The world’s problems are getting tougher to beat. The global climate emergency is intensifying, forcing us to figure out better ways to grow food, build shelter, and ensure the safety of billions of current and coming people. Geopolitical tensions are sharpening, with the specter of extended conflict looming from the South China Sea and the Himalayas to the Arctic Circle, the Caspian Sea, the Sahel and more. Then there are all the other frontiers to push forward: defeating cancer, accelerating quantum and next-generation computing and propelling humanity to the next level of consciousness.
Confronted with some of the most profound and interesting challenges a generation has ever faced, you’d think millions of people and trillions of dollars would be devoted to solving them.
Well, you’d be wrong.
In fact, there has never been a wider gap between what gets funded in Silicon Valley and the problems that most need addressing. Even as valuations soar for some of the most mundane software imaginable, the vast majority of VCs are unwilling to push the frontiers of science, technology and defense — even when their economic interests should propel them to do so.
It comes down to one problem: fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of going alone and fear of having to innovate a business model when a simple and proven one is available off the shelf. Fear is the great motivator of venture capital today, an irony given that fortune has consistently favored the bold in this industry.
I spent the last four years at TechCrunch as managing editor, analyzing and reporting on startups and innovation as far-flung as semiconductors and the U.S.-China trade war; data sovereignty on the internet, housing, urban infrastructure and cost disease; disastertech and cleantech; GPS and PNT technology; and really, any spot that simultaneously had tough technical challenges, interesting social and political considerations, and complexity.
As is the norm these days for the tech press, I’d get pinged regularly by VCs asking me to join their teams as an investor, a writer, or some fusion of the two. Yet, as befits today’s narrowly-focused industry, the discussions were regularly banal. Partners lacked ambition to tackle the toughest challenges the world is facing, portfolios were frankly downright boring, and there was no desire to push the frontiers of what’s possible — or even just the VC industry itself. After each of these interviews, I would always say roughly the same line to my husband: “We’re dying every day, and I just don’t understand how the smartest people in the world can work on such dumb shit.”
Fast forward to late this past summer, and I got a ping from Lux Capital. It’s a well-known firm, although I hadn’t socialized much with them over the years despite the fact that half the team is based in New York City. Which, as I went through the interview process, I learned is a real shame, because this is the firm I always wished existed, and it just so happens to be located just a couple of blocks down the street from me.
Lux is a firm where the boring doesn’t thrive, where the goal is to take on some of the most formidable technical risks and transform their solutions into valuable companies. It’s backing real scientists and engineers who want to ply their craft for the betterment of humanity. And it’s a firm that is also innovating around venture capital and deep tech exits, having aggressively used SPACs in the past year to accelerate the liquidity pipeline for these startups.
Perhaps most importantly for someone like me, the firm is attuned to the vast global and political realignments coming this century, from the rise of China and India, the backsliding of the United States, and the progressive development of Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America. It’s a firm that’s always looking out, aware of the dark forces pervading the cosmos today and fighting back with the light for which the firm is named.
I’m joining as head of editorial based out of New York City. My goal is simple: to persuade the next scientist, engineer and founder to transition their daily thinking from the mundane and insular tech world of Silicon Valley to the limits of the world’s knowledge. I want to guide and reinforce the notion that quite frankly, yes, we can be audacious and breathtaking in our ambitions, and in fact, that’s the only way that humanity has ever made progress.
The problems facing us our legion, but our collective ingenuity knows no bounds. Climate disruption is daunting, but there are dozens of advances that could turn back the tides (literally and metaphorically). Hypersonic missiles, microwave weapons, and drone warfare may change the contours of the battlefield, but new defenses can protect peace. All it takes is an idea, willpower, and capital. We’ve got the latter two — and we’re looking for anyone with the former.