SoftBank Wants to Build the Future. Here Are Some New Bets It Could Make.
Posted June 14, 2018 3:52 p.m. EDT
Masayoshi Son, the founder of the Japanese technology giant SoftBank, has seen the future — and he wants to buy a slice of it.
Son believes that, not long from now, our lives will be dominated by robots, artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies. He wants to invest in the companies that will build that future through his company’s nearly $100 billion Vision Fund.
Price has not deterred him. SoftBank is in talks to invest in the co-working company WeWork for the second time in a year, at more than double the $17 billion valuation of its last investment. The rationale: The head of the Vision Fund said this week that WeWork could, someday, be worth $100 billion.
To date, the fund has made two dozen investments across a wide variety of high-tech industries, from autonomous cars to virtual reality. Here are some more areas that the Vision Fund might be interested in. (Of course, Son and his team may already be investing in them, but if they are, the discussions and deals have not yet been made public knowledge.)
— Quantum computing
SoftBank has already planted a stake in the future of computing: It bought the chip designer Arm in 2016 and took a stake in the semiconductor maker Nvidia a year ago. But it could go bigger and jump into the field of quantum computing, which seeks to use advanced physics to create exotic new processors that will perform some specific tasks far faster than regular ones can.
Much of the research in the field is being done by tech giants like Google, Microsoft and IBM. But there are startups plumbing the possibilities of the technology as well, including Rigetti Computing and Quantum Circuits, that SoftBank could invest in.
— Clean energy
Son clearly cares about the topic. Earlier this year he banded together with Saudi Arabia on a $200 billion solar power project, but there is clearly a lot more to be done. What about technologies like, say, artificial photosynthesis?
SoftBank could also invest in the battery sector. But that may be a huge task, even for the Vision Fund, given how long companies have sought to improve on the lithium-based technology that has been the norm for years.
— Gene editing
SoftBank already took part in a $130 million funding round into Zymergen, which uses advanced computing to help genetically engineer tiny microbes. But with SoftBank having no qualms about investing multiple times in an industry — it has stakes in many of the world’s biggest ride-hailing services — this seems like another area ripe for further bets.
One particular technology that seems promising is the technique known as CRISPR, a complex process used to slice and splice DNA. A host of startups now use the technology in different ways, from medical treatments based on CRISPR, to Mammoth Biosciences’ diagnosis tools, to Synthego’s tools for simplifying the editing process.
— Artificial meat
Given that the Vision Fund has already invested in Plenty, an indoor-farming startup, SoftBank may also have its eye on the future of food. If so, then so-called alt meat, which is grown in a lab, may make sense.
One of the best-known companies in the space is Impossible Foods, whose signature burger includes an ingredient, produced by genetically engineered yeast, that helps simulate the beefiness of a traditional patty. The company already counts Bill Gates, the venture capitalist Vinod Khosla and the Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek as investors.