As we reflect on the events of Sept. 11, what we do with our lives and what we do as venture capitalists is much more meaningful. In the aftermath of a catastrophic event that seemed to break down all that we knew to be true, venture capitalists continued to be builders and creators. We have a continuing role to play in creating a better environment for the entire world to live in and prosper.
The origins of Sept. 11 are deep and far-reaching but are clearly rooted in the cultural and religious divides that have been created by oppression, poverty and ignorance. The digital divide has not helped the cause. As long as information is inaccessible for large constituencies of the global population, it will remain difficult to foster an awareness and appreciation for our cultural differences.
Bridging The Divide
The good news is that venture capitalists continue to invest to narrow this gap. Venture capital investment in Internet-related technologies and innovations, which totaled $157 billion in the last three years, has moved the world forward in our ability to communicate with one another and understand and embrace that which makes each of our societies unique.
As investment continues and the Internet life cycle matures, the cost of connectivity and transparency will fall even further, allowing broader access to Internet news, resources and information. Freedom is about knowledge.
The venture capital community will continue to support broadband deployment both here in the United States and overseas so that education is more accessible to everyone. Men and women of all nationalities should be able to afford to learn about one another for themselves, and, in the process, hopefully discover that monolithic thought is harmful to us all.
The Promise of Biotech
In addition to investments in infrastructure, venture capitalists have been investing quietly and patiently in biotechnology and medical device companies that will enable people to live longer, more productive lives in all parts of the world. VCs invested $6 billion in life sciences and device companies in 2001 alone. The innovations that will emerge have the potential to cure deadly diseases, ease the pain associated with terminal conditions and protect us all from bioterrorism.
Many of the companies that are funded by venture capital will falter and fail. Yet, by keeping the faith, venture capitalists are ensuring that scientific breakthroughs continue regardless of economic cycles and political unrest. Medtronic, the company that invented the first implantable pacemaker was venture backed. There are many more innovations like this to come. Venture capital will help make these promises tomorrow’s realities-for everyone.
To date, venture capital investment has been largely a United States phenomenon and has brought this country great economic benefit, a global competitive advantage and a higher standard of living. Yet, we have much more to gain by encouraging entrepreneurship worldwide than we do keeping it to ourselves.
Time To Be Inclusive
We must share our investment models and methods with our international counterparts so that rational risk taking can be successfully applied in both developed nations and oppressive regimes. Technology and innovation know no boundaries, and U.S. venture capitalists and entrepreneurs have much to gain by working together with their counterparts in other countries.
Venture capital investment is the epitome of hope against well-established odds. It involves a spirit to embark on what the future might bring, armed with a thorough understanding of the risks involved in its endeavors. This entrepreneurial spirit flies in the face of what the 9-11 terrorists sought to accomplish. We will not give up or give in to fear and uncertainty: It is what our industry thrives on. We all have a role to play and, as an industry, venture capitalists are committed to helping America rebuild economically and spiritually-one success at a time.
Mark G. Heesen is president of the National Venture Capital Association. The NVCA represents more than 400 venture capital and private equity firms. A principal part of its mission is to “foster the understanding of the importance of venture capital to the vitality of the United States and global economies.”