I’ve been thinking a lot about the “big picture” and the future recently. I guess it’s because last week I welcomed my first grandchild into the world. I want Sammy to live a happy, meaningful life. And I worry that for many of our newest humans, that’s becoming increasingly difficult.
But I also think we’re at an important inflection point. And the only reason why I think so is because of startups.
I’m on record saying that I don’t like it when founders tell me they’re going to save the world. It’s just too grandiose and broad for me. And it begs the question: When you realize that your startup can’t save the world, will you be able to tough out the setbacks and challenges that you’re facing?
But having daily conversations with these optimistic, can-do founders month after month and year after year has worn me down. The cumulative effect of seeing, hearing and exploring so many incredible technologies and their potentially positive — if not transformative — impact on the world has given me a perspective that few others have.
I know we have a lot of work to do. And I’ll share the blame. My generation, frankly, has messed so many things up. There’s climate change, lousy healthcare, joblessness… And there’s a palpable sense of restiveness that can’t be blamed solely on the pandemic. For the first time since before World War 2, our children don’t think they’ll be as prosperous as their parents. Pessimism seems to be their default world view.
But thank goodness that many of the biggest problems lend themselves to technological solutions. Like our health. We’re turning the corner on cancer… finally. CRISPR-related technologies are being used to find cures to several cancers and other diseases like muscular dystrophy. Just yesterday, I spoke to a founder whose company reads DNA to assess an individual’s level of risk to 16,000 diseases. Joint replacement is advancing by leaps and bounds. A couple of dozen promising technologies are being developed to slow down aging. And on it goes. Astonishing treatments and cure breakthroughs are almost commonplace. And there are several medtech companies in the First Stage Investor portfolio that are bringing amazing medical innovations to our doorstep.
Our environmentally compromised planet will also be getting help from multiple technologies developed by startups. Solar and wind are the go-to “new alternative” energy sources. Their costs have come down enough that they can now compete with traditional energy sources — without the need of government subsidies. And new forms of alternative energy are becoming commercialized now. Wave energy has intriguing potential. But I think geothermal energy could make the most difference. It has by far the greatest potential to provide reliable, consistent and cheap energy on a mass scale anywhere. Our own First Stage Investor holding, HyperSciences, could be one of the leaders in the commercialization of geothermal energy. Other holdings — like CityZenith, WorldTree and NeighborhoodSun — are also well-positioned to make a difference in climate change.
These are just some of the technologies and companies that give me reason to believe our future is far from hopeless. I don’t think I’m being naive. Or asking for too much. Technology will do what it’s always done — solve our worst, most stubborn problems and take us into a brighter, healthier and more prosperous future.
The kids will be all right. Sammy, welcome to the world.