Exploring the increasingly porous “membrane” btwn Information Technology and Biology

Posted on May 11, 2016. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Becoming technical in a new field requires work. To cross a threshold from “visitor” to “valued contributor” when learning a new discipline like software engineering you have to commit and you have to really want it. When I started working in venture capital 10 years ago, I stuck to consumer facing businesses and business model innovations, because frankly I didn’t have the background to understand technical innovation. At first I was totally cool with that, and I did really well approaching the markets I could immediately understand…you sort of didn’t need to know what was going on underneath the hood in order to evaluate consumer applications, media, marketplaces, etc… at some point if a deal got interesting enough, you’d call a CTO in the portfolio to check the “technical diligence box,” and then keep rolling on a thesis that really had nothing to do with technology itself.

Over time, however, something unexpected happened…I started to fall in love with the systems and principles that underlaid many of the businesses I was thinking about. I sort of fell ass-backwards into what has become a deep passion of mine, and I started to spend time with a different type of thinker than I did at the start…I started asking the “how” questions more and more, and so began my post-graduate education in software engineering, technical thinking, and system design. I was fortunate to have very patient teachers…Doug and Eric especially, but also hundreds of technical founders along the way, who helped to evolve my mindset into what I guess I’d call “full stack thinking,”…where the viability and merit of a decision is influenced by everything from the infrastructural dynamics and technical approach at hand, up through the consumer behavior and ecosystem dynamics in given market. There is a conversation and dialogue between the technical and non-technical dimensions of any opportunity that informs a much more nuanced perspective than is available when looking at a market opportunity through either of these mindsets independently.

As I begin to evaluate new directions to build in with Doug, Eric, some of the areas in which I am most interested, I find myself bumping up against a lack of technical proficiency. It’s not a feeling I’ve had in a while, but frankly a lot of the work being done in IT specifically (the domain we know well) hasn’t really inspired me…it may just be where i’ve looked so far, but the broader market feels super saturated right now, with tons of companies chasing very similar…often, but not always…incremental opportunities. Granted, we did not achieve our goal of building a native internet at Wildcard, and even further granted, we did end up pivoting into a clearly incremental application of our early work (aka from the Native Browser to the Wildcard News app), but nobody will accuse our initial ambition and mission of being incremental or uninspired. We bit of something big and unknown, and came up short, but at least it felt meaningful at the time.

As I look for similarly or more inspiring frontiers to tackle now, I have become somewhat enamored by the increasing permeability of the “membrane” that has long separated information systems from biological systems. More and more our physiological system is being represented and understood digitally, and similarly the principles behind our manipulation and design of digital systems are being applied within the medium of organic matter and specifically DNA. In this arena I don’t yet have an adequate understanding on the bio side to think in the way I have grown to think about opportunity. I crushed AP Bio in high school, and occasionally attended my introductory bio classes in college, but it’s been a while, and there is another layer of understanding that I need to achieve to get further into the world of genetics, bioengineering, etc…Neither Doug nor Eric has any background here, but our deep data engineering DNA (no pun intended) is obviously applicable to this problem space. I think for a while I forgot how serious a commitment it is to become technical in a new field, but I remember all the work it takes, and I’m kind of interested to committing again here. I can’t say that my learning will inform this next business opportunity, or if it will be a much longer road applied at a later date, but I am ready to be a student at the edge of biology and information technology regardless, so I figure worth hanging a shingle…To that end, if you come from a bio background (or even an IT background i guess) and are interested in collaborating at this intersection, come hang with us at our office in soho…we’re excited to learn what you’ve been thinking about and happy to participate and contribute toward flushing out this landscape together. I’m jordan.cooper@gmail.com.

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2 Responses to “Exploring the increasingly porous “membrane” btwn Information Technology and Biology”

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the human genome project made the web services and data here (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/) and here (https://aws.amazon.com/1000genomes/) possible. it’s just the tip of the iceberg. imagine what a team with a big data analytics background, mad coding skills and the skills to build a theranos like DNA test that could sequence your DNA (or hell, if 23andMe would create web services that you could use) could do to help create customized treatments and cures for everything from colds to cancer. where would you start? i’m a single mom with a coding background and two kids, one of whom has cancer. i ask myself this question every day. whatever you decide to start, please don’t make it some fucking fitness gadget. please. there are real problems in health that need to be solved.

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at Jordan.Cooper@gmail.com (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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