From 1981 to 1984, venture capitalists sunk some $3.7 billion into computer-related businesses. With the go-go days in computers now seemingly gone-gone, we wondered which other businesses might win the hearts of investors in the future. We asked venture capitalists where another boom might originate. Herewith, their forecasts -- perhaps no more or less accurate than the weather report:
David R. Anderson, vice-president, Lubrizol Enterprises Inc.: "Our particular interest is in specialty and fine chemicals -- smaller volume, higher value-added products. Catalysts are a specialty chemical that can reduce production costs. We've financed a company that's into a fiber treatment that gives synthetic materials the same feel and wicking properties as cotton. We're also doing things with specialty vegetable oils for the food and industrial sectors."
James Morgan, chairman, Morgan, Holland Ventures Corp.: "[It could be] productivity improvement processes, mainly in materials handling and distribution through microprocessor technology. One example is automated warehousing. Instead of guys on bicycles running up and down the aisles to handle inventory, you can use automation and robots. Those companies are getting started now."
Sanford Robertson, partner, Robertson, Colman & Stephens: "Specialty retailing. If a store can be duplicated in multiple locations -- not franchised, but company owned -- you can get scale in a hurry, and there's a public market if it succeeds."
John L. Hines, president, Continental Illinois Venture Corp.: "You will see microchips married to other disciplines like biology, chemistry, and physics . . . especially related to reducing the cost of medical treatment and the prevention of disease."
Charles Coulter, president, American Research & Development: "We're very interested in the world of specialty materials, which is 90% of the direct manufacturing cost of anything you make. We're into ceramics already. This is a new technology developed at MIT, that uses a chemical-based process to manufacture ceramic materials."
William C. Edwards, partner, Bryan & Edwards: "The main thrust of our investing recently has been in application-specific semiconductors. We think it's possible that there is as much driving force here as there was in microprocessors. It's a very broad market -- anything from toys to appliances and automobiles."
Alan Danson, general partner, The Centennial Funds: "Telecommunications are absolutely open to startups. Satellite communications, especially 'thin route' services, are an example. This could be something like communication between an oil rig and the home office. [Or] paging networks, in which the beeper on your belt becomes a data terminal right out of Dick Tracy."