Identifying Promising Moonshots with Help from Around the Globe
The future of the US economy ultimately depends on what I call “Moonshots.”
Flaunting a Moonshot mind is Eric Schmidt, of Princeton, Berkeley, and the new American empyrean of billionaire nerds. From Bell Labs and Xerox PARC, to Sun and Novell, and climactically to Google — and with even a stint on the board at Apple — he has spent his highly fruitful life around the launch pads and lunar projectiles of American innovation. Today, he chairs the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Advisory Board.
Back in the early 1990s, he sent me a post-midnight email on bandwidth that I published as “Schmidt’s Law.” It read, “When the network runs faster than the backplane of the computer, the computer hollows out and disperses across the network, and profits in the industry migrate to search and sort.”
Expounded long before Google, smartphones, cloud computing, or even the takeoff of the internet, Schmidt’s Law was key to my transition from the “Microcosm” of microchips, to the “Telecosm” of bandwidth abundance.
Now, this Daily Prophecy is moving me on toward Moonshots. I have a Moonshots service with the visionary John Schroeter, with whom I seek out companies with the most promising and transformative and surprising new technologies. I am constantly exploring the frontiers of innovation for ways to land on the moons beyond our current reach. (Go here for more information if you’re not currently a Gilder’s Moonshots subscriber.)
You’d be surprised where the search for Moonshots will take you…
Recognizing Talent from All Over
In this week’s Barron’s, Schmidt points to a major obstacle in the path of future American Moonshots. He warns against the Administration’s new restrictions on H1B and other visas that high-tech companies use to bring in talent from around the world to consummate major projects.
Someone up there, perhaps the President himself, imagines that keeping out foreigners increases American jobs. Jobs are seen as a zero-sum game, shuffling homogeneous “human capital” among available slots. It is a collectivist vision, denying the unique and individualist sources of innovation.
As Schmidt warns: “Shutting the door to global talent will impede job creation by making it harder for US companies to flourish. The new ban threatens these and many other science and technology Moonshots now under way.” The result is not to employ Americans, but to cripple American employers.
Moonshots are no respecters of persons, nationalities, or credentials.
To paraphrase my book Microcosm (p 114): “America did not land on the moon through the portals of the Ivy League: “From immigrants and outcasts, street toughs and science wonks, nerds and boffins, the bearded and the beer-bellied, the tacky and uptight, and sometimes weird, the born again and born yesterday, with Adam’s apples bobbing, psyches throbbing, and acne galore, the fraternity of the pizza breakfast, the Ferrari dream, the silicon truth, the midnight modem, and the seventy hour week, from dirt farms and redneck shanties, trailer parks and Levittowns, in a rainbow parade of all colors and wavelengths, of the hyper-neat and the sty high, the crewcut and the khaki, the pony-tailed and punk, accented from Britain and Madras, from Israel and Malaya, from Paris and Parris Island, from Iowa and Havana, from Brooklyn and Boise and Belgrade and Vienna and Vietnam, from the coarse fanaticism and desperation, ambition and hunger, genius and sweat of the outsider, the downtrodden, the banished and the bullied come most of the progress in the world and in Silicon Valley.”
Back in 1996, Rush Limbaugh asked me: “Imagine… There’s a wall built around America. No immigration… Are you suggesting that, if this situation occurred, there is not somehow an ability here to produce the genius amongst those who live [in the United States] to continue this high-tech revolution?”
I answered no, “It would mean that lots of technology companies just couldn’t operate in the United States… For key jobs and key inventive roles, there are very few people in the world capable of performing them. So, any company that wants to be absolutely on the leading edge, to get the best people in every field working together to produce some new product, those people and their companies have to command the best. If they can’t get the best people to come to the United States, they have to go to the best people. That’s just a fact of life…”
It’s always been true. From Ford Motor company bringing in talent and technology from Scotland and Germany to build the model T, to the Manhattan Project bringing in a diaspora of Jews from Europe to build the atomic bomb, to the semiconductor industry and software industries that pioneered the information age — immigrants have always been indispensable.
“When you are leading-edge, you are effectively the spearhead for the entire planetary economy — so you’ve got to get the best, wherever they are.”
Last week I wrote about Sabrewing Aircraft, the American Moonshot company in Camarillo, CA, with startup funding and support from Japan’s “Drone Fund,” that created the pioneering Rhaegal. A light and energy efficient autonomous cargo plane with AI collision avoidance, vertical takeoff and landing capabilities, folding wings, hybrid power, and no humans, windows or toilets on board, it loads up to 5,000 pounds of cargo through the nose. Able to land in a parking lot, or in mud or snow, and functional in all weather — the Rhaegal promises to transform the containerization and transport of goods. Both Chief Technical Officer Oliver Garrow, who invented much of the technology, and the Chief of Software Apurva Bharaswadkar are immigrants.
Indeed, in a life of searching for Moonshot companies, I find that nearly all of them are heavily dependent on people from outside the country.
As an investor, I know that without immigrants the American innovation system simply doesn’t work, and American job creation stalls and stagnates.
A key to identifying promising Moonshots is their success in attracting workers and investors from around the globe.
Editor, Gilder’s Daily Prophecy