Google Ventures chief: If tech only serves 'rich white people in Silicon Valley, then we've failed'

Google Ventures founder Bill Maris believes that we’ve already created the technologies necessary to double the lifespan of people around the world. The challenge is making those technologies available for everyone.

“People talk about the redistribution of wealth a lot, which is a very valid topic,” Maris told Business Insider. “But what about the redistribution of health? That’s even more concentrated at the top.”

For example, the life expectancy of people in the Central African Republic is about half of what it is in the United States. Maris envisions a world where everyone has the same access to healthcare.

Google Ventures, which prefers to be called GV in the wake of its parent company’s name change from Google to Alphabet, works like any other venture firm, but instead of collecting investment money from a range of limited partners to put into startups, GV has only one investor: Google (now Alphabet).

GV has invested in many different kinds of companies, it has a particular focus on machine learning and life science startups, like 23andMe or Flatiron Health, and Maris says nearly 40% of its “dollars-out-the-door” went to life sciences companies last year.

On stage at the Wall Street Journal’s WSJDLive conference, he put GV’s philosophy very succinctly:

“If we live in a world where the technologies we’re talking about are for rich white people in Silicon Valley then we’ve failed. The idea is to try and distribute this technology as broadly as possible.”

Before GV, Maris advised Aurolabs, a non-profit that works with the Aravind eye care system in India to make cataract surgery accessible and affordable for people there. Maris finds i
nitiatives like that — where technology is leveraged to make tackle a huge problem, like widespread blindess — incredibly “gratifying.”

That’s the kind of mission that he and his team look for. On the life sciences side, the GV team employs MDs, PhDs, cardiologists, and other specialists to search for the innovations and ideas that they think have the ability to make a big impact. After a long vetting process, the founder of a company will come into GV and have one hour to present to the team. After that presentation, GV will discuss and evaluate whether the company is a good fit and whether its team can help it succeed.

“It’s a two-way street,” Maris says. “We have then convince the founders that we’d be good stewards, and good investors, and can help them grow.”

One of the benefits of working with GV, Maris says, is that all of the experts on its team can also draw on the 60,000 other people at Google. Maris says that life at GV hasn’t changed since the Alphabet restructuring, because the firm has always operated fairly independently.

“We make our own investment decisions, hire our own team, pay our team ourselves — we get paid or not paid by whether we make good investments or not,” Maris tells Business Insider. “Since 2009 and the 300 companies that we’ve invested in, Larry [Page], Sergey [Brin], and the formerly Google, now Alphabet, folks, have never suggested that we invest or don’t invest in something. So, there’s not much that has to change.”

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