Season 3, Post 12: At the nexus of innovation

Your author has spent his last two afternoons virtually in New York. It’s obviously nowhere near as exciting as being in the city itself, but the NEXUS:ISRAEL…

Season 3, Post 12: At the nexus of innovation

Your author has spent his last two afternoons virtually in New York. It’s obviously nowhere near as exciting as being in the city itself, but the NEXUS:ISRAEL Dealmakers’ Summit was arguably the most interesting online event I have attended in the last year. Organised in conjunction by Landmark Ventures and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the event brought together a host of industry experts as well as visionary thinkers (and personal heroes of mine) such as Daniel Kahneman and Yuval Harari. Topics as diverse as sustainability, digital marketing and the future of humanity were covered. My key highlights follow:

1: It’s not about how many people a new product may reach, but more about how many it will impact. These were the words of Sir Ronald Cohen, the venture capitalist and philanthropist, who participated in the opening presentation at the summit. Put another way, technology should increasingly be thought of as a source of change for good. The most emphatic demonstration of this can be found in life sciences. Think of how quickly vaccines for treating COVID-19 were devised. Further, consider the power of gene therapy; might it almost be akin to science fiction that technology now enables blind people to regain sight? Against this background, there is a clear call to arms for all businesses to think about their impact on broader society. We heard from companies as diverse as Airbus, ENEL, Nestlé and Salesforce about how they had already begun to implement such positive change. It’s a message with which we strongly concur and ESG (environmental, social and governance) considerations increasingly influence our thinking.

2: Artificial intelligence can help us, but needs to be treated carefully. The growing consensus from participants at the event was that the application of machine learning and algorithms to large data sets can improve decision making and efficiency. More successful real-world use cases, in turn, drive increased deployment. This makes sense to us, since solving many of the world’s future problems is contingent on the efficient allocation of scarce resource. Daniel Kahneman, however, added valuable nuance to the debate. Sure, AI may avoid making the mistakes that humans do by removing emotional judgement, but the challenge remains about how to programme algorithms such that they are compatible with human interests. Yuval Harari noted that since the rate of technology is evolving so rapidly – as evidenced by all that we heard at the summit – there is “little margin for error” in how to manage effectively the next shift in humankind, or the revolution to a computer-driven world.

3: The pandemic has changed how we do business. The coronavirus crisis has undoubtedly accelerated both the digital and sustainability trends discussed above. Correspondingly, forward-thinking organisations are adapting how they do business. To summarise from a diverse range of presentations we heard, there are no sacred cows; the C-suite is now more receptive to new ideas than ever before. If there were common ground, then it is increasingly about putting the customer first and driving collaboration (among all stakeholders) as a spur for innovation. In healthcare, expect more sensors and a further rollout of telemedicine; in the auto-sector, watch for more micro-mobility initiatives and the likely arrival of autonomous driving in China before anywhere else in the world; in industry, again, it’s a story of sensors (and more IOT) as well as lots of thinking about the role for hydrogen; and in retail, you can’t be anything other than omnichannel with a customer-service proposition at least as good as Amazon’s, even if there is a growing Amazon (large company) backlash. These conclusions constitute just the tip of the iceberg. My notes from this event covered 11 pages of writing…

25 March 2021

The above does not constitute investment advice and is the sole opinion of the author at the time of publication. Past performance is no guide to future performance and the value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise.

Alex Gunz, Fund Manager


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