I am working on applying science, technology and business model innovation in the following areas:
Climate Change – Because of Temporal Comparative Advantage, it seems likely that Climate Change is one of the most important issues to be working on right now. Project Drawdown has a good macro-level view for climate solutions. There are useful breakdowns of CO2 Emissions, The Costs of CO2 Capture and info in Jeremy Rifkin’s description of The Green New Deal. If you are a founder, investor, individual or organization working on climate, I’d love to hear what you’re working on.
The Circular Economy – How do we outsmart waste? How do we reuse resources infinitely? How do we build the infrastructure to enable more sharing? Planned obsolescence is a moral failure and should be ended immediately. I am starting to see companies form to address this by selling clothing, furniture and tires for EV’s according to a more eco-friendly, circular economy model. Rheaply is a fantastic example of a company that’s using software to actually build a circular economy. Terracycle is leading the way also.
Food Technologies – 40% + of food gets wasted before it gets used. Food waste cumulatively in the USA alone is a $400B / year problem. Methane from cattle production, pesticide & herbicide use, runoff, and massive inefficiencies across the food supply chain lead to all sorts of negative effects. I am in favor of the low-tech solution of buying from your local farmer. Supply chains as they are, represent a massive business opportunity for improvement. Noteworthy solutions include Hazel Technologies, Forgotten Harvest, Spoiler Alert, Thought for Food, and Imperfect Produce.
BioTechnology, BioReactors, and Microbes – I became obsessed by practical applications of bacteria and microbes after reading ‘I Contain Multitudes‘. There’s a case study in that book where a hospital eliminated MRSA infections by opening the windows occasionally. It turns out that bacteria from outside can out-compete superbugs for resources. My friend Colin Lennox is building a company called EcoIslands inspired by wetland ecology. His wetlands boxes can treat agricultural runoff, mining runoff, and phosphate & nitrate issues that cause algal blooms in freshwater lakes and streams. AI-Powered Biotech companies are excited to make monopoly profits from novel molecules, but the world already has billions of biological species to do stuff. I’m interested in organizations that are using biomimicry and metabolic pathways found in nature. Steve Jurvetson makes the case for computational biology here.
Greenhouse Growing, Vertical Farming, and CEA – The track record of venture-backed Vertical Farming businesses make the proposition look like a sure path to bankruptcy. I learned a lot after hosting a virtual summit with investors, CEO’s and farmers back in 2017. Currently editing down a 50,000+ word post with some lessons learned distilled from that research and will publish more resources soon. I recall reading an academic journal article in Phys.org where the author predicted with some precision using cost and experience curves, as well as Moore’s law trend in LED’s that the Vertical Farming and CEA space would begin attracting serious venture dollars in 2016. The total returns on capital are fairly predictable based on the unit economics of producing most crops. Today, Greenhouses are more efficient and better at utilizing resources than indoor LED-powered farms. It seems obvious that just like gaming and video laid the groundwork for the broader deployment of high-speed internet, so too will cannabis drive down the costs and ratchet up the R&D for the controlled environment growing. The profits for growing The Devil’s Cabbage are orders of magnitude higher than those of lettuce, and though costs of producing medical-grade cannabis are falling fast, they will make money for some time.
Mycology, Mushrooms, & Fungi – There are exciting nutritional, psychotropic, immunological and microbiological applications that we are just beginning to discover. Lion’s mane and Chaga are being used to promote focus, turkey tail for immune support, to the research at Hopkins on the longterm psychological benefits of Psilocybin. And those are just a few out of millions of known fungal species! Paul Stamets has many interesting thoughts based on his primary research applications. Fungi created the first internet millions of years ago to communicate with plants and animals using chemical signals. Mushrooms may also be useful in providing low cost, scalable bioremediation as well. Mushrooms could even be used to feed the world in case of a nuclear winter!
Upgrading Government & Nonprofit Services – In March 2020, I became a co-founder of www.mycovidresponse.org. This humble little website grew into a grassroots disaster response effort that has, at the time of this writing, helped coordinate bulk movements of ppe, grassroots public health campaign, over a dozen smaller programs, and in partnership with Lighthouse of Michigan, Oakland University, Pontiac Community Foundation, and dozen other partners. In September 2020, we incorporated Reciprocity, inc as a tech development nonprofit to bring innovation to local governments, nonprofits, and the human service sector. At the time of this writing, the system built by Reciprocity for our COIVD-19 response efforts has powered over 30,000 requests for help in SE Michigan. Nonprofits and government agencies feel like they haven’t seen much innovation since the 1980s. The people who work in these sectors are great and they see the problems. Very often these people are able to succeed and help people in spite of the systems they have to work in and not because of them. We’re looking to change that at Reciprocity.
Net Zero Buildings and #ElectrifyEverything – In 2016 I stumbled upon an academic journal article concluding that homes in the UK could cut their fossil fuel consumption substantially by insulating and sealing their homes better. How can this be? It turns out that most homes, particularly older ones leak heating and cooling. I later learned from The Zero Energy Project and The Thousand Homes Challenge that the payback period for doing low energy retrofits is fast (3-7 years), because the insulation is so cheap and houses are so leaky. Retrofitting homes represent work opportunities for millions of Americans, emissions reductions, and cost savings for homeowners. Then you can run a house electrically, using home-scale solar + storage. Retrofits represent an opportunity for contractors, homeowners, equipment manufacturing companies and startups.
Renewable Energy, Smart Grids and The Internet of Energy – The electrical grid is dumb. Here’s why. Coal or Natural gas is burned and covered to electricity. For every lump of coal, you get .35 lumps worth of useful energy out. Then you transmit that .35 lumps across high tension wires where you lose 30-50%. Then it gets transformed multiple times, carried to your home, and finally used by you. Plants have to run 24/7 because they are too big to rev up and down, and excess electricity does not get stored or used. The grid is connected has little capacity for routing, storage, or redundancy. Innovations to make the grid better are: locally installed solar panels, battery backups, ‘routers’ for the electrical grid, ‘grid-scale storage’, smart metering, nuclear power, and predictive generation. These problems are unsexy but important. Carbon pollution aside, there are massive negative externalities associated with the extraction of oil, coal, and natural gas. Coal in particular releases more radioactive waste than a nuclear accident since it turns out that there are traces of radioactive metals in coal. It appears that the cost of installing new solar infrastructure is cheaper than buying coal, but we can’t wait for market forces alone to scuttle coal plants.
Healthy, Sustainable & Carbon Neutral Products – Industrial chemicals are in everything. I am always on the lookout for companies that make products without anything harmful in them. In general artisanal soaps, and personal care products, clothes, and products made with simple ingredients are great. If you know of any companies that make products without shelf stabilizers, vitamin enrichments, flame retardants, phthalates, teflon, etc in them, I’m aggregating a list here (comments welcome) and partnering with some companies who are making these products available.
MIDS, Guilds, Consumer Unions, and Engineering Co-Ops – Kevin Kelly & Jaron Lanier make compelling arguments in favor of digital co-operatives getting paid revenue streams or equity for their work. What if digital collectives granted members a share economic value they produced? What if there was a version of Lyft/Uber that was driver and employee-owned? Models like Atrium make it clear that Venture Capital can be used to transform service-based businesses like legal. The concept of a consumer union would work similarly, but would unite asset holders or customers so that they could vote with their purchasing power towards changing company behavior.
VR & Remote Work – For the same reason I think that travel is such a mind-expanding experience, VR is going to open a floodgate of novel experiences and work configurations. What if you could work at McKinsey and company AND live near your family in the country. Having talked to some people who are leading the field, my mind is already blown by the prototype applications I’ve seen and played with.
Business Strategy – What do companies and organizations do well? how they do it? and why do they win?
Sustainability – How to bring our economy into ecological balance, high or low-tech solutions welcome.
Investing – How to deploy capital to solve climate change, environmental problems and social problems at scale.