Xconomy Survey: Seattle Angel Investors’ Perspective, Predictions

A majority of Seattle angel investors in a recent poll by Xconomy plan to make more investments this year than in 2017, and artificial intelligence tops the list of technologies they’re excited about.

Those are just two of the takeaways from a survey of the Seattle-based Alliance of Angels, one of the Northwest’s most active and longest tenured early stage investing groups, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2018. AoA invested $10 million in 20 companies last year.

Survey respondents also sounded off on shifting patterns of technology use driven by voice as the new user interface, as well as privacy and security concerns, and a range of ideas for responding to the “tech backlash”—which not everyone agrees is a thing.

Forty investors out of the group’s 140-person membership responded to a set of questions sent by Xconomy as part of our annual effort to gather perspective and predictions from innovation economy leaders as the calendar turns. (Thanks to AoA managing director Yi-Jian Ngo for collaborating on this survey.)

Here’s a summary of the AoA member responses, which were anonymous.

—80 percent of respondents said they expect to make more investments in 2018 than in 2017.

—70 percent of respondents said they are excited to learn about or invest in artificial intelligence in 2018, followed by blockchain/cryptocurrency (45 percent), autonomous vehicles (38 percent), robotics (35 percent), and life sciences/health tech (18 percent). Other areas mentioned: “continued digital transformation of non-tech industries,” cleantech, e-sports, mobile, consumer products, cloud, augmented and virtual reality, media, Internet of Things, and cannabis.

—The most important developments in the tech industry in 2017 were:

  • Artificial intelligence / machine learning—increased usage, “mainstreaming,” “linguistics,” graphics processing units as A.I. workhorses, autonomous vehicle advances, “accelerating concentration of A.I. talent in Seattle.”
  • Blockchain / cryptocurrencies
  • Funding—“solid access to funding for early stage companies,” “rise of initial coin offerings in startup funding,” “rise of seed stage funds in Seattle,”
  • Other—“Fully designed proteins/biologics (from scratch vs modification from existing).” “Non-consolidation within the wireless industry.” “Stall-out in Healthcare IT deployments, very likely due to stalled-out Obamacare replacement legislation.”

—When asked whether their personal patterns of technology usage had changed because of something that happened in 2017, half the respondents said no. Nine people said they’re using more technology, including voice-controlled assistants such as Alexa. These people reported more reliance on and time spent with mobile devices, IoT devices, and digital payments technologies. One said, “More purchases from Amazon due to unsolicited ads for things I might like based on prior purchases and overall improvement in search on web site.”

For those that did make a change, several said they took greater pains to protect their privacy and security.

Others reduced or changed their usage of social media: “Significantly less social media and more personal relationship building.” “Less social media usage. Ad load increased and negative effects of the platforms became clear.”

—We asked if public perception about the tech industry turned for the worse in 2017, and, if so, what should the industry do to rebuild trust in 2018. Nine of the 28 people who responded disagreed with the premise in some form or another, for example: “Do better proactive communications to offset the negative communications the media is spoon feeding the American public.”

Those that did see a tech backlash offered several solutions touching on transparency, privacy, individual behavior, and responsibility—particularly on the issue of sexual harassment, and long-term thinking. Some examples:

  • “Be more open, less insular, less threatening. People are intimidated by technology, especially with regard to automation ‘eating’ jobs.”
  • “Continue the conversations about workplace harassment, anti-discriminatory practices.”
  • “Get ahead of the headlines and hire people who treasure integrity to run our companies.”
  • “Tech investors need to stop viewing themselves as personalities and rock stars and need to get back to the business of investing, otherwise join a band.”
  • “Disruption drives innovating thinking. However, disruption needs to be accomplished responsibly. Knowingly using technology and disruption to exploit disadvantaged people and markets needs to cease. Rather the corollary of using technology and disruption to improve access and abilities of people and markets is where efforts should be focused.”

—In a related question, we asked if investors are adjusting their criteria in light of changing public attitudes about tech. 90 percent said no.

Photo credit: Photo by Nathaniel dahan on Unsplash

[Editor’s note: This is part of a series of posts sharing thoughts from technology leaders about 2017 trends and 2018 forecasts.]

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