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Alan Cohen of DCVC on Investing in Deep Tech For Humanity

Alan Cohen is a partner at DCVC, a highly regarded venture capital firm who pioneered the concept of investing in Deep Tech.

Alan has helped lead and grow some of the most influential enterprise IT companies in the world. This includes serving as a VP of Enterprise for Cisco. He has also advised companies like Box, Cohesity, Netskope and Mobile Iron. He has been on the leadership teams of breakthrough companies like Nicira and Illumio.

At DCVC he tracks innovations across multiple sectors of the economy and helps steer investments. He also sits on the boards of several DCVC portfolio companies, many of which we talked about in this OODAcast.

We certainly talk tech with Alan, and he is the perfect guy to examine some of the more exciting breakthroughs being achieved through Deep Tech investing. But were pleased to learn his foundational story was not in a high tech field. He was an avid reader as a child and for his education pursued an English undergraduate and then completed a Master of Arts in English. In our discussion it becomes clear his love for a good narrative story paid off in his ability to seek out the deeper meaning of tech and express its impact in the language of business decision-makers.

In our review of the narrative of Alan’s own career we suss out a significant lesson that informs his mental model for decision-making. There is a threat to good decisions, especially decisions in due diligence. This threat is the human mind’s ability to deceive itself, especially through confirmation bias. In Alan’s view, the hardest thing about being an investor or decision-maker is avoiding this confirmation bias. Things that make a person successful earlier in a career can be the things that trip you up at other stages. He sites Tony Soprano, who used to say ‘Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation. Too much nostalgia leads to too strong of a confirmation bias.

Note: At the time of our interview with Alan one of the partners at DCVC had just returned from Space, having flown on the same Deep Blue flight with William Shatner. We discuss some of the relevance of this to technology innovation and leadership with Alan.

Some of the firms we discuss with Alan include:

Evolv: Applies sensors, data, and machine learning to detect and prevent a wide set of global threats to people.

Planet Labs: Planet uses over 150 of its satellites in orbit and powerful AI to image the entire Earth every day, making global change visible, accessible, and actionable.

Rocket Lab: Delivers a range of complete rocket systems and technologies for fast and low-cost payload deployment.

Capella Space: Persistent and reliable information from space independent of weather and light conditions using synthetic aperture radar.

Atomwise: Breakthrough products for pharma and agricultural companies with novel AI for atom-by-atom chemistry.

Recursion: Discovers transformative new life science treatments by applying breakthrough AI and computer vision to understand the behavior of millions of living human cells in parallel

Primer: Primer helps parse and collate a large number of documents across several languages

Illumio: stops cyber threats by dynamically enforcing segmentation and policy on every point of compute and storage, on premise or in the cloud, with lights-out, hands-free management.

Agility Robotics: Bi-ped humanoid robots to automate pick/place tasks in logistics.

Pivot Bio: Fueled by an innovative drive and a deep understanding of the microbiome, Pivot Bio is pioneering transformative advances in fertilizer and crop nutrition.

These are just a few of the Deep Tech firms the DCVC team has been investing in and helping grow. These and many others have already made direct positive benefits in terms of helping fight global warming, defeating pandemics, reducing death from terminal diseases and helping defend democracy from hostile threats.

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