Vulture funding?

Nature sez “Royal Society to fund carbon capture and renewables ventures”. Which seemed a bit odd to me – why pick just those? But Nature seems to have misread the RS, who themselves say something rather different: “Criteria for the projects will have an emphasis on non-medical research although interdisciplinary research that may overlap into medical applications will be considered” as the only hint of what they will invest in.

Perhaps slightly oddly, the fund (which will come from donations) “…will be evergreen and financial returns from successful projects will go back into the fund and be used for further investment.” On the face of it, that means they will never take money out to fund basic science.

Does this make sense? Perhaps. There are all these clever scientist type folk who will, in conjunction with the cunning vulture-capitalist type folk, pick promising long term projects. Worth a go, if people will give them the money.

And this is probably my chance to say that I sat next to that Herman Hauser once, at a Christmas do at Virata, one of his early companies.

Comments

  1. #1 John Mashey
    2008/03/07

    Maybe, maybe not – depends on teh actual people doing it. The description is rather vague. However, I’ve had some conversations over the years with senior UK folks about this, including years ago, explaining how Silicon Valley worked, and my opinions on what government could and couldn’t do in this turf to a fellow named Mandelson, who was clearly trying to do something useful.

    Government must fund education and research, and must work on business rules to make it easy to start businesses *and* to shut them down, and to the extent it’s possible, lessen fiercesome penalities for failure, although some of that is cultural.

    In many parts of the world, if you have a business fail, you are dead, it may be very difficult to get funding for anything else, and in some cases, laws may amplify this.

    [In Silicon Valley, someone whose last venture has failed ... "well, they have experience", i.e., what matters is not that they failed, but how and why, and did they learn from it.]

    Venture capitalists rarely fund research, at least not on purpose. [Sometimes they think research is done, but it isn't :-)]

    IF this RS entity wants to fund real research … wrong mechanism.

    IF the idea is to find efforts that might look suitable for a Seed round, or need some more money following a friends&family or othe Angel round, i.e., if the research is fairly far along

    AND IF the plausible result of finishing some work is something that a normal VC might offer an A-Round term-sheet to,

    AND IF appropriate people from business will mentor the fundees

    THEN it can be a useful mechanism, a little like a university incubator.

    BUT, I’d be very nervous about this if there aren’t real VCs or VC-like folks involved. Generally, government, universities, and scientific societies aren’t very good at simulating VCs. Good VCs have much higher value-add than just money.

    If you’re doing the Cambridge software gig, Andy Hopper certainly knows this stuff, and has also been keen on computing/environmental work the last few times I saw him. You might try him and see what he thinks.

    Hopefully prospects have improved since when he told me & my (Cambridge) wife “Cambridge has done great in creating startups. Of course, when we need money, we go to Palo Alto.” Ouch. I am told that some of the business rules have improved since when I talked to Mandelson. Some of the local (Palo Alto/Menlo park) VCs do have people in the UK, and if a fund like this boosts efforts to the level of their interest, it’s good.

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