There remains a time-honored role for angels, beyond financing entrepreneurs seeking to exploit the new economic space created by transformational networks. Charles Darwin’s father, heir to his father-in-law Josiah Wedgwood I’s fortune, funded his son’s investigations of natural history. The first physics laboratory of the English-speaking world, the Cavendish at Cambridge, is named for its donor, the 7th Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish.
This tradition of philanthropic funding of scientific research continues to the present day. It has been most effective when management of the resources has been institutionally outsourced to responsible peer review, as embodied in Britain’s Wellcome Trust and Cancer UK, and the US’ Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the William and Melinda Gates Foundation. Entrepreneurial vision needs to be matched by disciplined rigor in execution, whether the project is upstream science or downstream venturing.
William Janeway is a partner and senior adviser at Warburg Pincus and a visiting scholar in economics at Cambridge University.