The Brief | October 31, 2019

The Brief: Exponential impact tech, place-based Australia, micro solar cells, last-mile deliveries

The team at


Greetings, Agents of Impact!

Today: Keeping the faith through impact investing. There’s still time to hop on today’s Agents of Impact conference call and help us unpack faith-based impact investing. Join John O’Shaughnessy of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, attorney Umar MoghulRabbi Jacob Siegel of the JLens Network, Morgan Stanley’s Jamie Martin, the GIIN’s Giselle Leung and other special guests. Dial in at 10 am PT/1 PM ET to +1 (515) 604-9978 (international dial-in numbers) and use access code 318752. Send questions and join the backchannel conversation via Slack or LinkedIn.

Featured: ImpactAlpha Original

Taking risks on ‘impact tech’ to make exponential progress toward the global goals (video). Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of the tech venture capitalists on stage at SOCAP last week: appetite for risk. “The vast majority of investors are very uncomfortable with a company that has only a 20% chance of succeeding, but if they could succeed could eliminate an entire category of problems,” 50 Years’ Seth Bannon told ImpactAlpha’s David Bank“That’s a bet we would take all day long.” Bannon’s portfolio examples include Solugen, which is using enzymes to produce petrochemicals without the petro- and the greenhouse gases. Memphis Meats is growing meat cells in a lab, skipping the cattle, also major contributors to climate change. Future Ventures’ Maryanna Saenko placed a bet on Commonwealth Fusion Systems, an outgrowth of MIT that has an outside chance of solving one of the world’s most alluring challenges. “If you’re not thinking really big-scale,” she said, “you’re not thinking big enough.”

To be sure, questions remain about tech’s unintended consequences, community engagement and accountability for impact. But this is no time to eschew a fresh infusion of funds and talent. The Paris-based Good Tech Lab has documented 180 trends and 500 projects delivering against the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals with “impact tech.” In contrast to “impact-washers” who use marketing to raise funds for dubious impact, the new breed of impact tech VCs raise non-impact capital to go after moonshots that just might have outsized impact. Does impact have an early-stage innovation funding gap? Yes. Does tech venture capital invest in early-stage innovation that can go to scale? Yes. Can we leverage tech VC to drive early-stage impact ventures to scale? It’s worth the risk.

Keep reading, and watching, “Taking risks on ‘impact tech’ to make exponential progress toward the global goals (video),” by David Bank on ImpactAlpha. Send a note about your favorite impact tech hits and misses to [email protected].

Dealflow: Follow the Money

Australia’s IIG raises A$20 million for place-based impact fund. Sydney-based Impact Investment Group, or IIG, has been making real estate, clean energy and venture capital investments in Australia since 2013. Now the firm is targeting a place, namely western Australia. The fund will invest in community solar, social impact bonds, sustainable agriculture and social enterprises. WA Super, an A$3.8 billion pension fund based in the region, is anchoring the fund with A$20 million ($13.7 million). IIG is part of Australia’s A$13 billion impact investing ecosystem and has more than A$680 million in assets under management. The firm, a low-risk impact investor looking for commercial returns, acknowledges there’s available commercial capital for most of its deals. But the firm says it differentiates itself with a Net Community Benefit Methodology for placed-based investments. More.

mPower Technology secures seed funding for micro solar cells. The cost of solar technology has plummeted in the past decade, setting the stage for the next generation of materials to boost efficiency. Albuquerque, N.M.-based mPower’s silicon solar cells can be connected to form different shapes. The company describes them as “lightweight, flexible, resilient and extremely reliable, overcoming the low-voltage limitations of today’s rigid solar cells.” mPower developed DragonSCALEs for satellites, but also promotes applications from microgrids to individual connected devices. New Mexico-based private equity firm Sun Mountain Capital backed mPower’s $2.5 million seed round.

  • Next-gen solar. Earlier this year, Sweden’s Exeger raised funding from SoftBank for flexible “solar” cells that can draw power from ambient light. Estonia’s Solarstone secured funding to make interlocking rooftop solar panels. Britain’s Oxford PV raised a round to develop ultra-efficient solar panels.
  • Power up.

WeFarm secures $13 million to advance farmers’ access to supplies and networks. The London-based online network started as a way to help the world’s 500 million small farmers share knowledge. It has nearly two million registered users, for whom it’s also now building a marketplace for equipment and supplies. True Ventures led its Series A round, which was also backed by AgFunder, June Fund, and prior investors.

Sense Biodetection raises £12.3 million for instant diagnostic tests. The Cambridge, U.K.-based company is making rapid, handheld tests for diseases like influenza that don’t have to be sent to a lab. Its Series A funding was led by Cambridge Innovation Capital and Earlybird, and includes a £1.8 million ($2.3 million) grant from the U.K.’s public innovation fund, Innovate UK.

Goodwell backs Kenyan postal delivery service Sendy. Sendy is among a new crop of African startups trying to solve the challenges of parcel delivery in places that postal services don’t reach. (Others include Kenyan peer Taz Technologies and Senegal-based NIMA Codes, both of which are building mobile-based address systems.) Dutch investor Goodwell invested via its €100 million uMunthu fund.

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Swedfund’s Maria Håkansson joins the board of the Global Impact Investing Network… Anne Driscoll steps up as CEO of Launchpad as Chris Schultz steps down (see, “A launch pad for businesses that can make Opportunity Zones thrive”)… Bran Dunlap departs as head of tech investing at TPG’s The Rise Fund to join The Blackstone Group’s tech growth equity group as managing director… Zais Group seeks an impact investing intern in New York… Also in New York, Demos is looking for a director of policy and research to its national policy development and research efforts… Applications are open for the impact-tech Katapult Accelerator in Oslo.

Thank you for reading. 

– Oct. 31, 2019