A fairly uncontroversial observation: we have some big challenges ahead of us as a species, and something tells me that the solutions aren't going to be SAAS. Snark aside, here are some interesting figures:
- The total 2018 VC investment in companies was ballpark 100B$ according to PitchBook.
- The total 2015 non-business R&D investment in the USA was about 139B$ according to the NSF.
The two pots of money - basic R&D and VC capital - are the same order of magnitude. And those R&D dollars run the gamut from research into cancer fighting technologies all the way down to basic particle physics research, and everything in between.
So I guess here's my question. We're largely aware of the "unicorn" companies that make it up over the 1B$ valuation mark. Many of them are household names, and they're household names because they make a very small number of people fabulously wealthy. What you really don't see in general are people or companies that are running small research teams that advance the greater good from the standpoint of society ending up fabulously wealthy, or household names for that matter (except in rare occasions).
But here's another interesting fact: estimates of the ROI from basic research R&D are in the ballpark of 20% (to quote just one source). It's not 10X, but it's a return that nobody would be upset about in their portfolio. And those basic research initiatives can go on to be profoundly impactful in terms of good to society. To cherry pick an example, almost all of the recent work that has been done in the US to edge solar panel efficiency higher has been done on basic research dollars at universities.
How do we bridge that gap? What if there was a mechanism where labs could apply for funding in the same way that startups do? And does that just make them startups? Almost certainly not, in the sense that the cadence in a lab is very much different than that of a startup, and an even greater gamble given that the whole point of basic research is to try things that on average won't work. But investments on the scale of 10k$ or 100k$ go a long way in basic science, so maybe there's some kind of opportunity there.
As promised, more questions than answers. But worth pondering?