Are tech unicorns fact or fiction?

The idea of the unicorn was coined in a TechCrunch article in 2013; it referred to tech startups valued at more than $1bn and they numbered around 40 at the time. Their number grew into the hundreds, but then the herd thinned out and people started to ask if it was all a bubble.

I have always thought that a billion dollar valuation is not the most important way of looking at a company. Sure, it’s a huge number and who wouldn’t want to join the Unicorn Club? But valuation isn’t the goal, it’s just a reflection of success. I prefer to look at long-term potential – to guarantee long-term growth, a tech start-up has to define and dominate a product category, not just for a year or two, but for a decade.

To be successful, any business has to ask itself three questions: Do you have a unique selling proposition? Would you leave a hole in the market if you weren’t there? Are you committed to continuous improvement?

The challenge for any Unicorn is that it can be a stock market darling one year, but old news the next. Tech is going beyond data and getting back into the physical world – 3D printers, for example – with new levels of individual creativity, empowerment and innovation. But picking winners and losers is difficult. I am excited by the potential of driverless cars, but no one can guarantee which companies will ultimately dominate this sector.

The capital gap for start-ups remains a challenge; the Silicon Valley culture leads the way, and the UK venture capital and private equity market remains strong, but I am most excited by the growth in Indian venture funding. The potential there is almost limitless.

However, wherever in the world you are starting a business one thing is the same the world over – creating something new does not necessarily happen according to the needs of a five-year fixed investment fund so you need to find backers prepared to think imaginatively and who are in it for the long term.

And, for venture capitalists, one thing is also the same the world over: great people make great businesses. Find great people, support them and empower them and you could find one day the unicorn is no mythical creature; you’ve helped create its modern-day equivalent.

Empowering Para-athletes to fulfil their dreams

I grew up in a family where giving back to society was always considered important. But successful philanthropy is not just about giving – it’s about giving effectively. That means looking at who else is funding projects in the area that interests you, identifying the gaps and finding a way you can make a difference.

I have always been interested in sport and was proud to chair the Business Advisory Board for Commonwealth Games, raising money for more than 500 athletes to travel to Delhi for the 2010 Games. So, I am delighted to be involved in an exciting new project that is helping talented female athletes fulfil their dreams of taking part in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

Path to Success is a charity run by my mother, Anita, and of which I am a director. The charity has a long record of helping people overcome their disabilities and now it is focusing exclusively on a sponsorship scheme for 12 leading para-athletes. The athletes are all competing internationally and winning titles in their sports, Para Powerlifting, Para Badminton, Wheelchair Basketball and Wheelchair Tennis, but funding is a huge problem for them. They have to pay for coaching, training, travel, equipment and specialised sports wheelchairs – but it is hard to find sponsors in these so-called unfashionable sports.

Path to Success has pledged more than £100K to the campaign over the next three years, which will give these talented, motivated, inspirational women the chance to realise their potential. Not only that, but these athletes will also inspire and empower a new generation of Paralympic stars, creating a legacy that will last beyond their own careers.

Who, after all, could fail to be inspired by the story of Mary Wilson? She is former Army nurse, who served in Afghanistan, but had to give up her military career when she was diagnosed with MS. At the age of 54, she is one of the world’s leading Para Badminton players, having won nine titles, and is gunning for gold in Tokyo when the sport makes its debut in the 2020 Paralympics.

She has invested a big chunk of her military pension into her career and I hope that the additional support from Path To Success will help her achieve her dreams. It is gratifying to know that when you have a vision and set clear and realistic philanthropic goals, you can make a real difference to people’s lives.

We need to re-frame the migration debate

Migration is one of the most contentious issues in today’s political landscape. Though international migrants make up only 3.4% of the world’s population, the proportion has increased more than 40% since 2000. Migrants are typically assumed to be young, male, unskilled and unattached, but in fact about one in three are tertiary educated and the majority leave their homes not because they have to, but because they are looking for better life opportunities abroad.

Twenty emerging markets account for about 84 million of the world’s 258 million international migrants and four, India, Mexico, Russia and China, collectively account for a fifth of all migrants worldwide. Global migration was the subject considered by the 2018 Emerging Markets Symposium, an annual event at Templeton College, Oxford University, attended by academics, politicians and business leaders from around the world.

Politically, the focus of the debate is often about the impact that migrants have on the countries they move to, but the EMS report points out that we think far less about the effect on the countries from which they have moved.

They are losing educated, skilled young people in fields such as medicine and technology; conversely, the prosperity of wealthy countries has been enhanced by the ideas and innovative talents these migrants bring. In the US, migrants from emerging markets have founded Google, Intel, PayPal, eBay and Yahoo. Thirty-three per cent of venture-backed companies that went public in the USA between 2006 and 2012 had at least one immigrant founder.

But most emerging markets have been slow to create migration strategies or to establish bilateral arrangements with migrant-receiving countries, which, in turn, have struggled with the impact of migration on their social fabric whilst not making the positive case for the link between migration and development.

A new international agreement, the Global Compact for Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration is being drawn up in Marrakech in December 2018. It is an opportunity for policy makers to use evidence-based arguments to create a new consensus. The economic differences between emerging markets and wealthier countries may diminish but they won’t disappear; the incentives for migration will remain so we need to find a better way of aligning their interests.

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