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Social impact: on the angel investment agenda



Mike Mompi of ClearlySo writes how social impact investment might just be making its way into the mainstream.

In early July, I was fortunate enough to attend the UK Business Angel Association (UKBAA) Angel Investment Awards. Every year, it is an exceptional event and well-attended by some of the most active angel investors and entrepreneurs from the very best early-stage businesses in the UK. There are various award categories, ranging from best investment in a disruptive technology business to angel investor of the year, and only recently, social impact investment of the year.

This year, there was something different about the shortlist for the awards – a sense of evolution and an increased recognition of impact investment and its compatibility with high-potential ventures. Encouragingly, social impact was not limited to the awards category celebrating investments with high social impact, but was recognised across most categories and throughout the conference hosting the awards.

At the annual UKBAA Investment Summit, which took place on the day of the awards, social impact was firmly on the agenda. Matt Mead from Nesta shared insights and opportunities on the returns of social impact investing; founder of Oomph Wellness Ben Allen spoke about the process of securing investment; and Suzanne Biegel, lead angel in Clearly Social Angels, advocated co-operation among different players in the sector to create impact with capital.

For one of the first times at a mainstream investor event, it felt like social impact was a real and integrated part of the dialogue – investors wanted to understand how to measure and define social value, whether or not they had to sacrifice financial returns for social ones, and how to invest specifically for social or environmental return.

L-R: Mike Mompi, Tom Hooper (Third Space Learning) and Suzanne Biegel. Photo: UK Business Angels Assocation / UKBAA Investment Awards 2014

In 2013, the UKBAA honoured a social impact investment category, and we were very pleased that Clearly Social Angels were recognised for their investment into gaming-for-good company Playmob as the social impact investment of that year. This year, however, was a leap forward; the shortlist was full of businesses that create social impact as a core part of their business model – and they weren’t just in the social impact category (a category that, incidentally, had the longest shortlist).

In the angel-venture capital deal of the year category, for example, Gelexir Healthcare was shortlisted for their work in managing chronic pain. Two of the deals recognised in the best female investment of the year category were also impact-focused: Abundance Generation, a company that invests in renewable energy projects, and the winner Insane Logic, a company that creates tablet apps to support children and adults with communication difficulties.

On the evening of this year’s awards, we were again excited for the social impact investment of the year category. Eight companies were shortlisted, and I was lucky to have worked closely with six of them and to appreciate the difficulty of seeking investment to grow a business without losing focus on the commitment to social or environmental impact.

Of the six companies, five of them were companies that had also gone through the Big Venture Challenge, a successful Lottery-backed programme run by UnLtd providing incubator-type support and match-funding to the UK’s most ambitious and scalable social enterprises.

The deal that won social impact investment of the year was the Clearly Social Angel-led investment into Third Space Learning. Third Space Learning uses technology to connect disadvantaged students with maths experts from around the world for one-to-one learning support.

The pupils use their schools’ computers and connect to the Third Space platform, wearing headsets so they can hear their tutors’ instructions. Through screensharing, the tutor can see where they are struggling and provide tailored feedback and guidance directly. The teachers work to create a curriculum with Third Space Learning that complements their classwork, and as a result, disadvantaged children enjoy access to vital one-to-one learning, which is so often the privilege of a wealthy few.

We are so pleased that another Clearly Social Angels syndicate has led an award-winning investment round into a high-growth business creating a positive social impact. This deal and the others shortlisted in this category are testament to the quality deal-flow composed of entrepreneurs creating real businesses that tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges – and to the increasingly active group of angel investors using their capital both to do good and do well.

The UKBAA Angel Investment Awards were a big win for social impact investment and its entry into the mind of the mainstream investor. Though we are incredibly pleased and honoured to have been recognised with these awards, I would like to see the award for social impact investment of the year made obsolete.

Once each and every investor values impact and considers it when making an investment decision, then every category will celebrate a positive impact investment, and our world will be better off for it. Granted, we are still a long way off from that world, but after the awards last week, I am excited to see that we are getting a little closer.

Mike Mompi is director of early-stage investment at ClearlySo, which raises capital for businesses that create environmental and social impact.

Photo: UK Business Angels Assocation / UKBAA Investment Awards 2014

Further reading:

Hitting a bullseye in investing for impact – and sometimes aiming off-centre

Charity Bank and Exemplas to team up for £10m social investment scheme

Resonance: matching social enterprise with investment

Social investment risks being ‘stifled’ by regulation

Bringing social investment into the mainstream


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo |

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.


Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.


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