Following my recent blog posts on Reid Hoffman, COP21, and an apparent resurgence of Big Ideas in technology, a growing group of venture capitalists are resurrecting their original mission in industry and the economy. Paul Krugman of the New York Times has also noticed and offers his hope that this trend continues. Max Marmer, who wrote his now legendary 2012 Harvard Business Review article, “Reversing the Decline in Big Ideas,” has stimulated a broad rethinking on what we should be focusing. The successful landing of Space X’s Falcon 9 is a hopeful early indication that Elon Musk is one of those on the right track.
Le Bourget airport just north of Paris is the place where Charles Lindbergh landed the Spirit of St. Louis. That event 88 years ago could now be interpreted as foreshadowing the era of globalization. Tomorrow, the world’s nations will meet there under the banner of the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC). COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, will, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.
My biggest complaint with venture capital and the current entrepreneurial landscape is the lack of Big Ideas— the superficiality of the technology sector. “We were promised flying cars and we got 140 characters” –Peter Thiel. We also got corporate greed masquerading as “the sharing economy.” Many other well-known observers of this industry share my complaint. Some argue that these Big Ideas are too big for private investment, and can only be funded by governments with the resources and vision to accomplish such large long term projects. I disagree.
This issue has driven me absolutely nuts since I first arrived in Canada from Silicon Valley. It did not take me long to figure out that things did not work they way they did in California, and that there wasn’t much of a true entrepreneurial economy here. Since then, I have also been appointed to the Canada Foundation for Innovation grant process, providing me with insight into how R&D funding works in Canada. I have seen many issues in Canada that have impaired the nation’s ability to develop an entrepreneurial culture, among them is the inherent Canadian conservatism and short term horizon of investors unfamiliar with technology venture investment. But none has been worse than Canada’s decades-long neglect of adequate funding for research and development nationwide.
Maybe three years ago, I recall hearing something about a “nuclear fusion” company starting up in Burnaby. In my mind, the thought of a nuclear fusion company in Burnaby was outlandish and preposterous. Growing up in southern California, and later northern California, I had grown up close and personal with the Space Program, and nuclear physics at UC Berkeley Lawrence Nuclear Labs and the super secret Lawrence Livermore National Labs.