Given the scarcity of liquidity, the lack of IPOs, the limited number of meaningful M&A exits, and the shrinking capital base to fund private equity and venture capital, it’s not surprising that many people at Davos question the future of these forms of risk capital. Well, in a homage to Mark Twain, I would say the rumours about the death of venture capital have been greatly exaggerated.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum. In December 2008, according to global internet research firm comScore*, the world reached one billion online users. The country with the single largest online audience is now China with 180 million users, which surpassed the U.S. with 163 million connected users. North America now represents 18.4 per cent of the global online audience compared to 28 per cent for Europe and 42.3 per cent for Asia Pacific (Latin America represents 7.4 per cent and the Middle East and Africa make up 4.8 per cent). To put this in perspective, 66 per cent of the world’s online audience was in the US in 1996. Today, 83 per cent of the world’s online population is outside the US and able to track what is being said in Davos in real-time.
When the going gets tough, entrepreneurs build new companies. Last night, amid a backdrop of dinner discussions largely focused on ensuring that no one here had any doubt that the world was in bad shape, a small beacon of optimism was unveiled. The event was the dinner honouring the 2009 class of Technology Pioneers.
This year the World Economic Forum selected 34 companies as Tech Pioneers, from among several hundred applicants. Ten years since its inception, the Technology Pioneers programme selects exceptionally innovative companies in three major areas: biotechnology/health, energy/environmental technology, and information technology.
The road to Davos this morning was clear and straight-forward, unlike the many discussions that will take place over the next few days. The dominant topic will, of course, be the global economic crisis, but there will be many other crucial discussions worthy of attention, including stabilising the Middle East, evaluating new methods of food and clean water production, climate change, addressing health care needs for aging populations (and preventing epidemics), poverty, declining education standards, and learning about key areas of technology innovation that can address some of the above issues.