Impact investment for real – how to get it right?

Saying you want to become the leading impact investor in Europe in the mobility sector is one thing, proving it another. How do you define impact, and how do you measure it? Together with the Upright Project, Katapult and geoFluxus, EIT Urban Mobility has discussed this topic during a panel session at Slush 2022.  

The definition of impact 

The session kicks off with the so-called elephant in the room question “What is impact?”. While the answer often is “it depends”, Annu Nieminen, CEO of the Upright Project, is clear “It does not depend at all. We have huge amounts of science on this topic. It is an area where proper mathematics, logic and rigorous thinking has taken place for a clear definition”. Impact is not only the negative or positive effect on the environment, but also on economic, health and knowledge that are all measurable.  

Therefore, impact shouldn’t be based on personal opinions or stories. Annu: You wouldn’t take a financial story as the truth, you want data, so why take an impact story as such?”. Fredrik Hånell, Impact Venture Director at EIT Urban Mobility, continues: “When you meet an entrepreneur as an investor and you have to ask them about the impact they create, they tend to have a nice story prepared for that.  Others start by mentioning what they dream of and the change they want to achieve: All other aspects of the business have almost become secondary. The big problem we are facing is that we are often presented with a good story which doesn’t mean they also create real positive impact.”  

Even though impact should be based on data, this is not easy with early-stage companies. Jørn Haanæs, Investment Director at Katapult: “With late-stage companies you can make clear predictions, but with pre-seed companies it is still guessing on the impact. Either way, the most important question remains: can a company go from zero to one, will it work?”.  When a company is not arriving at positive financial results at some point, there won’t be any other positive impact at all. 

Adding to this perspective from a different angle, Arnout Sabbe, CEO of geoFluxus states: “I believe that the most sustainable outcome of your company should also be the most positive business outcome. If this isn’t the case and sustainability hinders your financial returns, then it is time to tweak your business model since there is something wrong with the DNA of your company.”  

Greenwashing 

Over the last years, the importance of impact has increased significantly. “Companies start to understand that they can’t solarpanel their way out of the impact question anymore. They need to change for real and become more transparent”, says Annu. Unfortunately, at the same time there is also a rise in so-called greenwashing. Arnout: “It’s not only large companies who pretend to be green, but there also exist labeling companies which you can just pay to receive a green label. What is then the value of having such a label?” 

Annu: “When we review webpages, the more we come across the word sustainability, the less impactful these companies actually are. So don’t say you are sustainable, do it and be the best at it.” This is something Arnout fully confirms: “geoFluxus has shifted its narrative from saying that it is the most sustainable way handle your waste to the easiest and quickest way. We don’t say sustainable anymore, even though the algorithm still works in the same way.

As a result, the company now sees that also companies that are not interested in sustainability or the ones who don’t want talk about it, are onboarding their platform. “We don’t look like a hippy-washed company, it’s basically something that makes waste easier to handle and by coincidence it’s also the most sustainable solution for rest materials.” So instead of talking a lot about sustainability, simply integrating it at the core of your business works a lot better.  

The future of investing in impact startups 

Looking at the next decade, Jørn states that investing in impactful startups is the best thing as it also leads to superior financial results. “I think that impact ventures will only scale if we make it also the most profitable. We have investors in our fund that don’t care much about impact, so they get that as an extra and they can stay for the financial performance. You don’t need to only focus on impact and get stigmatized for it.”  

During this time period, Fredrik is foreseeing a change in the investment focus from software applications to hardware solutions. “While hardware will always have a negative impact due to the resources needed, they will enable technologies and solutions which will lead to a net positive impact. This implies for me that our investment thesis and the way we evaluate startups will have to change since evaluating a deep-tech startup is quite a different deal than evaluating a software company which often are seen as positively impacting.” 

Annu: “Don’t forget that also apps have an impact. They use energy, mobile devices and talented people. Especially looking at human capital, resources are now used for many not-so-necessary services and products like apps where cats make funny faces. We need to consider the opportunity cost of highly educated people which is also a limited resource. How much can we afford to use on secondary important things?” 

Accelerating the change to impact 

Climate change has been seen as something of the future, something that our grandchildren will have to witness. However, it is already happening today. Annu: “The planet doesn’t have the time to make it complicated. It doesn’t have 20 years left. As such, startups should not be filling in questionnaires about ESGs for investors. Running a company is hard enough and founders should focus on building a net positive business.” 

Well, besides specific investments, we need policy changes with big issues to incentivize good behavior”, states Jorn. “Specially to deal with the emotional side of human nature.” 

So how do we get people to change? Jørn: “Don’t ask the people. For example, if you ask most people, they want a Tesla. Even though there are a million times more efficient ways to move people around both in cities as in rural areas. The whole point should be to let innovators do their thing and finance new projects and new experiments and then see what works.” 

Fredrik: “I would actually recommend getting rid of cars completely and having more bicycles. By reshaping cities like Barcelona with superblocks and low speed areas, we give the cities back to the citizens.” 

Arnout adds a different point of view: “I would say we need more crises. We see that only real things and systems will change after extreme disruptions. For example, with our company we now see that suddenly companies, instead of having to pay for their waste, get money for their waste materials due to the gas crisis and material shortage. This has never happened before and makes them treat waste differently.” 

Annu: “I believe that change will come slowly but surely now that it is becoming financially more profitable to run and own a company that creates more value for its surrounding world. Due to where talent wants to work, where investments want to go, what do founders really want to run. And I see this change already happening, so many cool things are accelerating and that is what I’m betting on.” 

Extra investment opportunities to start-ups incorporated in RIS countries

All over Europe, entrepreneurs are working on innovative solutions to cope with urban mobility challenges. However, circumstances differ across the continent resulting in unequal number and quality of funding opportunities for locally emerging businesses.

Through the Regional Innovation Scheme (RIS), EIT tackles such disparities by spreading its activities more evenly. More precisely, the RIS region defines a group of countries with a low performing innovation capacity. Despite the talent and entrepreneurial mindset available in such countries, change and innovation in the RIS region tend to slow down due to the conservative and risk avoiding policy making, as well as the drawbacks of engaging in an entrepreneurial career and the limited mechanisms to support start-ups.

By setting up a dedicated budget to invest in start-ups incorporated in RIS countries, EIT Urban Mobility is now contributing to the faster development of their innovation ecosystems and, more importantly, to the fundraising process of their local start-ups. As an impact investor, EIT Urban Mobility fosters positive social and environmental change across Europe, which among other things translates into paying special attention to those vulnerable innovation ecosystems.

To date, EIT Urban Mobility has invested in more than 20 start-ups from the RIS region like Mosaic from Czech Republic, Meight from Portugal, and Deeptraffic from Greece, and keeps looking for the most prominent entrepreneurs to disrupt the European mobility industry in those countries. If your company is incorporated in a RIS country seeking for capital, we highly encourage you to apply to our open investments call!

Check out EIT Urban Mobility’s investments landing page for more information or apply directly through the AwardsForce platform.

Eleven new entries to EIT Urban Mobility’s equity portfolio

EIT Urban Mobility’s equity portfolio keeps growing! During the first half of 2022, EIT Urban Mobility has invested in eleven innovative start-ups. Furthermore, four follow up investments have been made in existing companies from our equity portfolio.

The common factor between all these top-tier entrepreneurs is their impact on reshaping the mobility landscape. They are showcasing the major market trends such as sustainable city logistics, future mobility and connectivity.   

Pablo Garrido, investment manager at EIT Urban Mobility says: “Being an impact investor, we believe the best way to achieve a sustainable future is through system change, bridging a positive correlation between financial returns and social impact. Therefore, we only invest in companies that contribute to one of the Sustainable Development Goals, related to sustainable cities and communities, clean energy, and climate action.” 

EIT Urban Mobility welcomes the following ventures to its equity portfolio: 

  • Bout: a digital platform for water transportation, increasing the accessibility of maritime locations for consumers. 
  • Chainge: reduces inner city CO2, NOx, PM and noise pollution and traffic congestion by replacing delivery vans with cargo bike driven sustainable last mile logistics (LML). 
  • Cogo: an app gathering all shared scooters, bikes, cars and moped as long as they are human or electric powered, making it easy and seamless to move around cities the green way. 
  • Eccocar: a platform to launch, operate and scale digital mobility services, designed hand in hand with Rent-a-Cars, Dealers and Fleet Managers around the world. 
  • GeoFluxus: maps, analyses and predicts where, how and which materials can be saved from becoming waste. 
  • Jonna: offers quality bikes/e-bikes which they make themselves, on monthly subscriptions with insurance and service included. 
  • Luna Systems : an ‘Edge AI’ / computer vision technology, to keep micromobility vehicles safely in the correct lane and/or parking zone. 
  • Mioo : provides safety and bike (repair) services for everyday cyclists to have more people to use the bicycle as a means of transport. 
  • Solum: develops last-generation solar-backed charging stations for light electric vehicles. 
  • Transition One: retrofits light ICE cars (passengers, commercial) into electric cars. 
  • ZipForce: a portable electric motor that turns any regular bicycle into an e-bike. 

Jonna, Luna, Transition one, and existing equity start-up Nudgd have received capital as part of the New European Bauhaus programme 2022. Nudgd, nominee for the EIT Venture Award 2022, offers a digital platform using behavioural science to establish climate-friendly habits such as switching from cars to active mobility and public transportation.  

The other equity start-ups receiving follow-up investments are: 

  • Allihop: provides the first green business travel platform with direct booking capacity for trains, buses, e-cars, e-scooters and bikes.
  • Skyroads: enables advanced air mobility to scale safely and efficiently. 
  • Vonzu : empowers the digitalization in the urban distribution of goods with a last mile logistics management platform.  

Having EIT Urban Mobility as an investor has been extremely valuable for Skyroads’ journey so far. Their support has not just been monetary, but they have also provided us access to their wide business network, along with offering us multiple opportunities to grow as a start-up and increase our visibility to the world of customers, strategic partners, and other investors. Skyroads would like to thank EIT Urban Mobility for their extraordinary services and we highly recommend EIT Urban Mobility to other start-up founders

Tim Krieglstein, Co-founder & Chief Strategy Officer, Skyroads AG

Besides capital to scale, internationalise and grow, the invested ventures have now access to the largest pan-European mobility network, including cities, corporates and other European organisations such as the EIB, the EIC and the EIF. 

Is your company looking for capital? EIT Urban Mobility keeps looking for the most prominent entrepreneurs to disrupt the European mobility industry with our year-round open call for investments.  Check out the investment page for more information or apply directly via AwardsForce.  

EIT Urban Mobility’s equity startup HOPU got acquired by Libelium 

HOPU (HOP Ubiquitous), one of EIT Urban Mobility’s first equity startups, has been acquired by Libelium. With its Internet of Things (IoT) solutions for monitoring air quality, noise pollution, and meteorological parameters, HOPU makes a good match with Libelium, a leading company in the design and manufacturing of wireless sensor network devices to deliver reliable IoT, M2M and smart cities solutions. The high compatibility of both companies stands for a huge leap forward in their strategy to lead the IoT market, with the intention to float the company in an initial public offering. 

Since its starting point in 2014, the Spanish venture HOPU has grown to a 40 staff company, working with over 100 cities and customers, and has more than 700 devices deployed in Europe. With the data provided by HOPU, cities get insights and suggestions on how to transform their urban spaces to create more sustainable living areas. For these reasons, EIT Urban Mobility decided to invest in HOPU in 2020. Over the years, HOPU has taken part in several of our programmes, like the Scale up programme in 2020 and Raptor in 2021, where they were the winning startup for the air quality challenge of the city of Sant Joan Despí, Spain.  

HOPU is highly competitive in their sector and has positioned itself as a valuable collaborator for large partners such as Telefónica, Suez and Signify (Philips). Besides enriching Libelium’s technological portfolio and know-how on Smart Cities, Infrastructure and Sustainability, it gives the opportunity to HOPU to expand its market outside of Europe to Central and North America.  

This successful transaction solidifies the commitment of EIT Urban Mobility towards urban mobility transformation powered by data and digitization. 

EIT Urban Mobility has invested in 35 ventures since 2020 and keeps up

EIT Urban Mobility just opened an ongoing investment call for early-to-seed stage ventures. Selected scale-ups and start-ups can receive up to €500,000 capital. More importantly, the offer goes beyond funding. Ventures will benefit from fast-track introductions into the urban mobility community via the extensive regional and pan-European network, including cities, mentors, and industry leaders. This allows start-ups to validate their solutions, network with key decision-makers and scale their company with increased visibility.

The current portfolio contains companies developing technologies and solutions which are shaping the future of the urban mobility landscape. While financial return is essential, as an impact investor EIT Urban Mobility selects ventures where social and environmental impact grows with revenue. Start-ups in EIT Urban Mobility’s equity portfolio contribute positively to at least one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to sustainable cities and communities, clean energy, and climate action. Based on the call for actions related to these goals, EIT Urban Mobility is linking key performance indicators to the expected impact of the start-ups to indicate their contribution to improved sustainable and liveable cities.

In addition, EIT Urban Mobility focuses on inclusive and gender-balanced teams when selecting start-ups. Research indicates that new businesses led by women are more likely to succeed and more likely to exceed expectations for growth. Since EIT Urban Mobility made inclusive and gender-balanced teams a key priority in 2020, internal reports show that the number of female-led ventures in the EIT Urban Mobility portfolio has grown from 16% to 27%, and the share of gender-balanced start-up investments has risen from 28% to 52%.  

Finally, to stimulate the talent and entrepreneurial mindset in all of Europe, EIT Urban Mobility pays special attention to start-ups incorporated in the Regional Innovation Scheme (RIS), where conservative and risk-avoiding policymaking can slow down change and innovation. 

For more information about the investment call: EIT Urban Mobility Startup Investments – EIT Urban mobility 

Call for Expressions of Interest: Empowering women in active mobility

EIT Urban Mobility seeks a partner organisation (gold or silver) with expertise in active mobility, community change and community initiatives that empower local residents.

The organisation will support a programme testing new mechanisms to engage with local citizens (women) in active mobility.

As this is the first time running this programme, the activities will include the development of the overall programme of activities, conducting outreach and dissemination activities, coordinating the different actors and conducting the final evaluation of the programme. The activities will be conducted in close partnership with EIT Urban Mobility, with both actors co-designing and co-implementing the programme together.

All information can be found in the Expression of Interest document

All applicants have to complete this application form

Deadline for submissions: 13 June 2022 at 9:00 CEST

EIT opens call for participants in Women2Invest

Women2Invest aims at helping women start their careers in venture investment, both through training and access to funds. At the same time, it gives investors access to a group of promising women with technical background that will add diversity to their investment teams.

Women2Invest is an access and training activity aimed at helping women with STEAM university studies and no or little knowledge of investment become familiar with the fundamentals of venture capital. The training part of the activity includes a combination of masterclasses, practitioners experience, simulation of investment processes and practical work.

The ultimate goal is providing participants with a paid internship or job in a venture capital fund, a corporate venture capital fund or a corporate venturing unit. Participants will also have the opportunity to build a network of future colleagues, top-notch practitioners and key players in the venture industry. The activity is powered by Diversity VC Iberia and will run online for 8 weeks starting in mid-October 2022.

Women2Invest is looking for participants with these characteristics:

  • Recent graduates and young professionals from STEAM careers:
    • Up to 7 years after completing undergraduate & master studies
    • Up to 2 years after completing PhDs
  • Holding a passport from either one of the 27 EU member states or the eligible associate countries
  • Fluent in English
  • With genuine interest in the venture capital industry / investment in startups

The call for applicants is now open until 30 June 2022 and can be accessed here. More details can be found in the terms and conditions.

Women2Invest is part of the Supernovas programme of EIT Urban Mobility, EIT Manufacturing and EIT Food, which has the ultimate goal of increasing the presence and role of women in the EU entrepreneurship ecosystem.

In case of any questions or inquiries, please contact Ana Alcaine at ana.alcaine@eitfood.edu