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Tech VCs, at Churchill Club, predict an edgy future

David Needle | May 29, 2017
Look for Amazon to face antitrust action, e-commerce to kill shopping malls and high-tech biomedical advances.

But other panelists gave that prediction a thumbs down, though they didn't deny Amazon's growing power. "I'm an ecommerce investor, but Amazon's growth is scary now with a market cap of $400 billion," said Hans Tung, a managing partner at GGV Capital. Most of the audience (81%) also disagreed with the prediction.


The rise of DNA applications

Just a few years ago it cost thousands of dollars to sequence a person's DNA; now that cost is down to a few hundred dollars.

Mike Abbott, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, thinks that trend will enable better diagnostic tools than we have today. He said current genomic testing can already determine whether someone has a particular mutation that might pre-dispose them to diseases like breast cancer.

Looking ahead, he envisions something like a "smart toilet" that analyzes waste and suggests changes in diet. While other panelists were in general agreement that low-cost genomic sequencing has great promise, they weren't sure about significant breakthroughs in the next five years that would have an immediate impact.

"The trend of low-cost sequencing is obvious, but it won't reduce health care costs," said Lynn. "What people need to do is lose 10 to 15 pounds, don't eat the Big Mac and put down the Slurpee."


Virtual Reality at the mall

The rise of Amazon wasn't the only retail-related trend. Hans Tung predicted that offline retail will continue its steady decline and more customers will move toward brands with mass market appeal. Shopping malls won't go away, but will morph into community service centers offering everything from day care to tax services. Meanwhile, retail stores will become product showrooms for online vendors, a place where customers can engage in virtual and augmented reality experiences.

"In the spirit of keeping jobs alive we have to figure out a way to keep the malls open," said Tung.

But Jurvetson sees more a shift in how real estate is used -- and not something all that significant. And Abbott agreed with the trend of more shoppers going online, but isn't sure malls face a dramatic threat. "I agree with the trend, but we're social animals and we're used to interacting with other people," he said.


Preventing plague

Plagues may seem a threat from the distant past, but Lynn sees the threat as still very real. She noted that last year 2 million people in the U.S. were infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Her prediction: In the next 5 years, microbiome engineering will create therapies to fight antibiotic resistance. "This will be the ultimate in personalized medicine," she said.

Other panelists were skeptical, though. "I think it's an important, big problem," said Jurvetson. "Thirty percent of people in the developing world die of bacterial infection. But five years? Not with the 10 years it takes to get FDA approval for new drugs."


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