains that tech giants (Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft) concentrate most investments in key emerging technologies. Startups with little resources will have a much harder time to compete on these capital-intensive sectors, than on apps which were much easier to bootstrap.
User-Centered Design is key to solve the right problems. Blue Ridge Labs is an accelerator focused on serving the low-income population in Brooklyn: their in-house research team provides founders with unique insights, based on their trusted end-user community. Impact design consultancy Catapult Design helps social entrepreneurs to build hardware products that matter for their users, while London-based Science Practice does a similar job for deep tech startups.
The rise of Deep Tech Company Builders? We certainly noticed a trend of new programs popping up to bridge the gap between science and entrepreneurship, à la HelloTomorrow. Deep Science Ventures (London), MWC’s The Collider (Barcelona), Rotman’s Creative Destruction Lab (Toronto) and GridExponential (Buenos Aires) are some of the early ones. On the incubator/fund side, The Engine by MIT, Berkeley’s Cyclotron Road, and Oxford Science Innovations are leading the way.
Happy Holidays and a fantastic New Year! ✨
Enjoy the parties and include reading our final report on your wish list for 2018. ;)
The Good Tech Lab Team
Want to receive the next newsletter straight in your inbox? Subscribe HERE.
Good Tech Lab is made possible thanks to a kick-ass community.