All posts in “sustainability”

Generation closes $1B growth fund targeting sustainable startups

Generation Investment Management, the firm co-founded by environmentalist and former Vice President Al Gore, was built on the premise of backing sustainable startups. Now, as the idea of sustainability starts to gain wider traction, the firm is doubling down on the concept.

Today, Generation is announcing that it has closed a $1 billion Sustainable Solutions Fund for growth investments. As the name implies, it plans to put the $1 billion to work backing later-stage startups that work on sustainability in at least one of three areas — environmental solutions; healthcare; and financial inclusion, including the future of work — and are creating financially sustainable businesses out of that focus.

Typical investments will range from $50 million to $150 million, and there have already been two made out of the fund before it closed, both indicative of the kinds of investments Generation plans to be making.

Andela — the startup that pairs companies needing engineering talent to work on projects with developers based out of Africa — in January announced a $100 million round. Also that month, Sophia Genetics — the company that applies AI to DNA sequencing to help formulate more accurate medical treatments — raised $77 million led by the firm.

Other companies that Generation has backed include Asana, DocuSign, gogoro, CiBO, M-Kopa, Ocado, Optoro and Seventh Generation.

This is Generation’s third growth fund and the largest raised by the firm to date, which itself is a sign of the swing we’ve seen in the tech world.

In general, founders, workers and investors all remain relentlessly focused on growing new ideas. But along with that there has been a rising conscientiousness of the massive role that tech plays in shaping the world, and so some are now trying to make more of an effort to use that for more meaningful outcomes.

“You are seeing how sustainability is attracting high performing entrepreneurs,” said Lilly Wollman, partner and co-head of the Growth Equity platform, in an interview. “They care about the mission, and that is also driving financial performance.”

“We believe that we are at the early stages of a technology-led sustainability revolution,” said Al Gore, Chairman and Co-Founder, in a statement, “which has the scale of the industrial revolution, and the pace of the digital revolution.”

In the case of Generation, it’s also an indication that the firm — which has $22 billion under management today — is providing impressive enough returns on its mission to drive more interest from LPs to grow the commitment to back it.

“There is a recognition of this momentum,” added Lila Preston, a Partner who is the growth platform’s co-head, of the 15 years the firm has already spent on this concept and the work it’s put into it. “We see this as a movement, but one with a roadmap based on research and understanding.”

It’s also notable to me that the two people leading the growth team are women. Wollman noted that 60 percent of the Generation team is female, with the employee base spanning eight nationalities. “The firm believes more diversity leads to better outcomes,” she said.

Consumers are also playing a big role. Of all the good, bad and ugly that have been wrought by the rise of social media, one of the positives has been how social platforms have been used to raise awareness of issues such as climate change and inclusion. We may be getting into more online fights with our distant cousins (and closer friends and relatives), and sometimes issues like trying to curtail emissions gasses seems like an insurmountable challenge. But some will also use what they read about and watch online as inspiration to try to make a change.

“One of the things that is so interesting in this moment is at we are at an inflection point,” said Wollman. “Sustainability is winning on economics alone. You see sustainable products and solutions that are both efficacious and cheap. People are buying electric vehicles not just because they are green, but because they are starting to become cheap enough, and provide better performance.”

That’s bringing in a new wave of investors to the mix, and it’s interesting to see how some more conventional investors are even starting to take a bigger step into making mission-driven investment decisions. (Just yesterday, in the UK, Balderton co-led a large round for Wagestream, a startup aimed at helping promote financial inclusion by creating a way to easily and cheaply draw down money from monthly paychecks. Generation hinted that it too might be making an investment in a startup working in a similar area in the weeks to come.)

“It helps to have a set of coinvestors to ask questions related not only to ‘what are your growth metrics’ but ‘how does what you are doing affect the wider world,’” said Preston. “We are finding an increase of sophistication, which we think is positive recognition. Given the context of our shift, whether it’s a new economic model or climate change, we are going to need masses of capital to drive sustainable solutions and reframe what is successful.”

This underground New York City farm grows rare edible plants for high-end restaurants — What’s in the Basement?

Just one level below the busy streets of Manhattan sits Farm.One- an urban hydroponic farm that utilizes technology to grow extremely, rare edible plants. Come with us as we explore the future of sustenance and sustainability on this week’s episode of What’s In The Basement.

Amazon now lets Prime members pick a day of the week to get all their purchases at once

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Amazon just introduced a new way to help Prime members feel less guilty about ordering a bunch of packages. 

The e-commerce giant announced Thursday the creation of “Amazon Day.” Now, Amazon Prime customers can opt to receive all of their purchases on the day of the week of their choice. And, whenever possible, Amazon will group these purchases into one package to reduce shipping materials like cardboard. 

“Prime members can now choose to get their orders delivered together in fewer boxes whenever possible on the day that works best for them,” Maria Renz, Amazon’s vice president of delivery experience, said in a public statement.

The initiative is part of Amazon’s Shipment Zero initiative, which aims to make Amazon shipments net carbon zero, with 50 percent of shipments meeting that standard by 2030. Renz claimed in the statement that a test of the program has “reduced packaging by tens of thousands of boxes” since it started in November, although Amazon did not specify how many people took part in the test.

Now you can opt to receive all of your Amazon packages on the same day.

Now you can opt to receive all of your Amazon packages on the same day.

Image: Amazon

Online retail is convenient for consumers, but a nightmare for the environment. Multiple investigations and academic papers have shown how individual shipping uses more resources than retail. As reported in Fast Company, 165 billion packages are shipped in the U.S. per year, consuming the resources of 1 billion trees. Amazon last reported that it shipped over 5 billion items worldwide in 2017. That number has likely only grown, since Amazon passed 100 million subscribers in 2018, and eMarketer projects that more than half of U.S. households will become Amazon Prime subscribers in 2019. Good for Amazon, bad for the planet.

Amazon Day, as part of Shipment Zero, could be a good step toward reducing the company’s carbon footprint. It is maddening to open one box, only to find another box inside of it — a frequently reported phenomenon caused by Amazon’s fast packaging warehouse system. Amazon already gives you the option to group shipments of orders you place at the same time, but this takes that a step further by hopefully consolidating all purchases in one master box.

Amazon also points out that this could help cut down on package theft because you can choose to have your items delivered on a day you know you’ll be home. 

Still, part of the convenience of Amazon Prime is near immediate shipping, with the ability to get packages in two days, one day, or sometimes even the same day. With Amazon Day, you can still opt to get eligible items that way, if there’s something you need immediately.

Amazon Day is a good step, but the problem might not be so simple. The waste caused by packaging is a symptom of our addiction to convenience and immediate gratification, attained at the expense of the trees cut down for boxes, petroleum processed for tape, and energy spent for transportation.

But by all means, pick your Amazon Day.

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This waste-to-energy plant doubles as a ski slope

Copenhagen’s waste-to-energy power plant lets you ski on its roof, while it converts 400,000 tons of trash into electricity and heating. Designed by Bjarke Ingels Group, Copenhill hosts one of the world’s largest artificial ski slopes. It will soon be welcoming guests to hit its slopes with or without snow, 365 days a year. 

Cities that didn’t win HQ2 shouldn’t be counted out

The more than year-long dance between cities and Amazon for its second headquarters is finally over, with New York City and Washington, DC, capturing the big prize. With one of the largest economic development windfalls in a generation on the line, 238 cities used every tactic in the book to court the company — including offering to rename a city “Amazon” and appointing Jeff Bezos “mayor for life.”

Now that the process, and hysteria, are over, and cities have stopped asking “how can we get Amazon,” we’d like to ask a different question: How can cities build stronger startup ecosystems for the Amazon yet to be built?

In September 2017, Amazon announced that it would seek a second headquarters. But rather than being the typical site-selection process, this became a highly publicized Hunger Games-esque scenario.

An RFP was proffered on what the company sought, and it included everything any good urbanist would want, with walkability, transportation and cultural characteristics on the docket. But, of course, incentives were also high on the list.

Amazon could have been a transformational catalyst for a plethora of cities throughout the U.S., but instead, it chose two superstar cities: the number one and five metro areas by GDP which, combined, amounts to a nearly $2 trillion GDP. These two metro areas also have some of the highest real estate prices in the country, a swath of high-paying jobs and, of course power — financial and political — close at hand.

Perhaps the take-away for cities isn’t that we should all be so focused on hooking that big fish from afar, but instead that we should be growing it in our own waters. Amazon itself is a great example of this. It’s worth remembering that over the course of a quarter century, Amazon went from a garage in Seattle’s suburbs to consuming 16 percent — or 81 million square feet — of the city’s downtown. On the other end of the spectrum, the largest global technology company in 1994 (the year of Amazon’s birth) was Netscape, which no longer exists.

The upshot is that cities that rely only on attracting massive technology companies are usually too late.

At the National League of Cities, we think there are ways to expand the pie that don’t reinforce existing spatial inequalities. This is exactly the idea behind the launch of our city innovation ecosystems commitments process. With support from the Schmidt Futures Foundation, 50 cities, ranging from rural townships, college towns and major metros, have joined with more than 200 local partners and leveraged over $100 million in regional and national resources to support young businesses, leverage technology and expand STEM education and workforce training for all.

The investments these cities are making today may in fact be the precursor to some of the largest tech companies of the future.

With that idea in mind, here are seven cities that didn’t win HQ2 bids, but are ensuring their cities will be prepared to create the next tranche of high-growth startups. 

Austin

Austin just built a medical school adjacent to a tier-one research university, the University of Texas. It’s the first such project to be completed in America in more than 50 years. To ensure the addition translates into economic opportunity for the city, Austin’s public, private and civic leaders have come together to create Capital City Innovation to launch the city’s first Innovation District at the new medical school. This will help expand the city’s already world-class startup ecosystem into the health and wellness markets.

Baltimore

Baltimore is home to more than $2 billion in academic research, ranking it third in the nation behind Boston and Philadelphia. In order to ensure everyone participates in the expanding research-based startup ecosystem, the city is transforming community recreation centers into maker and technology training centers to connect disadvantaged youth and families to new skills and careers in technology. The Rec-to-Tech Initiative will begin with community design sessions at four recreation centers, in partnership with the Digital Harbor Foundation, to create a feasibility study and implementation plan to review for further expansion.

Buffalo

The 120-acre Buffalo Niagara Medical Center (BNMC) is home to eight academic institutions and hospitals and more than 150 private technology and health companies. To ensure Buffalo’s startups reflect the diversity of its population, the Innovation Center at BNMC has just announced a new program to provide free space and mentorship to 10 high-potential minority- and/or women-owned startups.

Denver

Like Seattle, real estate development in Denver is growing at a feverish rate. And while the growth is bringing new opportunity, the city is expanding faster than the workforce can keep pace. To ensure a sustainable growth trajectory, Denver has recruited the Next Generation City Builders to train students and retrain existing workers to fill high-demand jobs in architecture, design, construction and transportation. 

Providence

With a population of 180,000, Providence is home to eight higher-education institutions — including Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design — making it a hub for both technical and creative talent. The city of Providence, in collaboration with its higher education institutions and two hospital systems, has created a new public-private-university partnership, the Urban Innovation Partnership, to collectively contribute and support the city’s growing innovation economy. 

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh may have once been known as a steel town, but today it is a global mecca for robotics research, with more than 4.5 times the national average robotics R&D within its borders. Like Baltimore, Pittsburgh is creating a more inclusive innovation economy through a Rec-to-Tech program that will re-invest in the city’s 10 recreational centers, connecting students and parents to the skills needed to participate in the economy of the future. 

Tampa

Tampa is already home to 30,000 technical and scientific consultant and computer design jobs — and that number is growing. To meet future demand and ensure the region has an inclusive growth strategy, the city of Tampa, with 13 university, civic and private sector partners, has announced “Future Innovators of Tampa Bay.” The new six-year initiative seeks to provide the opportunity for every one of the Tampa Bay Region’s 600,000 K-12 students to be trained in digital creativity, invention and entrepreneurship.

These seven cities help demonstrate the innovation we are seeing on the ground now, all throughout the country. The seeds of success have been planted with people, partnerships and public leadership at the fore. Perhaps they didn’t land HQ2 this time, but when we fast-forward to 2038 — and the search for Argo AISparkCognition or Welltok’s new headquarters is well underway — the groundwork will have been laid for cities with strong ecosystems already in place to compete on an even playing field.