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Tech Investors Face Peril in Search for the Next Big Thing

Not every industry is software-driven.

Be careful. We are likely nearing the end of the recent boom in innovation, and tech investors are overreaching, says Silicon Valley investor and entrepreneur Elad Gil.

Gil, who’s spent years in key posts at Twitter and Google, and who’s currently invested in or advising private companies including AirBnB, Square, and Stripe, argues that as they search for the next technology wave, investors have begun to apply lofty software-company-level valuations to industries that are traditionally less profitable and more asset-intensive, and that also have vastly different business cycles and distribution.

“Tech investors are investing in food, hardware, traditional biotech, oil and gas, and other industries they know nothing about. Is this a sign of software transforming these areas, or unstated (and perhaps, not even self-aware) desperation?” Gil wrote in a blog post Wednesday.

“A software-enabled, network connected, crowdfunded, smart toaster is, when all is said and done, still just a toaster.”

It bears saying, however, that it will take quite a lot for these other sectors to begin to catch up to software in investment dollars. Since 2009, software has trounced other technologies in investment raised, and it’s still venture capital investors’ favorite by far. In the first three months of 2016, investors funding new companies put 39 percent of their money into software, matching similar numbers in 2014 and 2015, according to data tracked by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association. 

Investors also showed surprisingly strong ongoing support for certain $1-billion-plus unicorns like Uber and Snapchat.

Beyond software there have been winners and losers. New biotechnology companies pulled in 20 percent of venture funds, $1.8 billion, in 2015, nearly double their 2014 share. But energy companies, long suffering from investor neglect, are getting an ever smaller slice of the pie, raising a meager $39 million, or 2 percent of all funding for new companies, in the first quarter of 2016.

(Read more: Elad Blog, The Money Tree Report, GeekWire, “At a Time of Plenty, Some Technologies Are Shut Out,” ”Where’s the Money for Energy Startups?” [PDF])

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