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Qi3 Ventures Insight

It’s chic if you’re proud to be a geek!

Or putting the cool back into physics

I was terrified of student parties during my undergraduate years.  Not that I was ever that unsociable. But the outcome of the chat-up line was inevitable:

‘You look cute. So what subject do you read?’

‘Physics’

‘Uh. OK’ (wanders off to find another drink)

My career took me from undergraduate physics into working my way up from summer vacation work, through sales, marketing, strategy and ultimately being an MD at a couple of Oxford Instruments’ businesses.   Selling cryostats and superconducting magnets in Germany for a few years was great, but it was the sports car and expat salary that were attractive to others, not the condensed matter physics and cryogenics.

I then founded Qi3 which spends its time helping people commercialise sensing and instrumentation technology in a variety of industry sectors. I now invest through Qi3 Accelerator in early stage technology ventures. So my life has always revolved around the deeply unfashionable fields of physics and engineering.

And now, after years of being shunned at parties, I’m suddenly cool. And it’s all down to Brian Cox and the Large Hadron Collider.

Well even if it’s fashionable now, I’ve always been excited by physics. It has a unique potential to inspire, to explain the wonders of the universe and encourage methods of rigorous analysis. In my commercial world, it has the potential to generate mind-blowing market opportunities and transform society.  I’m proud to have been trained as a physicist and in awe of many of the physicists I’ve had the privilege to work with.

I’ve been invited to a party this evening. I think I’ll go.

Why good people make all the difference…

… and when to move outside your sector comfort zone

Our first statement of sector interests included security, environmental sustainability / cleantech and instrumentation. Apart from anything else, it’s only fair to provide guidance to people about the sectors in which we’re keen to invest, and by implication, the areas in which we’re less keen.

My industrial career provides a backdrop to my investment interests, a set of overlapping comfort zones within which I understand market dynamics, technologies and have contacts that may be valuable to investees. I’m keen to develop a portfolio of risks, whilst maintaining an explicable intellectual coherence.

But this tidy approach has always troubled me and it’s coming to life with some specific opportunities in our pipeline. The issues are:

  • Great teams: We recently saw a presentation in a business somewhat outside our declared sector interests. But there were three passionate and experienced individuals each contributing to a coherent team. How could we dismiss this opportunity given the primacy of team credibility in our investment criteria?
  • Mates: We have seen over a dozen pitches from people we’ve known, in some cases over many years. Surely that personal knowledge must count for something, regardless of sector?
  • Stonking opportunities: Whilst we love whacky early stage technologies, it’s far less risky and more financially justifiable to invest in propositions that seek acceleration for growth and offer significant, short to medium term returns.

In summary, ‘comfort zone’ is important, and it affects the degree to which one’s personal experience and contacts can be brought to the aid of an investee. But good people and great investment prospects are ultimately what this game’s all about.  I won’t be having sleepless nights over a diversified portfolio of superb businesses.

 

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