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2021 has been a challenging year on many levels and yet as we approach 2022, I am full of optimism for our firm.
Our emerging markets business remains the mainstay of the firm’s activities still delivering alpha for thousands of pension funds investors. We maintained a significant exposure to India, Taiwan and Russia which helped us hold on to the stellar gains of 2020, despite the unfolding real estate crisis in China and deepening stand-off between China and the USA.
We attended COP 26 as one amongst few independent asset managers, to serve as standard bearers for our Asian decarbonisation strategy in partnership with WWF-Hong Kong. We are immensely proud of this initiative, which whilst investing in some of the global leaders in climate impact technologies, also works to support biodiversity and species extinction initiatives across the continent, and which has garnered numerous awards.
Across the business we have more diversification than ever. We have always striven to build our foothold in areas of asset management where we could make a difference. We broke new boundaries in allocating to primary agriculture for UK pension schemes in the last decade. We have made ground breaking investments in new technologies that are creating quiet revolutions in so many discrete areas.
To complement this success, we are now launching a custom-built, co-investor/fund platform, with a focus on agri-science, health and climate impact solutions in Jan, areas of expertise where we already have unparalleled networks and a real track record of winners.
This year, we will launch the first of a series of new VC funds, including Future Health, which is pre-seeded with investments we have made earlier.
We have exciting plans to take our business more confidently into new areas such as wealth management. Dr Bernard Ng and Archie Thomason both join our core team as full time employees, the core of which has now been together for more than a decade. Last month, we said good bye to the MAI team with the disposal of that business, but we will keep a close eye on their continued role at Future Planet Capital, as we have retained our carried interest in all the investments we made during our tenure.
At a Christmas luncheon in London, I was asked despite the backdrop of COVID in 2021, what positives I might take from the year. The question was implicitly negative. However, my answer, after some thought, was altogether more positive in tone. 2021 was a year that travel to Singapore became largely impossible owing to the discriminating restrictions applying to Employment Pass holders and their family members. In 2021, however, I was able to spend more time in France, in our new family home overlooking both the ocean and the mountains. Had it not been for COVID, we might never have taken the plunge.
Travel to Australia and New Zealand, home to our agricultural enterprises at Milltrust Agricultural Investments, became impossible, and with travel likely to remain unlikely for at least another 12 months, given the crazy zero-COVID stance taken by both countries, an inadvertent approach to acquire our business was all the more enticing, and we concluded the sale in December 2021.
In 2016 when I first met the team from Vaccitech, the spin-out of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, in Singapore and subsequently introduced Temasek and a number of other significant investors, the company was valued at less than 60 million GBP, not much difference to last round of funding prior to the listing of the company on NASDAQ earlier this year. No one had heard of COVID, although the company was painstakingly trialling vaccines for MERS and influenza. The value at the time of listing earlier this year was closer to 600 million USD, a change of fortune for the company almost exclusively due to the pandemic. The rapid response of both government and private funders to get a cost price vaccine into millions of arms worldwide, despite a constant barrage of hostile PR from the US Pharma industry, has proven positive for us and our investors.
Similarly, other portfolio companies in our stable have flourished in 2021, many of which are both unique and have the potential to succeed at vast scale, both hallmarks of likely success for implicitly risky start-ups.
Viome, a spinout of the National Laboratories, provides personalised nutritional analysis of one’s optimal diet, following a metatranscriptomic analysis of the contents of the gut. It has moved well beyond its initial B2C success, funding new research into how the management of the gut can deter the onset of congenital disease. The valuation of the company now exceeds 1 billion USD.
Deep Instinct is another outsized winner discovered by our friends at CerraCap. Its value soared when the company announced a Cyber security deal with HP in 2020. Success has continued unabated in 2021 with the firm cementing its position as a leader in the detection of malware. The value of the company is now estimated to be in the billions of USD.
Pragmatic Semiconductor rebranded and raised funds at circa four times its previous valuation. Another big success for the British Innovation Fund.
Cellular agriculture pioneer Roslin Technologies, Protenga, a circular economy animal feed business, and Attomarker, a ground breaking diagnostics technology, already on permanent display in the Science Museum, all embarked on ambitious fund raising, set to conclude in the first half of 2022, so watch this space.
In the past year we have also backed other promising companies that are tackling some of the biggest health issues of our times. Early detection of Prostate Cancer (GlycoScore), Melanoma (AmLo), as well as the scourge of Sepsis (52 North Health), which alone accounts for the demise of over 40,000 persons annually in the UK.
2021 was the year of the vaccine. Here, science certainly triumphed. However, in many other respects governments have lent on the scientific community to countenance responses to the pandemic that have been deeply controversial.
The motivations of scientists and politicians must always be held up to scrutiny. To suggest that they should not be accountable for their actions goes against the standards we cherish in the Western World and marks the difference between democracy and demagoguery.
Too often, the response to emergencies is to cut corners and impose rules in order to expedite desired outcomes. We are each bound to have different innate responses to this. Some people are happy to tow the line, yet others naturally question the broader motives at play. This is all part of a healthy democratic process and something that is an inalienable part of our free and liberal society. Working in the developing world for over three decades has only reinforced my position in this respect.
As we embark on the New Year, it is my sincere hope that we might make a small contribution to making the world just a little bit better, through balanced advocacy and our life changing investments.
There are only two possible outcomes, as Peter Thiel reminds us in his book “Zero to One”. We cannot take for granted that the future will be better, and that means we need to work to create it today.
Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2022 as we look forward to new challenges and success stories.
CEO & Founder
Milltrust International Group