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Esther Dyson Q&A: What makes an angel investor tick?

Esther Dyson Q&A: What makes an angel investor tick?
Posted by SBOC Team in Starting Your Business on Oct 19, 2012 8:04:36 AM

She describes herself as a “start-up catalyst.” Through EDventure Holdings, Esther Dyson places her bets in emerging markets such as Eastern Europe and, more recently, Africa. In the U.S., she specializes in cutting-edge ideas, specifically information technology, preemptive healthcare, and commercial space travel. “I don’t want to be redundant by investing in companies that would happen anyway,” she recently told business writer Sharon Kahn. Some of her best-known successes include Flickr and del.icio.us (both sold to Yahoo!) as well as Medstory (sold to Microsoft). She’s also involved with Russia’s leading search company, Yandex, and Nomanini, a South African company that makes and distributes terminals that let small businesses accept prepaid vouchers for products such as airtime, electricity, and insurance.

SK: How did you become a venture capitalist?

ED: I ran a technology newsletter, Release 1.0, for 25 years. In the mid 1990s, a friend said, ‘Gee, you keep telling people that they should invest in technology companies in Eastern Europe, where so many changes were going on. How about I give you one million dollars to invest?’ I said, ‘How much did you say?’

Money goes a lot further in Eastern Europe, but I eventually decided to invest in the U.S. as well. At that point I hired someone to run my newsletter because I became fanatic about disclosing where I might have a vested interest. With all kinds of people now blogging, disclosure has become less of an issue, but I still feel it’s important.

SK: You now specialize in preventive healthcare and space as well as digital technology. Why those areas?

ED: I love emerging technologies in the same way I love emerging markets. Digital technology allows us to know and track our bodies better, helping us change behavior so we can avoid needing health care in the first place. Through their phone and sensors [that read, record, and transmit body functions], people can collect their own data and collaborate and compete with other people in the same situation. That social interaction provides motivation to eat better, exercise, whatever.

I’m also on the boards of several space companies, which represent, literally, the path to a new frontier. I trained as a backup cosmonaut. It’s extremely exciting to be involved in commercial space.
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