In the last year we have met with hundreds of entrepreneurs, and advised a handful of them. With that type of exposure, you start to see trends emerging that may inform how society is shaped in the years ahead. This is not because we are betting on one particular company or another to succeed, but because we notice patterns in the problems addressed, business models used, and technology employed. We find ourselves living in the future tense, and it is fascinating.
With that in mind, there are three types of market opportunities that we are especially interested in. Consider this an open invitation to any entrepreneurs targeting these market opportunities:
Making cities more efficient, collaborative and engaging for citizens. Our world is an increasingly urban one, and the pace of that trend is quickening. Living in crowded cityscapes means that we have to do much more to optimize how we use urban assets (property, transit, social capital, etc.). It also implies that there is enough population density to do that cost effectively. Collaborative consumption labels a movement of peer-to-peer sharing services enabled by a central technology platform; Zipcar, TaskRabbit, and many others with the potential to transform urban societies from ownership to access-based economies. I don’t need to own a car because I can rent one whenever I need it for a fraction of the cost. Sharing profitably could also have enormous environmental consequences – enabling us to produce fewer items, consume fewer resources in the process, and yet derive ongoing value. We are seeking companies organized around sharing and exchanges.
Bringing digital intelligence to physical settings and experiences. If you haven’t heard of the term “internet of things”, you will. IoT represents the next evolutionary step for digital media – integrating inextricably with the physical world. We are experiencing the tip of that (mobile devices double as wallets – and everything else), but there is an entire iceberg yet to come. IoT technologies can help to organize physical settings more efficiently and effectively, and change the way we engage with our world. The truth is, we are still developing the mode of thinking that will enable us to discover the potential applications of this, and we are limited only by our imagination. We are seeking companies that use IoT technologies to make the world a better place – more efficient, democratic, healthy, and equitable.
Providing market based solutions to problems typically addressed by philanthropy. From microfinance to Occupy movements, we are undergoing a major transformation in the way we think about and practice capitalism, opportunities and tensions included. An important part of that involves social innovations that uncover market-based solutions to problems for which grants and government funding have been the default solutions. This doesn’t mean finding profitable ways to run homeless shelters; it means finding altogether new approaches to poverty alleviation and economic development. Microfinance is one of the most significant innovations of this kind in the past half century. SMS banking may be another candidate. About one sixth of the human population does not yet have basic infrastructure or economic agency. This is as much a tragedy as it is an opportunity. Companies that have profitable solutions to prickly social problems such as homelessness, lack of executive diversity, shortages of subsidized housing, among others, are particularly interesting.