The billionaire has invested in many UK startups and has links to right-wing academics pushing an anti-wake agenda.
Paypal and Palantir co-founder Peter Thiel has funded a slew of Republican congressional candidates hoping to be elected in the US this year after stepping down from Facebook’s board of directors. In the UK, his interests have slowly grown as several pandemic contracts have been awarded to data company Palantir over the past two years.
An increasing number of companies were also funded by four venture capital firms founded by Thiel; Valar Ventures, Thiel Capital, Gründerfonds and Mithril Capital Management.
At the moment, it doesn’t look like Thiel has any direct political interests in the UK (although crypto-loving Matt Hancock might be his type), but his choice of investments shows a trend for startups aiming to break into new markets such as biotech, Healthtech and various forms of fintech and insurance.
In December 2020, Sifted reported that Thiel’s VC funds had invested in 13 UK companies, despite saying in 2018 that there were “no successful tech companies in Europe”. These companies are:
- Daisie – a company that wants to offer an alternative art education from “expensive, elite” art schools. Founded by Game of Thrones actress Maisie Williams.
- Brolly – London insurance app bought by Direct Line in 2020
- Kalo – Software to make hiring freelancers easier. The website doesn’t seem to be working anymore, so the company may not be active anymore.
- Wise (formerly Transferwise) – a money transfer fintech
- DoNotPay – “The World’s First Robot Lawyer”
- Compass Pathways – a mental health and psychedelics biotech company
- Teller – an API for connecting bank accounts to third-party apps
- Shipamax – AI-powered data entry software for the shipping industry
- ROLI – a company that develops new musical instruments
- DeepMind – Artificial intelligence company and subsidiary of Google
- Samlino Group (formerly Compare Europe Group) – ‘invests in leading European comparison platforms for insurance, home services and banking.’
- Partnerize – software platform for marketing
- SilverRail – Software for rail travel companies
Since the beginning of 2021, Thiel’s VC funds have also been investing in:
- Generation Home – Mortgage Fintech Company
- Hoxton Farms – a startup aiming to produce animal fat without animals
- Equities – Fintech startup for social and family investments
There are clearly some trends emerging from what Thiel invests in: lots of fintech that speaks to the financialization of modern capitalism, in which the welfare state is replaced by everyone becoming a small investor. Kalo (although possibly defunct) seems to want to help hire precarious workers, while DoNotPay aims to get rid of lawyers and replace them with AI.
There are also companies that want to benefit from the healthtech boom and are replacing state healthcare with private companies. I remember Matt Hancock’s tech optimism, which helped promote healthtech company Babylon Health, which is now the largest GP provider in the UK.
In December 2021, the Byline Times reported on a “Thiel network” influencing British debates on free speech in science. This network pursues an “ongoing campaign to normalize anti-liberal ideas advanced by individuals closely associated with Peter Thiel”. Some of the people involved in this network such as Douglas Murray and Nigel Biggar were also involved in Toby Young’s Free Speech Union project. Byline alleges that Thiel Capital’s chief of staff, Charles Vaughan, spent time in Cambridge recruiting conservative academics for the network.
Byline reported that “an academic familiar with meetings with Charles Vaughan narrated byline times that the network is “the driving force behind the Higher Education Act” – the UK Government’s Higher Education Act (Freedom of Speech Act)”. impose a fine.
Thiel is also expanding his network in the UK through his Thiel Fellowship program for young entrepreneurs. One of the UK’s newest tech unicorns (worth over $1 billion) is a payments company founded by former Thiel Fellow Christian Owens.
In April it was revealed that former head of AI at NHSX, Indra Joshi, had joined Palantir UK. The Register reported: “Her arrival at Palantir coincides with NHS England’s procurement of a $309million (£240million) data platform to help with healthcare restructuring and the COVID-related backlog.” It is believed that Palantir will likely be awarded the contract to create this “Federated Data Platform”, although the UK government has said it will consult the public before awarding any further contracts to Palantir.
Palantir has also worked extensively with the MoD, winning a £10m contract for “data integration and management” in March 2022. Another £0 contract released this April shows that Palantir has been commissioned by the Ministry of Housing to create a “Ukrainian Humanitarian Relief Case Management System”.
This contract appears to be an attempt at a technical solution to the bureaucratic problems of housing Ukrainian refugees in the UK, but it is highly ironic that Palantir is doing this work while also working with US Immigration Services to detain undocumented migrants.
Thiel’s policies have long been controversial; He has made a number of sexist comments in the past, including: “The expansion of the franchise to include women… [has] made the notion of “capitalist democracy” an oxymoron.” In the 1990s he wrote a book, The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism And Political Intolerance On Campus, “a 320-page book that “examines the debilitating influence that the political correct ‘multiculturalism’ had on higher education,” according to Forbes. He later apologized for comments about rape in the book.
Given that history, it’s no surprise that Thiel is very much in line with the current anti-wake culture war waged by the right wing in the US and UK. The Telegraph recently reported that Thiel had backed an “anti-wake mutual fund.” Strive “will invest only in companies that focus on maximizing profits and avoid those with political beliefs.”
Of course, making money isn’t free of politics, so it really just means, “We don’t invest in companies that make political statements that we disagree with.” Given Thiel’s now deep ties to Britain’s security state and increasingly privatized healthcare sector, it’s not unlikely that Palantir could offer the kind of immigration screening services it has in the US and own much of the data architecture for the entire NHS.
John Lubbock leads the Right Watch project at Left Foot Forward
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