We are living in a time of accelerated change, and none so obvious as the rapid degradation of our natural environment and level of biodiversity. These changes, along with the behemoth of climate change, are occurring at a rate to which most governments cannot respond quickly enough. Entrepreneurs are by their very nature agile, flexible and responsive to their conditions. In this regard, they are well placed to address environmental challenges, as they can adapt to problems, and respond quickly in a way that governments cannot.
Lou Sanson, Director General of the Department of Conservation told the New Frontiers crowd that we need more entrepreneurs and engineers in conservation. Creative, technological solutions are needed to tackle New Zealand’s invasive predator problem, and Lou remarked on the value that might be gained from a tech-startup style hackathon on conservation.
“It might be that somewhere in this event, might be the gem of an idea that’s going to be the big breakthrough that we need to stop using toxins, to stop using poisons and think of another way of approaching these pests that are doing so much damage to New Zealand’s nature. ”
— Lou Sanson, Director General, Department of Conservation
The environmental effects of business have in the past been viewed as externalities, not fiscally connected to the venture. Today, methodologies for pricing such externalities are gaining traction and there are a number of groups making headway in what has traditionally been a tricky business. While we are still refining comprehensive ways to measure the value of our planet's ecological wealth, there are now robust models that can help businesses measure environmental impact.
With help from The B Team and Pricewaterhousecoopers, Trucost have developed a methodology to put financial value on environmental impacts, with an Environmental Profit and Loss accounting system. Taking a slightly different angle, a huge consortium of organisations lead by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) have developed a system to measure the value of natural capital - that is a financial value on nature itself. Closer to home, New Zealand’s Sustainable Business Council is spearheading the movement in New Zealand for companies to to assess the ecological impact of their operations with the Ecosystem Services Review tool. Contact Energy, Fonterra and Aotearoa Fisheries Limited are among the leading businesses that have used this tool.
Within New Zealand, there are a number of impact-first companies that are delivering clear, measurable social returns. Wellington tech startup Loomio is building collaborative decision-making software that has helped thousands of people to organise political action in Spain, Turkey, Hong Kong, Greece, Taiwan and the Ukraine. Here at home, some government departments have started using the tool to more actively engage with their staff and consult the public.
The impact entrepreneurship model is not only found in small startups. New Zealand’s third highest earning technology exporter, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, is leading with the world in respiratory care and acute care products. When Fisher & Paykel started innovating in the healthcare sector in the 1960’s, the terms "social enterprise" and "impact entrepreneurship" were still decades away. Yet with a vision to "improve the lives of our patients all around the world” this company fits the mould.
Mechanisms for measuring the value of social impact and social capital are not as far advanced as the tools we have to measure natural impact and capital, as this type of value is more difficult to quantify. The WBCSD are making some progress towards a Social Capital Protocol with the development of their guide for business on measuring socio-economic impact.
Amid the shifting sands of a changing entrepreneurial landscape, a sense of connection to your fellow entrepreneurs, investors, advisors and customers is crucial, and the strongest currency is that of relationship. Social and environmental impacts can take a longer time to become apparent than pure financial returns, and thus earning the trust of investors that you are committed to for the long haul is important.
Candace Kinser, former CEO of NZTech, started the Women in Tech Exec Lunches programme with half a dozen women in 2013. It has since blossomed to a network of 215 women who regularly attend lunches. She explains that the support provided by such a network has helped many women transition from the safety net of stable tech jobs into starting their own business. Providing a space for women entrepreneurs to thrive within a typically male-dominated sphere, can be of massive benefit for the entire ecosystem. And it seems the trend is extending to the younger generation as well. Creative HQ CEO and Lightning Lab investor Stefan Korn indicated that there were more young women than men in the Venture Up programme earlier this year, an accelerator programme specifically aimed at 17-25 year olds.
A Home For Impact Entrepreneurship In New Zealand
New Zealand has many of the elements required to become a mecca for impact entrepreneurs. Innovation, creative problem solving and resourcefulness are in our DNA. We are open and collaborative, we value community and we care for others. The practice of intergenerational stewardship of the land and people, displayed by many Māori communities, has helped to embed these values within our collective culture. We have tight-knit business communities typified by two degrees of separation, and we have less regulatory barriers to innovation than many countries.
But we need to make a strategic decision to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We have huge a opportunity to build upon the strengths of our history as an agricultural nation, and pave the way with new models of primary production and value-added enrichment. With the right ingredients - a supportive government, a welcoming immigration system and proactive opportunities for cross-sector collaboration - we can create collective value in a impact ecosystem that loops back and nurtures itself.
While much of the attention around entrepreneurship is currently directly at technology entrepreneurs, New Zealand’s future as an interconnected impact entrepreneurship ecosystem will involve scientists, teachers, communicators, artists and intrapreneurs- innovative agents-of-change who inject entrepreneurial characteristics into existing corporations and government departments.
Vaughan Rowsell, Founder of Vend, a New Zealand-grown software company estimated to be valued at $100 million, considers that in the future we may see a tipping point where the majority of people will be entrepreneurs. After all, prior to the industrial revolution which required centralised labour on a vast scale, most tradespeople, farmers and merchants were entrepreneurs.
Once a seed is established, the best way to promote impact entrepreneurship is to lead the way. By creating and supporting working examples, we invite others to observe, gain insight, and notice the value of business models that are good for people, the planet and profit.
First posted at http://www.kiwiconnect.nz/blog/2015/4/20/the-new-frontiers-of-impact-entrepreneurship
KiwiConnect is building global bridges to connect world-class talent, impact capital, and high-tech innovation to the fast-growing New Zealand startup ecosystem. We are a group of passionate entrepreneurs and change-makers with experience founding and scaling technology companies.
Our mission is to advance projects and nurture pioneering communities that contribute to a more beautiful world. We work with a range of people and partnership organisations, whom are passionate about using their talents to help realise this vision.