Ken Olisa, the chair of UK technology merchant bank Restoration Partners, thinks big companies need to wake up to the trouble they’re in.
“There’s a reality now of disruption that is a new one,” Olisa told guests at the launch of the Virtual Technology Cluster (VTC) Group last night in London.
“A million years ago when I started out in this industry people worried about clerical workers losing their jobs because of computers. Now whole industries are under threat.”
Olisa began his career at IBM in the 1970s before moving to Wang Laboratories in 1981. He went on to found technology merchant bank Interregnum in 1992, which he led through the dotcom boom to a listing on London’s AIM market in 2000 as the bust was beginning.
Olisa, OBE, is also a non-executive director of Thomson Reuters and has plenty more directorships and roles. In short, he’s very well plugged in.
Olisa said last night: “I would cite Amazon as the great example because what Amazon is doing to retail is totally threatening it. Last year Walmart issued a profit warning, the ultimate humiliation for a public company, and in that profit warning they said that Amazon was eating their lunch.
“Uber is doing the same thing for ground transportation, Airbnb is doing the same thing for accommodation — I could go on. People who don’t care about how industries used to run are coming in and trying to blow them up. They’re doing it with the aid of technology and capital.”
VTC Group, which Olisa chairs, is aiming to fix that. The company aims to create specialised virtual clusters of starts and academics and then operate a sort of corporate Match.com to connect them with big companies — big corporates say what technology or solutions they need and then members of the cluster can offer their expertise.
The VTC Group has been spun off by Restoration Partners after the success of the first VTC it set up last year with defence giant Lockheed Martin.
Olisa thinks the model VTC group is proposing is not only useful to big corporates but vital. He told the crowd: “The incumbents have two ways they can respond to this. One is to ignore it and hope it goes away. Or they can try and absorb it.
“The silly idea is to try and repeat it. Large companies with extremely long cycles and the min-max approach to minimising risk are not going to be able to change themselves fast enough. Really there are only two choices — ignore it and die or find a way of working with it.”
Speaking to Business Insider afterwards Olisa said: “There’s a need to revolutionise the way intellectual property is commercialised. The way that it is currently exploited is either very inefficient or totally inefficient. You meet lots and lots of entrepreneurs who’ve invented something but they can’t get a meeting with someone who might buy it of them or whose life they might save.
“There’s a famous cartoon from my early selling days of a battle with bows and arrows and horses and things. There’s a king standing by watching the battle not going very well and there’s a man with a machine gun standing next to him. The caption says: ‘I’m in the middle of a battle, I haven’t got time to talk to a salesman.'”
While the first VTC with Lockheed martin focused on cybersecurity, Olisa says the model is applicable to a broad range of industries. He told BI: “Healthcare is the glaring example where the gap between innovation and implementation is embarrassingly large.”
“If we get it right, there will be many different VTCs for different sectors and geographies. We’re announcing five today but there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be orders of magnitude more than that in 5 to 10 years time.”