Flying taxis and 3D-printed rockets may sound like flights of fancy, but the companies developing them are making a real impact in the investment world and many British investors are likely to own a stake in the firms without realising.
The businesses behind those ambitious products are among the cluster of futuristic firms backed by FTSE 100-listed Scottish Mortgage, Britain’s largest investment trust, over the past year. The £17bn trust, run by Edinburgh fund group Baillie Gifford, is a firm favourite of DIY investors, who own a third of its shares.
Scottish Mortgage’s managers look for companies with “transformational growth potential” and in recent years have pushed that mandate into technologies that may seem the stuff of science fiction.
Firms bought by the trust since last year include Joby Aviation and Lilium, both electric plane companies which taxi people between cities, and Relativity Space, which uses 3D printing to build rockets that can carry cargo into space. This week SpaceX, a more longstanding holding, won a $2.9bn (£2.1bn) Nasa contract to build a spacecraft to put humans on the moon for the first time since 1972.
Baillie Gifford, most famous for the huge profits it has made from its investment in Tesla, the electric car company, and Amazon, the e-commerce giant, is now looking for the next batch of companies to revolutionise their industries.
Rose Nguyen, of Baillie Gifford, said the fund group was focused on companies with “high-risk, early-stage ideas that propel start-ups to success”.
“Every company faces an inherent tension between growing the already-successful part of the business versus developing high-risk early-stage ideas. To sustain success and innovation in the long term, a company needs to do both tasks well,” she said.
Other companies bought by Scottish Mortgage since 2020 include Zymergen, a “biofacturing” company which uses biology and genomics to build products and make scientific breakthrough in agriculture, electronics and personal care, and Northvolt, a Swedish battery company run by former Tesla employees.
These early-stage investments are all unquoted companies, an increasing focus for the trust, which can hold up to 30pc of its assets in companies not listed on the stock market.
Public companies bought by the trust since last year, which DIY investors can buy directly, include Carvana, an American online-only used car retailer, Adyen, a Dutch online payments group, and Moderna, which developed a Covid-19 vaccine.