Nathan Myhrvold on Uncovering and Investing in Technology Trends

by Steve O'Keefe on March 9, 2011

Alan Murray interviews Nathan Myhrvold at The Wall Street Journal's ECO:nomics Conference

The Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray (left) interviews technology investor and former Microsoft chief technology officer, Nathan Myhrvold, at the ECO:nomics Conference. Click for video.

The Wall Street Journal recently concluded its fourth annual conference on environmental economics at the Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara, California. Dubbed “ECO:nomics,” the Journal‘s invitation-only event offers a casual program of interviews and audience Q&A with corporate CEOs, venture capitalists, and government leaders.

Some of the technology trends revealed at this year’s conference include:

One of the highlights for those interested in Minitrends was Alan Murray’s interview with venture capitalist and former Microsoft chief technology officer, Nathan Myhrvold. The restless inventor shared the unique way in which his firm, Intellectual Ventures, invests in startups:

We invest in invention. Venture capitalists invest in companies…We try to invest in the actual idea…Someone will have already invented something; they won’t know what to do with it. We’ll take a controlling investment in that idea and maybe we can figure out what to do with it.

This is a different approach than most venture capitalists use: buying the technology rather than the organization. Myhrvold’s method of finding Minitrends is not so unique: “We’ll bring typically six to 10 people…in a room, and we’ll start brainstorming solutions…Usually, we come up with some solution, but often it’s not to the problem we posed. We then go through a process we call triage: Which of the ideas we generated are really worth pursuing?”

The triage process Myhrvold describes is similar to the vetting of Minitrends described in the book, MINITRENDS, by John and Carrie Vanston, a guide to identifying and exploiting business trends that are likely to bear fruit in two-to-five years.

The Wall Street Journal has been stingy making video or transcripts of the ECO:nomics conference available online. Such archives are usually fertile sources for Minitrends research. However, they have made one video segment with Nathan Myhrvold available, along with the newspaper’s “special report” coverage of ECO:nomics 2010 (PDF) and 2011 (website).

One final trend worth noting. Previously on this blog, we’ve mentioned the fashion trend that venture capitalists don’t wear neckties. It appears this year the trend has spread to CEOs. Virtually none of the CEOs speaking at the ECO:nomics conference wore ties, in contrast to just a few years ago, when the majority did. It seems the only holdouts in the necktie department are elected officials and other bureaucrats. Chief executives of the world, untie!

News Editor, Minitrends Blog

Source: “The Next Smart Thing,” The Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2011
Source: “Environmentalists spar over nuclear power,” MarketWatch, March 4, 2011
Source: “Ford Giving Up on EVs? Not Quite,” The Green Optimistic, March 7, 2011
Source: “Making Green Green,” Santa Barbara Independent, March 7, 2011
Image courtesy of The Wall Street Journal, used under fair use: commentary.

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One Response to “Nathan Myhrvold on Uncovering and Investing in Technology Trends”

  1. Business Model Trends - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly | Minitrends on March 22nd, 2011 6:21 am

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