Esther Dyson, the entrepreneur-turned-angel-investor, doesn't have the patience for small ideas.
"I don't like to do invest in stuff that's redundant," she says. "I'm cheap, and so I don't like wasting. It offends me when people do useless work."
In a conversation Tuesday with Inc.com executive editor Christine Lagorio at SXSW that swerved from the human genome to space plumbing (which Dyson mastered while training to become a cosmonaut), Dyson challenged the investment community to look deeper, to find entrepreneurs solving real-world problems. Rather than funding or creating the next cheap app, she wants investors and entrepreneurs to think big again.
"I think there are too many start-ups, and not enough real companies," she says. "We have body parts all over the place. We have cute little apps competing against cute little apps."
In 2004, Dyson sold her business, EDventure Holdings, to CNET Networks. Since then, she's invested in about 50 companies, including 23andMe, XCOR Aerospace, Space Adventures/Zero G, Omada Health, Icon Aircraft, Coastal Aviation Software and Airship Ventures.
Like most angel investors, Dyson has invested in a range of companies across several industry verticals. But what sets Dyson apart in the realm of angel investors is her long-standing commitment to investing in start-ups that refuse to be easily categorized.
"I'm not that interested in video sharing for rich white guys, but helping e-commerce in Africa--that's something I'm interested in."
As a former entrepreneur herself, Dyson knows raising money isn't easy. But there's a method. Dyson relayed a recent anecdote of meeting with a young CEO, and offered five things the young woman did right to pique her interest. These five details, she says, were extremely important to landing the first meeting:
1) She made a sensible introduction.
2) She has a start-up with a co-founder and CTO.
3) She travelled from a young age.
4) She has a spirit of adventure.
5) Her company is properly ambitious but not grandiose.
And for the really brazen entrepreneur after Dyson's cash, she even offered--for free--an idea she's willing to fund today: A service that fixes email.
"The challenge of email is that people send you stuff for free, and it becomes items on your to-do list," she says.
Build that start-up, and you may just be the next Esther Dyson portfolio company.