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    Think tank: The radical innovation of our time.

    Venture capitalist Albert Wenger searches the world for the best digital business ideas. How does he find start-ups with the potential to revolutionise an entire industry?

    Text: Albert Wenger

Being an investor means I’m an optimist.

We are just beginning to understand the impact of the digital revolution - the radical innovation of our time. Following the transition from hunters and gatherers to an agrarian society some 10,000 years ago and the shift to an industrial society some 200 years ago, we are now experiencing the third great change in history. Whereas in the past the main concern was who owns the land and then, who owns the capital, the big question now is: Who owns the knowledge? Being an investor means I’m an optimist. We are concerned with fishing around in the sea of ideas for the good ones. Ideas with substance, which make a positive contribution to this historic change. According to the revolutionary economic principle of the digital age, the marginal cost of production is equal to zero.

Escalators
Venture capitalist Albert Wenger | Illustration: Jindrich Novotny

Albert Wenger | Illustration: Jindrich Novotny

We want to change the system.

The cost of producing the thousandth car is only marginally lower than that of the 999th before it. This is the logic of the Industrial Age. However, the cost of taking on another student in a digital education platform is zero. This is the logic of the new age. We look for ideas and the potential opportunities they represent. Therefore, we do not, for example, invest in start-ups that help students in the US gain scholarships – we would otherwise be investing in an educational system that restricts access to knowledge by imposing high tuition fees. We don’t want to alleviate the symptoms. We want to change the system.

The trick is to try and get it wrong as little as possible.

One start-up we have invested in offers access to thousands of classes for just nine to twelve dollars per month. This makes education affordable – which is great. Another of our start-ups works, for example, with diagnostic intelligence: today’s doctors need time for their patients, surgeries, technology – all of which cost money. Computers on the other hand will initially offer any number of people an additional diagnosis, but may one day replace an initial diagnosis. And free of charge. All things considered, however, it is the people behind the ideas that are crucial to us.


We spend a lot of time talking to the founders to make sure they have really given the matter considerable thought. We consider their personality. And we look at their platform and underlying code – much like looking under the bonnet of a car. As investors, we are involved at an early stage, at a time when a rational assessment is sometimes virtually impossible. Therefore we often get it wrong. The trick is to try and get it wrong as little as possible.