JP: In the developing and poor world there are a whole host of problems calling out for elegant solutions. There are real markets and money to be made, but they are also places where technology can truly improve human lives. Are any of you interested in creating technologies for India, China, or Africa?
SJ: There are so many needs on the planet. A subset of that is water purification–probably the biggest mismatch between a screaming, enormous market and a lack of technology innovation I’ve ever seen. This is a trillion-dollar opportunity, and that’s just water purification.
JP: The U.S. government’s stimulus package (see Can Technology Save the Economy?) means that a lot of money is about to pour into Silicon Valley and places like it. Will people know what to do with it?
SJ: Some of Obama’s efforts are going to funnel a lot of money into startups. A lot: several hundred million dollars. And I don’t think it’s entirely a good thing.
Audience: But will you leverage capital with government stimulation capital?
SJ: Yes, in certain companies. There are some companies involved with solar thermal and solar installation that used to rely on tax-equity investment [in which state or federal governments provide tax incentives for funding renewable-energy projects].
Now there is a new plan in place that is even better than we’d dreamed of. We didn’t lobby for it, we never asked for it, but from our perspective it will create a boom in solar installations of all sorts. We don’t invest in companies with the hope of a handout, or the hope that the government will swoop in and create a regulatory regime that is noncompetitive.
But when it happens, then it’s a windfall, and it’s not like we’re going to turn it away. The only problem is that you can’t predict the next one. Moore’s Law doesn’t pay any attention to a recession or depression. … So you have all this pent-up innovation that will find a way to revolutionize industries.
Startups and new-company formation are the economic juggernaut of the future–always have been, always will be.