There’s no understanding the future of technology without understanding the future of its funders. And they have changed dramatically over the last three decades. First it was the military. Then the venture capitalists. Today, another chapter begins: massive funds, with billions to spend and often linked to governments, are technology’s new masters.
The undisputed leader is Japan’s SoftBank, which counts Uber, WeWork, Alibaba and Nvidia among its investments. Its companies make awe-inspiring robot dogs (Boston Dynamics) and offer dog walking as a service (Wag) for real canines. SoftBank’s model is simple: build stable, cash-generating businesses, such as mobile network operators; use them as collateral to borrow more funds – an investor presentation from last year put SoftBank’s “interest-bearing debt” at $125bn – and buy promising tech companies.