20 Aug WHO WE FUND
AI stands to have a large impact on society. So large that we’ve created a vertical for it.
It feels like it could be one of the dividing lines in the history of technology, where before and after look totally different. We’re interested in people applying research to any narrow domain (drug discovery, programming assistant, legal advice, fraud detection, etc) and especially those focused on the intersection of AI and robotics (manufacturing, self-driving cars, etc).
It’s still early, but we’re finally making real progress hacking biology.
We are certain that this is going to be a surprising, powerful and controversial field over the next several decades. It feels a little bit like microcomputers in the 1970s.
There are so many directions this can go–fighting disease, slowing aging, merging humans and computers, downloading memories, genetic programming, etc.
Reading DNA has become incredibly fast and cheap. There are many interesting applications here. There will perhaps be even more interesting applications as we get better at writing DNA.
We are also interested in applications of biotech to prevent its own misuses. For example, if the bad guys can create new infectious diseases quickly, it’d be nice if the good guys could create new cures and vaccines quickly as well.
BRICK AND MORTAR 2.0
We are interested in seeing startups that use brick-and-mortar commercial or retail space in interesting and efficient ways.
Amazon is putting malls and big-box stores out of business. Rather than fighting a losing battle with Amazon, brands need to rethink how to use retail space in ways that play to their strengths. Tesla, Warby Parker, and Peloton, for example, use brick and mortar locations as showrooms that complement their online sales channels. Without the need to store inventory, retail space can be used much more efficiently.
Interesting uses of brick-and-mortar space are not limited to retail stores: similar sea changes are happening to restaurants, entertainment venues, local service providers, and office buildings. New businesses will be purpose-built for customers that are trained to expect features like online ordering, deep integrations with other services, and immediate delivery.
CARBON REMOVAL TECHNOLOGIES
The Paris Agreement set forth a global goal to limit the earth’s temperature increase to 1.5°C this century. Just switching to renewables isn’t going to be enough to reach that goal. We will also have to remove carbon from the atmosphere.
Carbon removal and sequestration technologies are still in their infancy. The current solutions can be divided into two groups: natural (such as reforestation and biochar) and technological (such as direct air capture). Two challenges with direct air capture are costs and scale. Several countries including the US recently stepped up and created financial incentives for removing carbon from the atmosphere, but it is not yet cost-effective with current technology.
Other approaches to geoengineering to counteract the effects of climate change could have potential as well.
CELLULAR AGRICULTURE AND CLEAN MEAT
Recent scientific developments have changed the way we think about producing protein. For the first time, we can now produce food that is scientifically indistinguishable from animal products like meat and dairy, using only cells and not harming any animals.
The agricultural sector is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gas after the energy sector, and the use of antibiotics in farming is a real danger to our own health system. Growing real animal-meat directly from cells is revolutionary science. We would love to fund more startups taking this science to market. We also want to fund startups specializing in the scaling phase of cellular agriculture. The world will massively benefit from a more sustainable, cheaper and more healthy production of meat.
At current rates of deforestation, there will be no rainforests in 100 years.
There are many environmental reasons for why this is bad, but it will also be problematic for the industries relying on these increasingly scarce resources.
Startups have already started to address the need for cleaner consumer products, but industrial commodities like palm oil and soy are getting less attention.
For example, palm oil is the most used vegetable oil in the world – it’s in about 50% of grocery-store products. In 2016, the global palm oil market was valued at over $65 billion and it’s expected to reach $92 billion by 2021. But, palm oil production tends to rely on crude, environmentally destructive slash/burn methods, exploitative labor practices, and contributes the most global-warming emissions of any commodity aside from beef.
We think these big market/low-tech industries could be interesting to go after. Examples of startups we’d like to see apply are those working on synthetics, cleaner alternatives, or supply-chain improvements. The price point will likely be very important here, more so than for consumer products. It would also be great if new jobs are created or if the solution involves reforesting.
We are interested in new school models that can develop critical thinking, creativity, citizenship, and job skills at a massive scale. We’re looking for ideas that combine technology and person-to-person interactions to deliver highly individualized educational experiences.
We’re interested in ventures that dramatically improve outcomes for children from birth to age five, that reduce inequality, and that have the potential to enhance the future quality of life for those children and their families. Scalable solutions in these areas should now be doable thanks to advances in brain science and technologies such as smart home devices, wearables, and mobile.
The world’s financial systems are increasingly unable to meet the demands of consumers and businesses.
That makes some sense because regulations designed to protect customers can’t change fast enough to keep up with the pace at which technology is changing the needs of those customers. This mismatch creates inefficiencies at almost every level of the financial system. It impacts how people invest their savings, how businesses gain access to capital to grow, how risk is priced and insured, and how financial firms do business with each other.
We think that software will accelerate the pace at which financial services change and will eventually shift the nature of regulations. We want to fund companies with novel ideas of how to make that happen.
FUTURE OF WORK:
Jobs will look very different 25 years from now. We’ve already seen a massive shift toward automation, robots, and AI, and the pace of their impact on work isn’t slowing down.
There’s uncertainty on whether these new technologies will result in more or fewer jobs in aggregate. We’re interested in what you think will happen and what comes next.
We also want to know how the meaning of work will evolve. People seek full-time jobs for many reasons, including money, healthcare, and a sense of purpose. We’d love to see solutions that address each of these factors (or any others) in anticipation of a changing job market.
We’re especially interested in healthcare startups working in the following spaces:
Pharmaceuticals: With computational drug discovery and omics data, we have vastly more powerful tools than before for inventing new drugs. It’s more achievable than ever for startups to make breakthroughs in this area.
Cell Therapies: With breakthroughs in iPSC and CAR-T technology, there is a well-warranted explosion of interest in cell therapies. What we’ve seen here is probably just the beginning.
Diagnostics: There are big trends in this space towards continuous monitoring and portable and point-of-care diagnostics. We’re interested in both hardware and software / AI-based diagnostics.
Medical Devices: Costs of prototyping and manufacturing are lower than ever and computational power is higher than ever. We’re excited to see what devices have the most clinical impact and how the data they generate can make medical devices more valuable than ever before.
Data: With the ability to collect omics data inexpensively, there is a huge opportunity to create new datasets of healthcare data and mine them for useful insights.
Human memory is too volatile.
Compared with computers, humans have an odd memory system. The increasing bombardment of information and ideas certainly does not make it easier, nor do age-onset diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The Merge is coming. Some solutions like voice assistants and wearables may help supplement short-term memory. More complex approaches involve neural interfaces but raise new UX problems. We want to fund startups that are exploring how to improve human memory with technology. Ideally, we can solve Mitch Hedberg’s problem once and for all.
We’re interested in helping developers create better software, faster. This includes new ways to write, understand, and collaborate on code and the next generation of tools and infrastructure for delivering software continuously and reliably.
We believe it’s especially important to build products that make software development accessible to the widest part of our society. In fact, we’re especially interested in new ways to program. There are probably much better ways for people to program, and figuring one out would have a huge impact. The frameworks are better, the languages a bit more clever, but mostly we’re doing the same things.
One way to think about this is: what comes after programming languages?
Robots will be a major way we get things done in the physical world.
Our definition is pretty broad–for example, we count a self-driving car as a robot. Robots are how we’ll likely explore space and maybe even the human body.
The internet has made it easy to distribute creative work to millions of people, but no one has figured out how to help creatives make a sustainable living.
In the arts, there is an army of middlemen that exist between the artist and the fan. Each person in the middle takes a cut of each dollar made by the artist. We want to see more startups that are building a direct pipeline from artist to fan.
We believe there are ways to build more creator-friendly platforms, and we’re interested in seeing projects that make it easier for artists to raise funding, track consumption of their work and prevent piracy.
TRANSPORTATION & HOUSING
About half of all energy is used in transportation, and people spend a huge amount of time unhappily commuting.
Face-to-face interaction is still really important; people still need to move around. And housing continues to get more expensive, partially due to difficulties in transportation. We’re interested in better ways for people to live somewhere nice, work together, and have easier commutes.
Specifically, lightweight, short-distance personal transportation is something we’re interested in.
VR AND AR
Virtual reality and augmented reality have been a long-unfulfilled promise.
But we feel the wave is coming, and this is the right time to start working on it.