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Houston expert shares 3 venture capital predictions for 2022

Blockchain growth and funds reaching new groups of people — this Houston investor has VC trends for 2022. Image via Getty Images

New Year’s resolutions are all well and good, but this year, in true VC fashion, I’m making some New Year’s predictions, too. Though I’m not an oracle, I am an investor, which means I use what I learned in the past to guide my decisions in the present. With that in mind, here are three predictions for 2022.

Blockchain’s gaining ground and will be used to solve some of the world’s toughest problems.

This year, expect to see more corporates adopting blockchain. Blockchain is the digital recordkeeping technology that cryptocurrencies depend on, but its impact goes far beyond powering Bitcoin and giving speculative traders something to do. It allows corporations to do everything from transferring data more securely, to tackling supply chain issues (a problem we became all too familiar with last year), to eradicating the double spending problem in carbon credit markets and helping businesses prove their ESG claims.

When it comes to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing, blockchain will be a major part of the solution to a myriad of pressing issues, from climate change to social unrest.

On the environmental front, expect blockchain to be an essential tool in our quest to get to net zero: the technology allows companies to better track and trace their carbon footprint, and will lead to greater accountability across industries. It also has the potential to bring much-needed transparency to the global food supply chain, so that consumers can make informed decisions about the products they’re buying.

So much of the social unrest we are experiencing today is the result of power concentrated in too few hands and the lack of access to financial services. Blockchain is already being used to help the unbanked to improve their credit scores through microloans and to provide farmers with crop insurance. In 2022, blockchain will continue to democratize access to capital and unlock opportunities for retail investors to build wealth on their own terms.

As of last fall, 85 percent of the market cap of digital assets was driven by retail investor interest. In the first half of 2021 we saw a 100 percent increase in crypto users and a 700 percent growth in the DeFi token market cap. And there’s no signs of a slowdown. In December, Visa announced they were launching a “crypto advisory practice” to help their clients understand this next frontier. Visa’s announcement is just one of many announcements from major firms embracing the notion that digital assets will soon be a vital thread in the broader financial ecosystem.

If you let 2021 pass without getting educated on blockchain, 2022 is the time to dive deep.

The tech industry knows entrepreneurs can build from anywhere, and they’re doubling down on geographic diversity.

Until a few years ago, the conventional wisdom was that you couldn’t build a successful startup from anywhere but Silicon Valley. In 2022, entrepreneurs will build — and build successfully — in cities across the country, basing themselves in communities that best align with not only their industries, but their interests.

Rising innovation hubs will succeed based on how well they distinguish themselves from their counterparts. Want to build in a vibrant metropolitan area which is also the most diverse city in America and has built an inclusive startup ecosystem? Join us in Houston. Want to join a thriving ecosystem that is close to nature activities and still (somewhat) affordable? Move to Austin.

Though this geographic diversification started pre-pandemic, COVID-19 sped it up. In 2021, for the first time in more than 10 years, the percentage of seed capital going to Bay Area startups fell under 30 percent. The possibility of building an innovation community anywhere is finally becoming a reality as the pandemic years forced digital adoption and innovative thinking.

The upshot: if you’re a founder looking to lay roots, you can find the soil that’s best for your growth.

For women, Black and Latinx founders, the needle is moving in 2022.

For years now, a few in the tech industry have been working hard to diversify capital allocation, planting seeds aimed at getting more capital into the hands of women, Black and Latinx founders. In 2022, those seeds will sprout.

Two years ago, only 5.6 percent of VC firms in the U.S. were women-led, and of those 73 percent had been founded in the previous five years. But venture is a long game so investing initiatives can take years. When women are writing the checks, they tend to fund more diverse teams, which, in turn, routinely outperform teams with no women or people of color.

The work, in short, is paying off. In 2021, venture firms founded by women were on pace to bring in over 7 billion dollars, nearly one billion dollars over the previous high, from 2019. Expect the trend to continue into this year.

In summary, expect 2022 to be a blockbuster year for blockchain utility, and enjoy the increased capital deployed into previously underrepresented founders living all across America. We’ll check back in 2023 to see how I did.

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Samantha Lewis is principal at Houston-based venture capital firm, Mercury Fund.

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Building Houston

 
 

Veronica Wu, founder of First Bight Ventures, recently announced new team members and her hopes for making Houston a leader in synthetic biology. Photo courtesy of First Bight Ventures

Since launching earlier this year, a Houston-based venture capital firm dedicated to investing in synthetic biology companies has made some big moves.

First Bight Ventures, founded by Veronica Wu, announced its growing team and plans to stand up a foundry and accelerator for its portfolio companies and other synthetic biology startups in Houston. The firm hopes to make Houston an international leader in synthetic biology.

“We have a moment in time where we can make Houston the global epicenter of synthetic biology and the bio economy," Wu says to a group of stakeholders last week at First Bight's Rocketing into the Bioeconomy event. "Whether its energy, semiconductor, space exploration, or winning the World Series — Houstonians lead. It’s in our DNA. While others look to the stars, we launch people into space.”

At First Bight's event, Wu introduced the company's new team members. Angela Wilkins, executive director of the Ken Kennedy Institute at Rice University, joined First Bight as partner, and Serafina Lalany, former executive director of Houston Exponential, was named entrepreneur in residence. Carlos Estrada, who has held leadership positions within WeWork in Houston, also joins the team as entrepreneur in residence and will oversee the company's foundry and accelerator that will be established to support synthetic biology startups, Wu says.

“First Bight is investing to bring the best and the brightest — and most promising — synthetic biology startups from around the country to Houston," Wu continues.

First Bighthas one seed-staged company announced in its portfolio. San Diego-based Persephone Biosciences was founded in 2017 by synthetic and metabolic engineering pioneers, Stephanie Culler and Steve Van Dien. The company is working on developing microbial products that impact patient and infant health.

Wu, who worked at Apple before the launch of the iPhone and Tesla before Elon Musk was a household name, says she saw what was happening in Houston after her brother moved to town. She first invested in Houston's synthetic biology ecosystem when she contributed to one of Solugen's fundraising rounds. The alternative plastics company is now a unicorn valued at over $1 billion.

“I founded First Bight because of what I see is the next great wave of technology innovation," she says at the event. "I founded it in Houston because the pieces are right here.”

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