Bonus | Why is Patrick Aebischer creating a venture capital fund to invest in start-ups developing new technologies for culture?

After combining biology with engineering by introducing life sciences at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the now President Emeritus of the institution is convinced that innovation blossoms at the boundaries of disciplines. For him, new technologies can fertilize art, culture and the human sciences. Despite some difficulties with EPFL’s Venice Time Machine project, he is so convinced of this that after having created the ArtTech Foundation to facilitate these pollinations, he is preparing a venture capital fund to finance start-ups resulting from this hybridization. Exclusive interview.

Former president of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Patrick Aebischer (left, with Fondazione Cini’s General secretary Pasquale Gagliardi, right) is creating a venture fund to invest in start-up exploiting the convergence of art, culture and technology.

What motivates your passion for the application of new technologies to the arts and culture?

Patrick Aebischer: The realization that one of the great challenges of the 21st century will be to provide content to new technologies. Robotics combined with artificial intelligence will probably free humanity from repetitive and boring tasks. This will free up time during which we can feed and enrich our brains. And art and culture are certainly among the best ways to achieve these objectives.

You created the ArtTech Foundation in 2016. For what purpose?

To explore this fascinating convergence between art, culture and technology. The idea was to bring together artists, scientists and the business community to discuss ways to foster the emergence of this new field of arttech.

What has this ArtTech foundation accomplished so far?

First, it helped us to identify the variety of sub-domains in which this convergence is most advanced. By doing this, we have identified a growing number of start-ups that are exploiting this convergence. First in Lausanne and then in Geneva last year, a total of 16 start-ups were selected to apply for the ArtTech prize, which is awarded to one of them each time at our annual forum. This will also be the case this year at the forum that will take place on September 24that the Cini Foundation in Venice.

What did you discover through these different editions of the ArtTech forum?

That this new interface develops rapidly with particularly innovative approaches in fields such as music, heritage preservation, museology, cultural mediation, the film industry and the art market.

And what types of new technologies that could become key to art and culture have you identified?

The list is long. For example, virtual and augmented reality is beginning to find its way into games based on our cultural heritage and history. This is also the case for the blockchain for the art market and artificial intelligence in musical composition.

What are the main trends that support the application of these technologies to cultural creation?

Big data science is a fundamental trend in the field of cultural heritage. For archaeologists and historians, the ability to digitally process data creates very promising opportunities to better understand and protect our cultural heritage.

The ambitious Venice Time Machine project launched by EPFL to digitize the entire Venice archives is exemplary in this respect. In terms of heritage preservation, we are also seeing the emergence of highly innovative technologies such as the storage of digital information in synthetic DNA. This concept has been tested with the Montreux Jazz Festival music archives. It is a technology that allows not only a high concentration of information but its preservation over thousands of years, with DNA being a very stable molecule.

What role does social innovation play in the adoption of these arttech technologies?

Virtual or augmented reality, artificial intelligence or blockchain are particularly applicable to artistic creation. These are technologies that have the potential to increase access to culture for a greater number of people but also to foster new forms of cultural creation. For example, by facilitating musical creation with the support of artificial intelligence or participation in the art market with the blockchain as proposed by some of the start-ups present in Venice, these technologies meet the current demand for a more participatory culture.

You are preparing a venture capital fund to invest in this field of arttech. What is the rationale behind this?

Start-ups in the arttech field still have difficulty finding funds that allow them to grow. One of the reasons is that there are currently no specialized funds in this emerging and promising field.

How will this fund operate geographically?

We will first focus on Switzerland and Europe, which have many assets in the cultural field. Cities such as Paris, Berlin, Milan or Stockholm already have scenes of convergence between technologies and the arts that are extremely active. We will also identify start-ups in the United States with a focus on New York and Los Angeles, two cities where the entertainment sector is in the process of renewal.

Will you focus your investments on the early phases of these start-ups?

Indeed, the intention is to invest early either in the seed phase or in Series A.

Culture is an area where money is often scarce and dependent on public or philanthropic funding. What makes you think that this field can generate attractive returns for investors?

Convergence with technologies is changing the game. There are already several examples of great success in the field of arttech. Take the example of music, an industry that has been “disrupted” by technology. A company like Spotify has managed to invent a new business model. And with a valuation of more than twenty billion today, it has generated very significant returns for its investors. Also note that, as with Ubisoft in games, it is in this cultural field that we find the greatest successes of European origin in digital technology.

There are also examples of start-ups that have already raised significant amounts of money, such as Magic Leap, Tidal, Devialet or Mutual Art. All these companies have the potential to become successful investments.

Editing: Katherine Lingenfelter

Written by: Fabrice Delaye

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