Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, who financed a floating island community with the goal of creating a Utopian libertarian society, has very different ideas about venture capital “tech” investments as well.
In a recent Fortune Magazine article, columnist Roger Parloff observes an investor who wants to shape a new world by reordering its priorities.
Peter Thiel on tech sector’s growth
Peter Thiel says the historic advances in computer science and mass communications have obfuscated seriously disappointing progress in equally important endeavors in energy, transportation, biotech, disease prevention, and space travel.
“In the last 40 years in the technology world, we’ve had enormous progress in the world of bits, but not as much in the world of atoms,” Thiel was quoted as saying, pointing to “physical” investments.
This statement might best put Peter Thiel’s venture capital investment thesis into a strategy statement. His Thiel Foundation is granting funds to for profit companies who are engaging in the next wave of technical advancement Thiel hopes to lead.
Peter Thiel’s investments
One of Peter Thiel’s investments is in a company called “Modern Meadow,” which uses “biofabrication” to create products made from animals entirely in a laboratory and factory.
For movie goers of a certain generation, the science fiction classic “Soylent Green” might provide a peak at some of what Thiel might see. In the 1973 movie, “real” food and products made from animals or grown in nature was a thing of the past, only enjoyed by elites. Most of the masses enjoyed Soylent Green, a biometrically developed food product enhanced with chemical nutrients and manufactured using entirely synthetic products. In other words, food did not come from nature but was created in a science lab.
Pointing to a leather belt, Lindy Fishburne, an officer of the Thiel Foundation, considered the developments with awe. “It’s pretty amazing to hold leather that no pig or cow died for,” she was quoted as saying. This is because Modern Meadow takes skin and muscle samples from animals and “grows” them in a laboratory.
Peter Thiel: Technology stagnation thesis
The investment in Modern Meadow follows a theme of avoiding strictly technical investments and instead going for what might be considered disruptive “bio-tech” companies, all in keeping with his “technology stagnation thesis.”
“We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters,” he says, referring to a desire for more practical breakthroughs in technology that result in more physical developments.
While Peter Thiel likes a different type of tech start-up now, the founder of PayPal – considered part of the “PayPal mafia” of wealthy investors – has a significant track record at picking tech start ups. He was the first to invest in Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) while then 20-year-old Mark Zuckerberg was a sophomore at Harvard, was early in investments in LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD), Spotify, SpaceX and Airbnb.