Time to level-up my learning. A lot.

“The only way to retain a lifelong working capacity is to engage in lifelong learning.” Thomas Friedman — Thank You for Being Late

I have a new mission, and I’m pretty excited. I will need to learn like crazy.

But first a story. For as long as I can remember, it has been said in my family that we might be descended from James Watt — the inventor of the steam engine. My Great Grandmother, who I remember as a wrinkled old lady in a floral armchair, was a Watt. My father has chased the evidence but the vast and broken family tree of James Watt has only lead to dead ends.

Who knows what the relationship is. But I’m fascinated with the man and what he did during his lifetime. He perfected the invention of the steam engine which, in turn became an important catalyst for the industrial revolution. Because of a new machine, an incredible new capability became available to the human race. Mass production became possible, mines could go deeper, transport could go further, quicker… science and business colliding.

During The Enlightenment, from which Watt emerged, science matured from a separate curiosity about the world into a powerful fuel that powered business.

The times reflected our own because technology triggered a pace of change that humans were not very comfortable with.

Here’s an excerpt from a Luditte pamphlet of the time:

“Never until now did human invention devise such expedients for dispensing with the labour of the poor.”

Sound familiar? Technology, once again, is driving a pace of change so rapid that the roles we each play in the world become irrelevant more quickly. I founded a company that advised large corporates how to form startups internally. That role did not exist 5 years ago and is now falling away in relevance. Roles change with the times, as must I.

I am a technology optimist. In the past 10 years I have been a participant in the staggering pace of change that is happening in the world. And now it is only going to get faster.

I think we are heading into a new wave of innovation that, like the Enlightenment before, is driven by a powerful combination of science and business. But now we are going to get into the hard stuff. Transport, medicine, agriculture, energy…

And it will feel more and more uncomfortable. But that’s where I like to be. At the frontier where the world is in constant flux and everyone is building the future.

Which brings me to my new mission.

I am proud to be joining Bill Bartee at the CSIRO’s new innovation fund that we’re calling Main Sequence Ventures. There’s no official website yet. We’re just getting started.

Bill came up with the name and I love it. Out there in the universe, vast molecular clouds of gas collapse under the force of gravity to cause nuclear fusion and the birth of new stars. Stars with the perfect combination of mass and chemical composition for nuclear fusion are on the main sequence. It is the state under which stars burn bright for billions of years.

In the Hertzprung-Russell diagram the temperatures of stars are plotted against their luminosities. The position of a star in the diagram provides information about its present stage and its mass. Stars that burn hydrogen into helium lie on the diagonal branch, the so-called main sequence. Red dwarfs like AB Doradus C lie in the cool and faint corner. AB Dor C has itself a temperature of about 3,000 degrees and a luminosity which is 0.2% that of the Sun. When a star exhausts all the hydrogen, it leaves the main sequence and becomes a red giant or a supergiant, depending on its mass (AB Doradus C will never leave the main sequence since it burns so little hydrogen). Stars with the mass of the Sun which have burnt all their fuel evolve finally into a white dwarf (left low corner).

In the Hertzprung-Russell diagram the temperatures of stars are plotted against their luminosities. Image Credit: ESO

What a great metaphor for the companies we intend to support.

Our mission will be to discover great teams emerging from the Australian research sector and support their transformation into game-changing companies.

I’m excited about this because:

  • The work will push me to the edge of my comfort zone. Pretty much everything I touch will be new to me and developed by smarter people than me. I will need to learn fast just to get to first base.
  • I get to work with Bill Bartee. We’ve worked closely in the startup ecosystem for years but never on the same team until now. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor to learn about the venture capital business.
  • I get to continue working with the wonderful people at CSIRO and the nation’s universities. I’ve had a taster in the past few years through my work with On Accelerator where I have learned that scientists and entrepreneurs have a mutual pursuit of impact and curiosity.

The clouds are collapsing and the Main Sequence is coming.