The U.S. will face some very serious challenges in the coming decades, including arresting damage to the environment, rebuilding our infrastructure, reinventing education, defending against new geopolitical threats, and venturing to Mars. Traditionally, we look to the federal government to tackle these problems—but that tradition may be over. The technical talent needed to confront our biggest problems now works in the private sector, because that’s where the money is. And too many of those talented people are spending their days working on trivial problems like ad-tech algorithms and photo-sharing apps. Katherine Boyle [Photo: courtesy of General Catalyst] To lure tech workers into focusing on important problems with fresh ideas, Katherine Boyle at the venture capital firm General Catalyst is starting a new investment sector within the fund: She will invest in civic-tech startups targeting aerospace and defense, public safety, education, transportation, and infrastructure. “A big part of our thesis is that innovative companies can fill in where existing government agencies have fallen short,” Boyle tells Fast Company . Boyle will work the sector from her new home in Miami. She believes she might have a clearer view of the field of civic tech startups from a vantage point far away from tech industry hubs such as the Bay Area and Austin. Boyle and General Catalyst have already made some bets on companies that could be called “civic tech.” Crunchbase shows that General Catalyst participated in three funding rounds for Anduril Industries , the Palmer Luckey -founded defense startup that produces autonomous drone surveillance systems. Boyle’s investment thesis recognizes that engineers and designers and programmers and data scientists aren’t likely to take a pay cut and move from San Francisco to Washington to work for a government agency. Innovation happens in the private sector. Her new fund is part of a growing awareness that the government should lean harder on private-sector startups—civic tech startups—to find new approaches to the massive challenges we face as a society. Where the talent is Boyle says that there was a time in America when entering civil service professions within the government were a source of social cachet and a respectable salary. This attitude among professionals was influenced by President John F. Kennedy’s famous words, “ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” That maxim came in the midst of the Cold War (and the Space Race), when, regardless of their political party, Americans felt the presence of a common enemy in the Soviet Union. How times have changed. We live in a deeply polarized society with great distrust of the government, and as a result, working within it is no longer as popular.
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Forget ad optimization: This VC wants to invest in startups working on real problems