If You’re Going to Be an Entrepreneur, Be an Impact Entrepreneur
Do you want to be part of something bigger than yourself? Do you believe in making profits with a purpose? If the answer is yes, keep reading. Previously, I discussed what the Impact Revolution means and how to drive this change. Today, I would like to go into more detail about impact entrepreneurship as a better model for how to lead our lives.
You will likely have heard people say that the best thing to do is make as much money as possible without worrying about doing good before becoming a generous philanthropist and giving lots of money away to good causes. This has long been the traditional model, but things are changing—impact entrepreneurship shows there is a better way, as well as showing that businesses can do good and make money at the same time.
Young entrepreneurs are inventing impact-driven businesses that serve customers better, improve lives and help to preserve our planet. As with the Tech Revolution, it is ambitious young companies that are leading the way. The dream of building a unicorn (a start-up worth over $1 billion) is being re-evaluated. Why should young entrepreneurs not set their sights on building an “impact unicorn” that is worth $1 billion and improves the lives of one billion people at the same time?
There are many reasons why the profit-with-purpose model of impact ventures is an increasingly sensible business decision, in addition to a compelling moral one. For one thing, being able to supply underserved populations with products and services allows businesses to tap into huge demand, which in turn creates the opportunity to grow more quickly than companies that serve mainstream markets at higher prices.
Socially-conscious companies also avoid the risk of punitive taxes that governments might impose in the future, such as a carbon tax.
Furthermore, consumers, employees and investors are increasingly shunning harmful companies and embracing those that make a positive difference. I have heard prominent figures from the business world say that you cannot ride two horses, making money and doing good at the same time. The following examples will show that, in fact, we can harness these two horses, doing good and doing well. Starting an impact venture is a reliable way to be more successful.
Lead by Example
Many of us are familiar with the impact pioneers who have blazed a trail: companies like Patagonia, TOMS shoes and Warby Parker. What follows are several companies that have more recently brought impact innovation in sectors ranging from technology and healthcare to agriculture and consumer goods. Many are helped by new legal structures, certification and mentoring organizations that support their impact-driven entrepreneurial efforts around the globe.
Taken together, these ventures show how impact can transform every sector of our economy. They demonstrate that a trade-off between financial and social returns is not necessary; in fact, these companies often show returns not in spite of impact but because of it. Many of these ventures start with an entrepreneur finding new uses for the latest technology and adapting it to fit the requirements of those in need. That is what Zipline has done.
Life-Saving Drones – Zipline
On December 21, 2016, an order arrived at a drone base near Kigali in Rwanda. Upon receiving the message, a technician strapped in the consignment and prepared a drone for launch; within minutes, it was heading toward its target, a district hospital…a six-minute flight away.
Inside the hospital lay a two-year-old girl named Ghislane, who had been ravaged by an acute form of malaria. Within minutes of being summoned, the drone hovered near the hospital entrance and dropped a red box containing two units of refrigerated blood that floated to the ground on a paper parachute. A year earlier, this same hospital would have had to dispatch a car to fetch the blood from a bank located a three-hour round-trip away, a delay that might have ended this young girl’s life.
This story can be tied back to the story of Keller Rinaudo, a professional robotics entrepreneur who, after starting a toy robot company at the age of 23, challenged himself to focus his business “on things that would have a profound impact on people’s lives.”
Rinaudo and his co-founders scoured the globe for problems they thought could be solved using their skillset. He decided to tackle the logistics of delivering essential medical products, such as life-saving blood for a transfusion. When the blood was needed, the patient didn’t have time to spare.
He and his team knew they could improve delivery efficiency and reduce waste with robotics: they would create a distribution center to store blood and fly drones to deliver it to precisely where it was needed. To sustain the company, they would charge for each delivery.
Rinaudo called his company Zipline and chose to pilot its technology and logistics system in Rwanda. According to Rinaudo, using Zipline saved the Rwandan government money while also saving precious time and lives, and the company’s drones could serve 80 percent of Rwanda’s population with just two distribution centers. By the end of 2018, the company had delivered 15,000 units of blood and had plans to expand to Tanzania and the US and to pursue the delivery of other medical supplies, such as vaccines for babies and emergency medicines.
In May 2019, Zipline secured $190 million in funding from US venture capitalists and achieved a $1.2 billion valuation. It announced that it would expand across Africa, the Americas, South Asia and Southeast Asia, with the goal to serve 700 million people in the next five years.
While Rinaudo and his team have reimagined drone technology, another entrepreneurial tech-for-good venture, OrCam in Israel, has repurposed advanced technology in artificial intelligence, initially developed to guide driverless cars, to help the 39 million blind and the 250 million visually impaired people around the world.
From Driverless Cars to Helping the Blind
In 2016, 27-year-old Luke Hines was able to imagine going to college for the first time. In 2018, war veteran Scotty Smiley was finally able to read with his three sons. In 2019, Naim Bassa was empowered to cast his vote for the first time without someone having to accompany him. These three people were all visually impaired but had access to OrCam’s assistive technology, which uses a camera, computing, machine learning, and deep networks to process visual information and relay it to users phonetically.
The story of this wearable technology began in 1999 when co-founders Professor Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram started Mobileye, a technology company that uses cameras and artificial intelligence to replace the human eye in driverless cars. Eighteen years later, they sold the company to Intel for over $15 billion, the largest acquisition in Israel’s history.
To learn more about the Impact Revolution, order a copy of my new book, IMPACT, here.
At this point, Shashua began thinking of applying the technology he had invented to assist his aunt, whose vision was worsening. He and Aviram co-founded OrCam in 2010 to help visually-impaired people process their surroundings.
In 2017, OrCam released MyEye 2. Completely wireless and about the size of a finger, it could read printed text, recognize faces, products, barcodes and banknotes. When the wearer pointed toward any of these, the device would relay what it saw in their ear.
One user said that MyEye gave him the ability to “pick up anything—a newspaper, a book, a menu—and you don’t have to rely on other people. When letters come through the door, you can just read them without having to hassle anyone else.”
For someone like Lisa Hayes in Australia, who has been blind since birth, the OrCam product is miraculous. She said about the device, “It has got to be the breakthrough of the twenty-first century as far as I’m concerned.” By 2018, OrCam had raised over $130 million and was valued at $1 billion.
Impact entrepreneurs will ask themselves about the best way of helping the maximum number of people through their technology. Asking this question about OrCam’s technology leads us in an interesting direction: why not apply these same products to help the 781 million illiterate adults around the world, as well? OrCam’s potential market may thus extend to nearly 15 percent of the world’s population of 7.7 billion. Imagine the impact of this technology on the lives of more than one billion people. Impact thinking uncovers opportunities that we would otherwise miss.
These are just a few examples of the power of impact entrepreneurship. Many other such ventures across the world are showing incredible promise – from water to consumer goods, no sector is untouched by the ambition of young impact entrepreneurs. These impact business models will, in my view, become the hallmark of the millennial generation.
Does this leave you wondering how you can make a difference too? Do you want to be a part of the Impact Revolution? You can be. And you can learn more by reading my book, IMPACT: Reshaping Capitalism to Drive Real Change. Join us on this journey to making our world a better place.