ImpactAlpha, May 30 – SOCAP meets Burning Man meets TechCrunch Disrupt this month at the second annual Katapult Future Festival in Oslo, Norway.
The future-fest drew 650 impact investors, technologists and agents of impact from around the globe (including her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mette-Marit!) to put forward exponential solutions to exponential problems.
Here are seven takeaways from the intersection of technology and impact investing:
1. Supply chains will trump borders
“Supply chains will become more important than borders. Exponential problems demand exponential solutions,” said Rik Willard of Agentic Group. Willard challenged us to think big and recognize the changing global landscape.
2. The impact alpha is real
“I’m glad people think impact means giving up returns. It means more upside for us!” said Seth Bannon of Fifty Years VC. There was a strong sense of the long-term advantage for investors who are backing companies that solve fundamental problems facing humanity.
For instance, Bannon and Ela Madej, Fifty Years founding partners, have backed Memphis Meats and Starsky Robotics. Bannon said many people are afraid of the job losses to come from the automation of trucking fleets. Yet, the industry is facing a shortage of almost a quarter-million drivers, according to a recent article on Bloomberg.
Fifty Years and Jørn Lyseggen of Meltwater have both backed the trend of automated trucking fleets as good for humanity and the planet.
3. Find the demographic dividend
Investors and entrepreneurs shared their hopes that social enterprise will see more unicorns over time while recognizing there are still implicit biases that keep capital flowing in ways that disproportionately support men.
“We need women who are going to take companies to scale,” said Durreen Shahnaz founder of IIX, who emphasized the importance of designing financial products by women for women, especially in underserved markets. That means we need growth capital to support women entrepreneurs.
4. Innovation is where you least expect it
Home improvement retailer Lowe’s is a leader in innovation. Kyle Nel, head of Lowe’s Innovation Lab, has led its efforts innovate in augmented and virtual reality. Take Exosuites, a technology Lowe’s is investing in to support its workers. “When the person is walking and bends down to pick something up, the rods collect potential energy. And when they stand back up it puts that energy back into their legs and back. It’s very smooth, and it feels like this heavy thing [they’re lifting] is much less heavy.”
5. Convening is evolving
Katapult has fully embraced the future of convening for change.
The festival partnered with the Mavericks Collective and Conveners.org (my organization) to facilitate global conversations. Our convening innovation allows participants to get past the introductory level conversations at conferences and dig into the challenges to solving the most world’s most pressing problems. These initiatives have fully embraced the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals as a framework for guiding collective impact.
Conveners.org hosted the 8th conversation in the Convening17 series to identify solutions to providing education to uprooted children solving Sustainable Development Goal No. 4. The Mavericks Collective is working to solve SDG No. 1 (No Poverty) and SDG No. 5 (Gender Equality) through new innovations in philanthropy.
Forced displacement was a theme again at Katapult as it is at conferences around the world. Participants recognized the importance of using new financial instruments like social impact bonds; the Finnish innovation fund Sitra is raising $1 billion address unemployment in the Finnish economy.
6. Impact inventing is investible
Entrepreneur and Harvard chemistry professor Alan Aspuru-Guzik said there are investment opportunities in applying robotics and artificial intelligence to material science laboratories. If we are going to use more renewable energy, then we need to improve our energy storage capability, said Aspuru-Guzik. “The limiting factor is metals.”
Aspuru-Guzik’s team at Harvard used robotics and A.I. to rapidly identify materials that would support organic flow batteries and help spur technical innovations to store energy from renewable sources. Aspuru-Guzik’s new company, Zapata Computing raised $5.4 million to solve major challenges from drug discovery to climate data analysis.
7. Capture ocean opportunities
The Katapult Ocean Accelerator launched to recruit enterprises addressing the greatest challenges facing our oceans. The three-month program begins in January 2019 and is accepting applications now.