Jiva Technology

Venture Capital: what does it mean to me?

The finance industry is a funny thing. A Schrodingers cat type of industry that is simultaneously seen as both villain and prestigious place to work. I put that down to the fact that there’s no such thing as the finance industry¬†in the way that there is an aerospace industry or a pharmaceutical industry; just many different loosely connected activities that are brought together under the same roof.

Perhaps the image of an industry is unimportant, but you increasingly hear questions about the role of finance in our society, the financialisation of industries and whether or not finance is a good thing. In the UK, there are loud voices that proclaim we have “too much finance”. There’s the threat of action and when that happens, there’s always the possibility of the baby being thrown out with the bath water.

The venture capital industry is a single segment of the global finance industry, but it bears little resemblance to retail banking, re-insurance or hedge funds. Beginning in Boston in the 1940s, venture capital has become and enormous industry that invested over $170bn in 2017. It backs companies around the world in everything from immunotherapy to green tech and provide the oxygen for startup economies from London to LA and Bangkok to Berlin.

Its easy to forget that the fashionable status of working in a startup is a relatively recent thing. It wasn’t that long ago that established ‘blue chip’ organisations were the preferred home of the best and brightest. Thats no longer the case. Working ‘in a startup’ is a socially acceptable, even desirable thing to do without any reference to what the startup actually does. Cities are rated according to the vibrancy of the ‘startup scene’. A new report sheds some light on how certain cities have become global hubs for venture capital deals and its no coincidence that these cities have been the economic winners of the last twenty years. Over half of VC investment goes to just six cities worldwide: San Francisco, New York, London, Beijing, Los Angeles and Boston. Some cities not traditionally associated with the technology industry, like Bangkok, have seen investment grow dramatically.

The energy and momentum being generated by the startup/venture capital combination is quite breathtaking, but with it comes the responsibility to understand the dynamics of whats going on. Its not enough to simply celebrate the winners; it becomes imperative to support the success of these global hubs whilst helping to share the benefits more widely. It would be a shame if the purpose, global reach and growth provided by the startup/vc ecosystem descended into a battle between perceived winners and losers. There’s an opportunity for this relatively recent and unique phenomenon to help us all, but it perhaps requires a more nuanced approach from all parties.

 

 

 

With all that’s happening in the world at the moment …

With all thats happening in the world at the moment, it would be easy to overlook the fact that we’ve lived through a remarkably benign period in most western democracies these last 60-70 years. Economic growth has moved up and down, there have been some serious issues that we’ve had to face, but not the whole, things have been pretty stable. It seems that is about to change and its worth pausing for a moment to think about those skills that will become progressively more valuable and those that won’t. By the same measure, are there areas of study that move from the backwaters to centre stage.

Politics is definitely back. And not just in the sense that big political changes are underway. As the nation state reasserts itself, does that mean that students of political science or international relations will become increasingly valuable? If business has to take greater account of political risk in an era post-Brexit, will they be hiring more PoliSci graduates than MBAs? What if the entire post-WW2 world order starts to unravel as some have forecast; does that mean that language students or those with International Relations on their cv will become sought after? And then there’s climate change. Will an appreciation of environmental science be something that gets baked into business and political decisions?

I suppose the honest answer is that we don’t know, but perhaps it would be wise advice to expect the unexpected. One thing is for sure, whilst its usually a safe bet that tomorrow will be much like today, there are occasions when tomorrow is nothing like today. One of those days may well be around the corner. A wise student will keep one eye on current affairs over the next few years and think through the permutations that could happen. It seems likely that we entering a period of less international co-operation, with climate change as a reality and with certain technologies moving into the mainstream that will have a profound impact on how we live. Understanding the flow of events is a good way to recognise the signposts, the markers that things are changing. It feels like a good time to be nimble, a time to be on your toes. Because more than anything, change brings opportunity.

 

The BIG ISSUE on education

I’m a regular reader of the Big Issue. There’s obviously the part about ‘a hand up, not a hand out’, but it’s also about the journalism. They naturally seem to have a different angle on a story; perhaps its down to journalistic freedom or maybe they just start from a different place. The late August issue was about education and there’s a fabulous section where famous people talk about what school meant to them and the impact it had on their lives. Most were moderate or even low achievers at school, but it didn’t stop them from going on to achieve great things in business, entertainment or culture. A feedback loop like this is strangely absent from school life.

Most of the time we hear about school life from one of three places: teachers, family or the star pupil who comes back to tell you how great they are. Pretty much everyone has a memory of a family member telling them what it was like ‘in their day’, usually at exactly the point when you least want the advice. Cue rolling of the eyes. Teachers don’t count because they’re, well teachers. And star former pupils should discount themselves immediately on the basis that they are the outliers. The ‘lessons you can learn from my personal brilliance’ speech doesn’t go down well whether you’re 16 or 60. Which is where the Big Issue comes in. Just hearing an actress you might have have heard of tell you that she had to be good at acting because she was so poor at everything else can be a boost. Desperation is an awfully strong motivator.

Perhaps the Big Issue should expand their story. A website of people telling their stories about school and what it meant to them is a nice idea. A place to look and compare and make you realise that if you’re a stunning success in year 12, it doesn’t mean you’ll be a star in life, or where everything looks bleak and surely my life is over. Maybe its something we should start doing here at Tutorhub. Now there’s a thought.

How the other half lives.

At a time when shouting at each other across social media is a favourite pastime for many, its hard to see things through other people’s eyes. Its not that easy and feels like an intrusion to ask how people live. Which is why I like this feature from my favourite Institute of Facts, the Gapminder Foundation. It provides some insight into what life looks like for people around the world, how they live and what they I’ve on.

Its worth five minutes of anyones’ time: Gapminder Dollar Street

The institute also have books and videos on, “how not to be ignorant about the world” which is no bad thing when misconceptions seem to drive a lot of what’s bad in our world today. For those who don’t know the Gapminder Foundation, it was founded by an inspirational statistician (yes, there are some), called Hans Rosling. He died in 2017, but his work lives on. Which is a good thing in itself. One of the things that Rosling frequently talked about is our in built desire to think of things in a binary way: good and bad, have’s and have not’s. But its clear that it clouds our judgement and leads to the sort of division (and shouting) that we see today. As Rosling pointed out, whilst many people think of rich and poor, three quarters of the worlds’ population are neither; they live in middle income countries. So even the phrases we use, such as, “how the other half lives” can be intensely misleading. We need to think in averages and gradations. Something that comes easy to few people. Which is why the Gapminder Foundation is such a great concept, because its a place to continually go back to and remind ourselves that the world is in a better place than most of us realise and that those who say otherwise may well have other reasons for saying so.

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