I’m currently on the hunt for amazing companies for the next Techstars London program (tl;dr — apply now), and we’ve met some incredible companies around the world already. I wanted to share some thoughts on sectors that I’m particularly interested in. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, and if you look at our existing portfolio, you’ll see everything from hardware to software, B2B to B2C and juice to genomics — and that will always be the case, but there are some sectors where I think there are huge opportunities for the right teams with great products and the right support.
Food tech. By 2050 we’ll need to feed over 9 billion people. How can we do that without overwhelming the planet? I’m keen to meet companies that are leveraging technology to create new food brands, products, experiences and more. The Impossible Burger is literally one of the best burgers I’ve ever tasted, and I can’t wait to try Finless foods and many others. I love the elegance of the Apeel approach to produce quality and shelf life. I love what the team from Smallhold are working on with mushrooms and vertical farming. I’ve invested in a couple of companies in this sector already — EatCultured, the world’s first beer brewed by AI and Gastrograph, who are using AI to understand and model human sensory perception for some of the biggest brands in the world. The food we eat, the way we grow it, the way we interact with ingredients, brands, dishes, restaurants and more is all changing, and I’m interested in hearing from or being introduced to people thinking about food production, consumption and more in new and exciting ways.
Tech for older populations. People are living longer and having fewer children. As a result, we have an ageing population base in several countries around the world. What I find fascinating is that there is very little visible innovation in tech for folks in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond. In many cases, the tech that does exist infantilises people, condescends to them or is frankly just ugly, non-functional and embarrassing. This is a demographic that has the means, savvy, desire and (crucially) the ability to use, pay for, and most importantly — derive benefit from a wide variety of products. There are huge opportunities around health and well being, nutrition, alleviating loneliness, entertaining, educating, engaging and more. I firmly believe this is a sector that will see immense growth over the coming years. The right products have the potential to not only effect change and improve life, but also build a real, sustainable, scalable, beneficial business.
Abstract layers. I’ve long thought messaging apps are effectively a command line for our lives. That’s true whether it’s Alexa, Messenger, WeChat or another other current or future app/tech/device! I’m really interested in how companies can almost become a real-life abstraction layer. Take a look at the Plansnap demo day pitch (and pay attention to how this plays out on mobile, SMS and Alexa) to get an idea of what I mean. I love the idea of products that don’t require you to download apps — but instead exist everywhere you are, regardless of the platform you’re using at that time. Over time, I expect to see vertical-specific products in health, fitness, education and almost anywhere else you care to think. There are huge challenges around UI, UX, user acquisition, retention and more around this — but if it was easy, everyone would do it…
The era of escapism. The world is a grim place at times. Whether it’s our dopamine addiction or just the news, we’ve created a world of opportunities to feel blue. I want to invest in companies that are putting a smile on people’s faces. I invested in Party With because I love the idea of getting interesting people together for food, drinks and conversation IRL. I love products that can make people smile, laugh, or give them an amazing experience in the real or virtual world. One of the best parts about being part of Farmvillain and Kiip was getting fan mail from folks who we’d cheered up with a simple cartoon, or a reward that made them feel amazing. There are so many potential applications for this that it’s almost impossible to list them — but to give some context — I love Octi, Carrot, Epic Win (how was this not bigger??), Stupid Hackathon, apps with personality, little big details and much, much more more. I wrote about this a few years back, and I still firmly believe we need more fun and mischief in our lives.
AI and machine learning. This probably feels like a hygiene factor nowadays, but I’m looking for companies using AI, ML and computer vision to solve real, problems for individuals and businesses. I’ve been lucky enough to be on the board at Lingvist for the last four years, and watching them developing their knowledge mapping technology has shown just how engaging, sticky and downright useful AI and ML can be with the right product, algorithms and team. It’s been fascinating to watch incredible computer vision companies working in every field from healthcare to fashion— across B2B and B2C. London, and Europe more widely has some of the best minds (deep ones too) and companies in this industry, and I want to continue to support teams using AI, ML and computer vision across a wide range of sectors, a broad variety of product types and at all stages.
Blockchain and the token economy — I’m a believer in Blockchain and token economy tech. There’s no denying that there’s are giant steaming piles of shit masquerading as projects/companies out there, but there is also genuine world-changing technology, incredibly talented and passionate people and some very, very smart ideas starting to come out — from protocol layers to . platforms and right the way through to crypto-collectibles (and kitties) and much more besides. I’m keen to meet companies using tokens in interesting ways to engage, retain and reward their users. I’m particularly eager to talk to folks who have thoughts on how to make their tokens, tickets and more accessible for, and usable by a mass consumer audience.
A.N. Other. The above is by no means an exhaustive list. I think we’re at the end of the beginning when it comes to the backlash against Twitter, Facebook and others. It strikes me that there are huge opportunities for platforms that allow smaller groups of people to interact around shared interests. I’m curious how messaging, voice and more will impact how we (re)connect with one another. I’m interested in what the future of marketing and advertising looks like — how do big brands do interesting and engaging things in an adblocking world? I’ve met some incredible companies working on hardware, education, developer tools and more — and I hope we can work with and invest in many of those areas as well as others I haven’t even mentioned yet. For some additional context, here are a few articles I wrote about opportunities in audio content, gestural interfaces and ad-blocking.
Fundamentally, I think about things in terms of solving for basic human motivations. Are products making people happier or healthier? Are they saving them time or energy in a meaningful way? Are they helping people and businesses make more money, reduce waste and wasted time, increase engagement or solve some fundamental problem they have? Are they having a material impact on the people or the businesses that use them? I like to think about what the tangible benefits of a product are in the short, medium and long term — and how can a company craft a narrative around that to help with user acquisition, sales, marketing, retention, recruitment and all of the other processes that help make them successful.
If you’re working on a product that fits any of the theses above, I’d really, really love to hear from you. Even if you’re not, I’m still incredibly keen to learn about your business. Some of the best companies I’ve invested in have come as total bolts from the blue. In all honesty, I love nothing more than the opportunity to meet smart people working on products that make a real difference to their users, customers and maybe even the world.
I’m as happy to invest in an amazing team where the ink is still drying on the back of the napkin where they jotted down their idea, as I am in investing in a Series A company with millions in funding and 10+ staff. If you’ve got questions, you can DM me on Twitter, find me on LinkedIn or just email me (it should be pretty easy to figure out).
Or just go ahead and get started! Applications are open now.
Hopefully you’ll be on a similar stage with me in London in a few months time!