Early stage investing requires a lot of luck. It also requires us to take a very early position on trends in order to look, find and back the right entrepreneurs. This is often akin to taking out a crystal ball and choosing the themes that we believe will dominate tech for the coming decade. Following are some of the themes that will occupy our thinking this year, several of which have already brought us together with some pretty special entrepreneurs…..
Automation of healthcare
Healthcare is broken and “Cyberchondria” is the new norm as people go on-line looking for answers when they are feeling ill. Admit it, we’ve all tried it….only to be told that the end is in sight. Combine this with the fact that billions of people around the world don’t have access to basic primary care and the size of the tech opportunity becomes apparent. In the UK the average member of the public now sees a GP six times a year; double the number of visits from a decade ago (NHS Digital). The current system is being stretched beyond its capabilities and only a paradigm shift can have an impact.
We are now on the cusp of a radical transformation because tech and data have reached a point where we can dream. Artificial intelligence, combined with large data sets will give us the opportunity to serve the 3 billion people around the world who don’t have access and to slash the cost of operating health services in the developed world. With the process of diagnosis ripe for automation, we see GPs entirely replaced by robots or at the very least an information revolution which hands back the power to patients. Think of this as a massive enlightenment moment. Beyond GPs, most aspects of healthcare will see radical change in the next 10 years, largely driven by tech and data. Our money where our mouth is: K Health, Flo, Happify.
The next urban battle will be over the sidewalk
Following the incredible growth of Uber around the world, investors are hurling money at the next generation of urban transport startups. Just as e-scooter and e-bike startups from the US are launching in Europe, home-grown competitors are being heavily backed. Meanwhile Amazon and others are launching delivery robots in an attempt to own and control the last mile of order fulfillment. The invasion of the public walkways looks set to create major headaches for cities, their inhabitants and service providers. Between bikes, scooters, delivery robots and all else on wheels, how much room will be left for the “walk” in sidewalk? This is undoubtedly a billion dollar question. Our money where our mouth is: nothing to date.
Social networks of all kind are now under the gun because they have allowed their platforms to be used for nefarious means. While Facebook doubled its moderation staff from 10,000 to 20,000 in 2018 to crack down on election interference, bullying and other policy violations, it continues to struggle to manage the proliferation of toxic content and pornography. Meanwhile TechCrunch recently reported that WhatsApp chat groups are being used to spread illegal child pornography, cloaked by the app’s end-to-end encryption. Children are now regularly exposed to all kinds of harmful content across all major networks including Google, from posts that glamourize self-harm and suicide to one-click pornographic content. The tech community must find a solution at the risk of the conversation being taken over by regulators. Our money where our mouth is: Anti-toxin.
According to Forbes, in 2018 counterfeiting was the largest criminal enterprise in the world, exceeding $1 trillion annually. Counterfeit pharmaceuticals are the most profitable sector of illegally copied goods, with lost revenues up to $217 billion per year. Meanwhile food fraud is a growing problem with the most commonly adulterated or mislabelled foods including everyday products such as milk, olive oil, honey, fish, coffee, orange juice and tea. Children are also at risk from counterfeit toys with an estimated 10 to 12 per cent of toys sold in the UK being fake and potentially in breach of safety regulations. Thankfully technology can help in the fight against counterfeit goods with artificial intelligence proving to be a particularly valuable weapon in the armoury of copyright owners, regulators and authorities. Our money where our mouth is: Redpoints.
By 2060, the population of over-65s is forecast to hit 98.2 million in the US, more than double the level in 2014. Worldwide, the over-65 population will double to 1.6 billion by 2050. While dialogue around changing demographics focuses on the growing burden on health services and innovation in elderly care, we are now seeing rapid expansion of a generation of people with more energy, desire for life and spending power than ever before. Contrary to popular belief, this is also a demographic that is comfortable using technology. No wonder then that more than a quarter of the members of Match.com are aged between 53 and 72, and that this group is growing faster than any other.
Last year we wrote a detailed piece entitled “Silver Tech: Emerging Opportunities in the Third Age Economy” which is available on the Mangrove website. We expect to be focusing on this demographic for years to come. Our money where our mouth is: Safe365.
It seems like every major tech players has invested in voice technology. But is the format for real or just a Star Trek inspired fad? We believe it will be the biggest shift in technology since the rise of mobile computing and herein lies the big tech opportunity for entrepreneurs. Additionally, content "à la radio of yesterday" is beginning to appear and the early signs are encouraging. It is actually pretty good.
While these technologies raise complex privacy issues which are unlikely to go away, it is difficult to dispute the convenience of voice as a mechanism for engaging with technology and it will likely become the primary interface for both work and play. Our money where our mouth is: Sybel.
No list of trends is ever complete and I expect this one to be largely contested. Predicting the future is a difficult business but that is what early stage investors are up against. Try as we might, we are likely to be more wrong than right and herein lies the magic of the crystal ball.