Making a giant leap towards high impact investments by Rachel Yang
Before we jump into it, can you explain who you are and what you do?
I'm the Investment Manager at Giant Leap, a venture capital fund backing founders using business to drive positive social and environmental change across three themes: health and wellbeing, sustainable living and empowering people.
Giant Leap is backed by the Impact Investment Group, a leading Australian funds manager whose mission is to shift capital towards impact investments.
I'm also on the Board of the Catalyst Fund, Impact Investment Group’s charitable foundation which aims to make catalytic investments to demonstrate the diverse landscape of impact investment opportunities and unlock more capital for assets and businesses that are better for the world.
Let's start with Courage Incorporated. Can you tell us about what this is, how the idea came about and the impact it had?
Courage Incorporated was an organisation set-up to raise funds to launch a not-for-profit beer dedicated to raising funds and awareness for Motor Neurone Disease (MND).
The idea came from my brother-in-law, Dr Ian Davis, who was diagnosed with MND in 2011, at the age of 33. We raised over $45,000 for MND organisations and also launched the beer in 2012 to provide an ongoing stream of funds to raise awareness for MND.
Following this experience, Ian went on to establish FightMND in 2014, an organisation committed to finding effective treatments and ultimately a cure for MND which has raised over $30m for medical research projects.
What was your journey to impact investment?
In 2014, I went to Northeast Arnhem Land to do pro-bono work for an indigenous organisation called Gumatj. Gumatj is dedicated to setting up small scale enterprises to help provide training and employment opportunities for the local Yolgnu community.
While I was there, a 12-year-old Yolgnu girl died of septicaemia under preventable circumstances. It made me realise how lucky I am and the stark inequality that still exists in Australia. When I landed back in Melbourne, I felt what can only be described as culture shock. The little things that had felt important before, felt trivial and the day-to-day grind started to feel meaningless.
At the time I was working in management consulting with a focus on government clients. We were doing a lot of policy writing and strategic governance work but it felt like we were distant from the actual problems we were solving. We'd write a report and then it would seemingly just sit on a shelf.
I then moved into infrastructure advisory to work on projects that involved both the public and private sectors as I felt that commercial businesses could play a greater role in solving social issues and I hoped that the work would feel more tangible (e.g. through being able to see hospitals and schools being built) but progress felt slow. There seemed to be a limited ability to innovate so I started looking for more.
I felt there had to be a better, more innovative way to tackle social and environmental issues, and that commercial businesses could play an even greater role. That's when I stumbled upon Giant Leap.
Can you talk more about Giant Leap?
Giant Leap backs founders using business as a force for good. The startup sector is full of incredible people looking to leverage solid business models to solve key societal issues so IIG saw an opportunity to establish Australia's first 100% impact focused Venture Capital fund.
The fund was inspired by the leadership of Small Giants (the family office of Danny Almagor and Berry Liberman dedicated to impact investment), Kylie Charlton - an impact investment pioneer in Australia and SE Asia and Australian startup Who Gives a Crap founded by Simon Griffiths.
To me, Giant Leap facilitates the combination of things I’ve always been looking for in my work. The ability to unlock innovative, sustainable solutions to wicked social and environmental problems by embracing technology and creating commercial value.
What's been one of the most impactful ventures you've funded?
It's hard to pick one! It's like asking a parent to pick their favourite child!
We've invested in 13 companies to-date so perhaps I'll share more about our most recent investment, WORK180. WORK180 is the only platform that pre-screens employers to see how well they support women's careers. WORK180's mission is to finally put an end to workplace discrimination, so that everyone is valued equally and businesses can enjoy the benefits of a truly diverse workforce.
Our other wonderful portfolio companies can be found here: http://www.giantleapfund.vc/
I've personally heard a few people talk about the difficulties of balancing profit and impact. How have you found the companies you've invested in, and Impact Investment Group, balance this and turn this into an advantage?
Giant Leap requires startups to have their impact embedded in their business model before we can consider them for investment. That means that for every dollar of revenue generated by the business, a "unit of impact" is created so that profit and impact are in lockstep. That way, there is no trade-off between making money and delivering impact. For example, we've invested in a business called Goterra that breeds black soldier flies to consume organic waste and then the flies themselves get turned into livestock feed. It's a closed loop solution that creates revenue from managing waste and diverting it from landfill.
If you could give yourself advice 10 years ago when you were earlier in your career, what would it be?
Don't be as concerned about following rules and walking along well-trodden paths, and focus less on money. Pursue a journey of fulfilment and the rest will follow.
What's your current dream?
For us to be able to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Based on what you've seen and done, if someone wanted to follow in your steps to creating an impact, what should they do?
Making an impact is possible in every part of our lives, from our day-to-day activities (e.g. using reusable coffee cups, minimising our plastic usage, thinking about what we eat, etc) to where we put our money and what we do at work. The definition of making an impact differs for everyone so I always suggest that people start with building up their self-awareness and asking yourself questions like what are your values, what's important to you and who do you want to be. With the answers in mind, the pathway will become clearer.
And finally, where's the best place people can find out more about you and follow your journey?