Impact Investing for Smart Cities

By Jack Crawford

Jack Crawford is Co-Founder and General Partner at Impact Venture Capital, an early stage venture capital firm with offices in Silicon Valley and Sacramento.

Dec 5, 2017 | Economy, Technology | 0 comments

I’ve always considered myself something of a young, scrappy entrepreneur – the quintessential “doer” with a bias for action. I launched my first company in 1993 and vividly remember riding the Internet wave as it transformed absolutely everything. Of course, the fact that I “vividly” remember that wave at all means I’m not so young, and while my heroic views of self proved a smidge optimistic, I do think my experience has provided me a bit of perspective.
 
That perspective tells me something big is coming. See, the Internet wave was followed shortly by the social network wave and then the mobile wave. These major technological sea changes never stopped, but instead came with greater rapidity and more disruptive force.  
 
The technologies coming down the pipe now, though, are like nothing we’ve seen before. They’re coming all at once, and they’ll make the most recent digital age feel more like the Stone Age.
 
There’s no question that the digital giants of the past – companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook – have had an unbelievable impact on the world. Their revenues are measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars; they’ve created jobs and wealth for hundreds of thousands of people. And they’re products of our Northern California tech ecosystem.
 
But the impact of new technologies won’t be measured in social media “likes” or page views like before, they’ll be measured in lives saved and children fed; parents educated and renewable megawatts generated. Technologies like artificial intelligence, big data, virtual reality, and robotics are simultaneously coming into their own. Each will be as important as the waves that came before, but when you stitch them together, you get game changers like self-driving cars or security-providing drones.
 
Consequently, we have a much broader vision of the impact technology can have in the future. Northern California startups have the potential to not only make our lives easier, but better. Much better. And not just for wealthy Westerners, but for billions of people scattered across the planet.
 
Let me put this point into context. Right now, 795 million people struggle to get enough food to eat. Our power plants and automobiles spew 32 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year. The American health care system – to say nothing of the rest of the world – wastes $750 billion annually.
 
So how can these new technologies make a difference?  Let me illustrate:
 
Imagine a hypothetical, high-tech farm. An autonomous, solar powered drone is capable of flying a pre-programmed route to monitor soil health, plant growth, and moisture levels. This drone wirelessly communicates with the irrigation system, letting it know how much water and fertilizer to spritz on each plant, greatly reducing the use of each of these expensive, and sometimes polluting, inputs. Driverless tractors will harvest the crops, and the data gathered from the drones, sensors, and tractors can be used to determine which crops to plant next year, where and when on the property to plant them, and for what price they should be sold. The end result is exceptionally higher yields, with much fewer inputs, in far greater geographies, and with major financial savings.
 
These are the types of problems that the tech companies of the future will solve. We call them the “global challenges industries”, and with my two partners, Dixon Doll and Eric Ball, we have launched Impact Venture Capital to address them.
 
At Impact Venture Capital, we focus on the information technology companies serving global challenges industries, including security and government; energy and transportation; agriculture and health; and education and media.  
 
We partner with major corporations to resource these efforts and ensure our startups are funded and sustainable for the long haul.  We are deliberately headquartered in the heart of the Northern California global innovation economy, with offices in Silicon Valley and Sacramento.  By taking advantage of all that Northern California has to offer – including the technologies and capital of the Bay, the climate and policy expertise of the Central Valley, and the unparalleled research institutions of both, Impact will tap into the most exciting opportunities coming from our best labs or from our smallest garages.
 
Impact has tailored a business model built on a bevy of entrepreneurship innovation programs and a corporate advisory and co-investment practice.  The innovation programs serve as a boot camp for startups, greatly de-risking our early-stage investments; our advisory practice allows our startups to rapidly identify corporate pain points and accelerate customer adoption. Together, these services provide our fund unique access to new market insights and deal flow.
 

The world’s about to change radically, and with wise and targeted investments, we can make sure those changes solve our greatest challenges.

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