It’s one of those terms people haven’t quite settled on yet. I call it the personal data economy. Data consultancy Ctrl-Shift calls it the ‘Me2B’ or personal information economy – PIE for short. That is why they have called the conference I am attending in London next week PIE 2015. Whatever you call it, the important thing is that venture capitalists are now after a slice of it – and it’s about damn time. With everyone in the investment space chasing unicorns, I am surprised it’s taken so long to recognise the potential value of this nascent industry.

So first of all, let’s clarify what we mean by the term. It is about managing access to, and therefore unlocking the potential to monetise, ‘the big data of the individual’. Ultimately, this means developing businesses that effectively tread the line between the privacy concerns of consumers and the data needs of businesses. By doing this well and offering value to both parties, personal data companies could become extremely lucrative in the very, very near future. One such company, Digi.me, has an excellent video that explains the concept. The ‘monetisation of me’ is coming!

Through Boston Ventures, the capital introduction arm of our group, I have been working alongside several such companies over the last year or so. They have already solved the technical question of “Can a consumer anonymously share personal data such as bills, transactions, certain online habits etc. in a controlled fashion, in order to receive personalised offers from companies?” The answer is yes. The more difficult questions, of course, are “Do I trust anyone enough to do this for me?” and “Can they make it worth my while?” These questions will be the core of what is addressed at PIE 2015 next week and may be at the heart of what has held back large investments from the sector – the fundamental idea that privacy concerns will limit growth.

I believe that the conference speakers and attendees will challenge that at a strategic level, arguing that our economy doesn’t have a choice between privacy and growth, that it is a false dichotomy. Rather, we can experience growth through trust. Services such as Digi.me, who I have followed on their journey from a social network back-up app (300,000+ users) to an emerging leader of the sector, are looking to use innovative business models that offer a lot more control to the consumer in order to gain this trust. Their founder, Julian Ranger, will be speaking next week on how this can be achieved. MeeCo and MiiCard are also speaking and I am looking forward to hearing their insights and getting a better understanding of their market traction.

Other speakers at next week’s event include Facebook’s Global Deputy Chief Privacy Officer, Microsoft’s Architect of Identity, and O2’s Data Innovation and Privacy Officer. This is indicative of the seriousness with which the internet giants are now viewing the sector. They recognise that start-ups are developing good answers to these major questions around privacy and control, and thus in turn the investment market is also starting to take interest. That is undoubtedly why at Ventures we have seen a huge surge in interest from VCs in the personal data economy.

Such strategic questions aside, the conference will also explore how services and initiatives are already delivering both customer and company value at the immediate operational level. This underlines the fact that this is not some future PIE in the sky, if you’ll excuse the pun, but a serious contender for investment capital today.

I am very much looking forward to it. If you are attending, please do drop me a line so we can discuss it.

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