Looking ahead with Luke Smith, Investment Partner at Forward.
Luke, Investment Partner at Forward, leads our ventures investment team. Before joining us, he held investment and consultant positions at REV Venture Partners and Oliver Wyman. Now, Luke runs Forward Ventures, responsible for our investment strategy, growing the investment team, advising our portfolio companies and keeping ahead of market trends.
What are your highlights from the team this year?
This year, we undertook an extensive strategy review to explore what we think the next big tech trend will be. We looked at everything from "software eating biology" to the metaverse and foodtech, but the area that really stood out was Web3. More specifically, applied Web3 and how this evolving vision and the technology that underpins it can offer additional value and growth potential to business models we’re already familiar with, like marketplaces and SaaS.
Our investment in Ryde, the first after our IPO was also a big moment. It marked our first investment as a public company, and was a great chance to back a pair of experienced founders building an exciting company.
What are your best moments from the portfolio this year?
There have been plenty of notable moments from this year, but the ones that really stand out are:
Ably's Series B, led by Insight and Dawn Capital, in Q2 2021 was a big moment for the portfolio and a nice milestone in the journey, having led their seed round in 2017. The company’s grown massively since our initial investment and it was great to see other well-known investors share our enthusiasm.
Robin AI's seed extension round, which included the Softbank Emerge Programme and a number of notable angels, was also exciting to see as the business gets sets up for success in 2022. Their revenues have grown 10x since their seed round in March 2021 and they’ve attracted some big clients, including several private equity firms, Clifford Chance, Foot Anstey, Pizza Hut and Babylon Health.
Koyo Loans raising $50m in debt and equity in a Series A round led by Force Over Mass. It’s allowing the business to scale lending to underserved “thin-file” consumers who struggle to access credit from traditional lenders.
OutThink being awarded a €2m grant from the European Innovation Council in December 2021. It was a great recognition of the power of OutThink’s technology and puts the business in a strong position for 2022.
Technology is moving fast. Where do you see the biggest opportunities for FY22?
We're very excited about the Web3 space and the potential of decentralised software for both the evolution of the internet and its application to existing business models. And developers and early adopters are already on the move. Almost $27bn was invested in Web3 in 2021, according to Forbes, up from $6bn in 2020. And the number of monthly active Web3 developers was at an all-time high of 18,400 in December 2021, according to Electric Capital — almost doubling from 2018. The volume of cryptocurrency trades is also rising steadily, and, over the last 12 months, we’ve seen NFTs (non-fungible tokens) boom, with interesting applications such as digital personas holding promise for the development of the metaverse.
A lot of smart people want to work in the space and we've already started to see businesses leveraging the potential of blockchain to solve real problems, from monetising communities to delivering robust due diligence on suppliers and effectively managing networks. As interest in the space grows, we're keen to see more entrepreneurs building Web3 companies, to identify founder talent early and support them on their journey.
It's also important to highlight that though these new and emerging technologies garner a great deal of excitement, we believe that some of the biggest opportunities are still found within operating models we know well. We're still seeing lots of exciting companies helping businesses to automate repetitive processes or draw insights from complex data by using applied AI techniques. We also see businesses leveraging marketplace operating models as very powerful propositions – particularly where they are solving market inefficiencies and creating transparency and accessibility in B2B supply chains. We expect to see many more opportunities in these spaces through 2022.
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