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Moneymakers: the child prodigy aiming to abolish ageing

Laura Deming dropped out of MIT to set up a biotechnology fund to invest in companies tackling ageing.

Laura Deming
Deming: relatively small sums set her on the path to potential greatness

2018 Getty Images

Home-schooled child prodigy Laura Deming was just 14 years old when she went to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), says Danny Fortson in The Sunday Times. But she dropped out when an even bigger opportunity came along. In 2011, she applied and was accepted for the Thiel Fellowship, a scheme set up by the billionaire investor Peter Thiel to offer $100,000 to entrepreneurs under 20 years of age who were not in education.

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With the cash, she set up the Longevity Fund to invest in companies tackling different aspects of ageing. "She wanted to turn death into a matter of choice," says Fortson. Eight years on, the fund has backed more than a dozen companies and two have since floated Unity Biotechnology, which is working to reverse osteoarthritis, and Precision BioSciences, a genome-editing company.

"Ageing is the meta-disease," says Deming. "If you cure that, then you get all the other diseases for free." She first set out to achieve that aim, when, aged 11, she visited the laboratory of Cynthia Kenyon, a University of California professor who had doubled the lifespan of a worm by editing a single gene. "I owe my entire scientific career to her," says Deming. While the venture fund is still small relative to others, Deming has raised $37m, including from Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen. Even as little as $150,000 can be enough to convince a gifted scientist to strike out on their own. "It wasn't like the money wasn't there, but people want to invest in something that seems validated," she says. "We realised that's where the problem was."

A leg up onto the property ladder

Frederick Hervey © Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd

Frederick Hervey © Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd

Londoners are used to high property prices, says Joanna Bourke in the Evening Standard. So when Frederick Bristol, the eighth Marquess of Bristol, said he had come up with an idea to get them on the property ladder for not much money, you can forgive them for rolling their eyes. But "I really do think I have come up with a way for Brits to enter the bricks-and-mortar market for as little as £100", he says. In return, investors in Brickowner, the start-up co-founded by Bristol (pictured), receive a stake in an existing building or development and a share of the rental income. When the site is sold, investors receive a share of the profits. The average amount invested is £19,000, and Brickowner takes a 3% cut. Last year investors put in £6.7m, and Bristol estimates £20m will be invested this year.

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In 2015 Bristol and business partner Tobias Stone pooled their £150,000 savings to launch the property-tech firm. "It was a new business model for us both, and setting up the IT was more expensive and complex than we thought," says Bristol. "What I naively thought would be a quick job ended up taking a year."

When they did launch, word of mouth brought them to the attention of backers, which added to the money they also raised on crowdfunding platform Seedrs. "So often you need over £100,000 to get into property investment and development," says Bristol. "That is simply not feasible for most people. It has been amazing to see so many people collectively put together smaller amounts of money and create something great."

Carol Kane

The business is based in Manchester and employs more than 2,000 people and interim results reported pre-tax profits of £45.2m for the year to the end of August. Revenues grew by 43% to £564.9m. Business in the Boohoo-owned but separate PrettyLittleThing and Nasty Gal brands has also been strong, with year-on-year revenue growth of 41% and 148% respectively.

It's all a far cry from 1993 when Kane, who had previously worked as a fashion designer in London and Asia, moved to Manchester to head a design team for a clothing company owned by Boohoo's other co-founder, Mahmud Kamani. The firm began supplying internet fashion retailer Asos and in 2006 set up its own online operation. It didn't bode well for traditional retailers. "I could see the writing on the wall for the British high street," says Kane. "I could see some of the struggles some of the smaller independents were beginning to have." Kane has stepped back from her role as joint chief executive, but she's just as ambitious as she ever was. Clothing everybody in Britain is still the goal, she says, "except now I'd like to clothe lots of people in France, Germany, Australia and the US and keep going".

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