2020 has been a year of social upheaval. Around the world, society is identifying different problems in our culture and pushing for widespread change. While there are notable steps we can all take, from altering exclusionary company policies to signing action-oriented petitions, the VC and investment world has another, often overlooked option: Investing in change-the-world startups.
Increasingly, angel investors and institutional funds have begun allocating a portion of their funds to startups focused on diversity and social good, whether focused on democratized access to healthcare and education, or larger scale issues like climate change.
Initially, shifting funds to empower social good may seem like a hefty feat, however investors can embrace this mindshift in three simple steps: (1) redistributing stagnant investments; (2) leveraging democratized access to change-making startups; and (3) identifying founders tracking toward success.
Allocating more investments to foster change
Most of the world’s money is tied up in stagnant places. Whether invested in real estate, bonds or other traditional vehicles, this capital typically often shows conservative returns to investors — and has negligible impact on society. The intent isn’t malicious.
Most family offices and private wealth managers strive to minimize losses and these sorts of uniformed portfolios are safe. Even the most seasoned investors should incorporate more variety into their portfolios, determining where they can make profitable investments that yield higher returns while advancing societal good. Investors can take small steps to get more confident in expanding their strategies.
To start, reframe your thinking into seeing the potential opportunity rather than the risk. A good way to do this: Look at how high-risk public equities performed over the last five years and compare it to ventures within tech. Investors will see a significant disparity and the opportunity to make different returns.
The idea is not to put an entire profile in a single venture. Rather, an investor should take a portion of their portfolio in a high-risk investment sector, like public equities or fund structures, and put it in a similar risk profile with a better return. Gradually increasing these increments, starting at 15% and slowly scaling up, can help investors to see outsized returns while making a difference in the process.
A world of passion at your fingertips
For startups of all sizes, democratized access to investors will accelerate the use of capital for social good. Until recently, only the world’s wealthiest people had exposure to premium capital, but crowdfunding and accelerator programs have ushered in new opportunities, forging connections that might not have otherwise been possible.
These avenues have opened new doors for investors and startups. Access to developed networks or innovation hubs like Silicon Valley are no longer make-or-breaks for those looking to raise capital. Extended global opportunity for startups also means investors have more options to find promising ventures that align with their values, regardless of their location.
But while crowdfunding and accelerators have made the world more accessible, they come with sizable challenges. Despite making early-stage investment more obtainable, crowdfunding often does not bring the most valuable investors to the table.
Crowdfunding also inundates platforms with poor-quality deal flow, making it more strenuous for investors to connect with fruitful opportunities. Meanwhile, various accelerators and incubation platforms have emerged, which have advanced global connection, but tend to be quite noisy.
To succeed, entrepreneurs need more than capital. Rather, they need strategic support from experienced investors who can help them make decisions and scale in an impactful way. With a world of ideas at their fingertips, investors should take time to sift through their options and find the ideas that move them the most, prioritizing quality deals and looking toward platforms that curate promising connections.
Empowering entrepreneurs poised for success
Now is the right time to invest in startups. People who innovate during the pandemic have triple the hustle of those who build in safer economies. But while the timing is right, it’s equally important that the fit is right. I’m a big believer in investing in potential: Ambition, unwavering tenacity and empathy are desirable qualities that can help bring game-changing ideas to fruition.
If an investor funds a passionate leader with a strong vision and ability to attract talent, then the groundwork is laid to build something meaningful. When considering the change-makers to invest in, ask: Is this the right person to be building this company? Do they have the ability to attract and lead talent? Is the market big enough, and is there a significant enough problem to build a company around?
If the answer isn’t yes to all of these questions, it’s important to gauge if you can see a theoretical exit, or if the company is pre-seed or Series A, if they have the ability to scale to a decent size.
Despite this, investing in startups, no matter how good their intentions, can scare investors. One way to overcome trepidation is to invest in larger-stage startups that seem less risky and then wade into earlier-stage startups at your own pace. Special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) are also becoming an interesting investment option.
SPACs are corporations formed for the sole purpose of raising investment capital through an IPO. The proceeds are then used to buy one or more existing companies, an option that could decrease anxiety for risk-averse investors looking to expand their comfort zone.
Any strategy an investor chooses to embrace social good is a step in the right direction. Capital is a tangible way to fuel innovation and bring about impactful change.
Democratized access to startups yields more opportunity for investors to find ventures that align with their values while diversifying their profiles can provide tremendous results. And when that return means disrupting the status quo and empowering societal change? Everyone wins.