Meet Pedro, Data Scientist, Entrepreneur and Startup Founder
HelloScience is constantly working to increase the ways in which we can support collaborations across ecosystems. To that end, we’re putting a major focus around how we can leverage the power of artificial intelligence and data infrastructure to help support and drive collaborations further. This month, we sit down with data scientist Pedro Parraguez to learn more about his background and vision for building stronger data and A.I. tools into the HelloScience platform in the months ahead.
Could you tell us a bit about your background and interests?
I always live in a duality between being a data researcher and applying research in society.
As a researcher, I seek to answer interesting and open-ended questions that push the boundaries of what we know. That’s what I did for quite a few years in the areas of engineering systems – analyzing things like research and development ecosystems. In these areas, I ask things like – what we can learn from the dynamics of these complex networks? Then, at the other end of the spectrum, I work trying to translate this research into tools that can be applied more directly in society and in businesses. This should also enable us to better understand how researchers work and engineers so that we can support better feedback loops.
Data Natives, Conference. 2018
Now, as an entrepreneur and start-up founder, I’m now focusing on what I call capability mapping and matchmaking. This essentially means trying to better understand what we are able to do as groups of people. In this case this means to map what scientists and engineers are working on and how we can use the building blocks they create in the past to build new things together.
For example, with HelloScience, we are building out the infrastructure that the platform is built on to add in more features that seek to use capability mapping and matchmaking elements to enhance collaboration. This is currently “work in progress” and we hope to have some great results later in the year.
How are you applying this work and research with HelloScience?
The problem that we always face is that as science and technology gets more and more complex, we increasingly end up – often building without first realizing– information or knowledge “silos” in order to manage that complexity. But we also need mechanisms to be able to see across those silos, and to do so in a smart way that helps makes the right connections between them.
The great and unique nature of HelloScience is that it naturally brings together companies and researchers with an impact first mentality. To have such an interface between the private sector, academia and NGOs is not so common, and the more you can be that interface, the more things can happen that are hard to replicate elsewhere.
“The question for us, working on behalf of the HelloScience Community, is how can we take advantage of all of the knowledge, insights and add value using data that is otherwise is dormant or that is not necessarily connected to other parts of the platform or larger R&D ecosystem.“
Working with Alfred and the HelloScience Team, we have been thinking about ways of making HelloScience smarter through what we call the ‘engine room’ or the backend infrastructure of the platform. The question for us, working on behalf of the HelloScience Community, is how can we take advantage of all of the knowledge, insights and value using data that is otherwise is dormant or is not necessarily connected to other parts of the platform or larger R&D ecosystem?
This is why we are focusing our work on capability mapping and matchmaking – so that we can build on top of the HelloScience ecosystem and make better connections both inside and outside of the platform.
What are you hoping to achieve through these collaborations?
Well, I certainly hope that we can show with the HelloScience platform that you can transform the way a company or an organization works, and how a community works, when they collaborate on very big and crucial sustainability challenges.
We believe that by getting the right combination of the current qualitative work behind the platform – the people on the ground that know how to facilitate collaborations – with a process for building more effective analytics and use data for good – we can get far more impact faster, and with the same or maybe less resources.
How will these developments change the way people engage on the HelloScience platform?
In the beginning, the work we’re doing with data and analytics will show up as relatively subtle nudges and cues like recommendations on projects you might be interested in, that will become smarter over time. All of these things are part of a gradual process, but as we go further this year and next year, we should be able to see that the recommendations become increasingly more effective in fostering meaningful insights, relationships and collaborations.
And from there, we should also start bringing in more people, projects, and knowledge from outside the core of the existing HelloScience community – for example: research outputs or mentorship connections that are highly relevant for what a user within the platform is looking at, just at the right the moment to give new perspectives and insights.
That is definitely something I’m very much looking forward to seeing play a role on the platform – because it’s not about quantity, really, it’s about quality. And that focus on the quality of the interactions and concrete real-world impact is at the heart of HelloScience.
The United States Council for International Businesses (USCIB) is a key global leadership and advocacy organization, comprising a membership of 300+ multinational businesses and representing around a third of all Fortune 500 companies. It is a key voice in international sustainability and policy. This month, we spoke with Norine Kennedy – Senior Vice President, Policy and Global Strategy, at the USCIB – where she is the lead environment, energy and climate change expert for the organization, promoting U.S. business participation in international environmental policy.
You’ve been working at the forefront of sustainability and business innovation for over 20 years – could you share a bit about what has driven and inspired you and shaped your journey? What are the biggest insights and learnings you’ve gained along the way? What do you foresee as the biggest opportunities and challenges for business innovation around issues of sustainability and climate – currently and moving into the future?
Norine: There is a tongue in cheek turn of phrase that probably applies to almost anyone who spends their time in New York where I’m based: “The journey of 1,000 steps actually begins with the words – I know a shortcut.” Well, I learned early on in my career that there is no shortcut when it comes to advancing sustainability. And I also realized you should never be discouraged by political headwinds, by slow decision-making, or by setbacks or roadblocks. Even more than the passion to make a difference, the pursuit of sustainability requires you to make a double commitment: to innovation and to perseverance.
For me, sustainable development is the ultimate expression of international relations, which was the focus of my studies in university. While much of that academic coursework seemed primarily concerned with conflict and hegemony, what really fascinated me were the much rarer possibilities for progress when 190+ countries succeeded in working together. And I think that’s one of the reasons that the UN’s 2030 Agenda – which was agreed by all UN Member States and includes the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Climate Agreement and Financing for Development – is so important. I have long paid close attention to opportunities for collective ingenuity and problem solving – even among diverse and disparate actors — directed at making the world better for everyone. This is my vision of what multilateralism should aim for, because without it, advancing the sustainability agenda is simply impossible.
“Even more than the passion to make a difference, the pursuit of sustainability requires you to make a double commitment: to innovation and to perseverance.”
And the rapid speed of change in the space, the levels of complexity involved have shown me time and again the importance of taking a step back to see the big picture of sustainable development. Different viewers see different elements, and each time we look, we notice something else that wasn’t visible before: and especially as science progresses, and as big data becomes widely accessible, the international community is developing a clearer understanding of what it needs to focus on, and how it can make a positive contribution – for example to the fabric of biodiversity, or to addressing the impacts of a changing climate.
Having spent a lot of time with leaders and colleagues from some of the World’s largest businesses, who have often travelled long distances and given up weekends to participate in some of the key processes and negotiations that have shaped the Sustainability landscape we now have in front of us, I am convinced that business is a central and under-appreciated agent for sustainability in society and in the multilateral system. While some assert that business is concerned only with the short term, my experience is just the opposite. A business cannot simply embrace the status quo and expect to be successful for very long – insights, innovation, and investment are required, across all of the economy, as well as all of society.
I feel fortunate to have worked and to be able to continue to work with business visionaries in every sector, not just in the United States where I am based, but also through the global business organizations that USCIB is linked with – the International Chamber of Commerce, Business at OECD and the International Organization of Employers. Between us we represent over 50 million businesses of all sizes, and over 1 billion employees, which gives you some idea of the impact – and responsibility – these organizations have to engage with Sustainability issues.
“Between us we represent over 50 million businesses of all sizes, and over 1 billion employees, which gives you some idea of the impact – and responsibility – these organizations have to engage with Sustainability issues.”
Starting from the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and onward through further UN sustainability conferences in Johannesburg and then back in Rio, a small but ever growing community of what I would describe as “business diplomats” has emerged. Each of them of course represents and supports their own organization but they also work collectively – as they are innovators, solutions providers, and partners to deliver sustainable development. It is this diversity of sector, perspective and expertise, as well as the approach to inclusiveness and balanced representation that makes this community special, and especially capable of appreciating and tackling multi-faceted sustainability challenges, such as those set out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
I have also observed – and I hope, helped inform — the change in attitude and practice towards business that we see in those international institutions across the United Nations system. In the early days of the UN climate negotiations in the early 90s, participation by business groups and many individual businesses was not viewed or perceived positively. Through a long process of dialogue, and ongoing efforts that continue to today, and as a direct result of businesses increasing their understanding of the challenges and opportunities that exist in this space, it is now pro-active businesses, including many USCIB members, who are leading the charge for market-based approaches to climate change and calling for ambitious net-zero targets.
The UN recently convened the annual Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Forum for the SDGs – what were your key takeaways from the gathering? What do you see as the most promising opportunities around Science, Technology and Innovation in building resilient, sustainable futures as we build back beyond the pandemic?
This year’s UN STI Forum put a spotlight on the imperative of strengthening the interface across science and policymaking with business and society, especially as the international community both addresses the pandemic and its impacts and plans for a sustainable recovery. A takeaway was that the international community needs to broaden its cooperation with the private sector to deploy innovations in healthcare, the digital economy, and across all 17 SDGs.
Simply put, the extraordinary potential of private sector innovation for sustainable development calls for extraordinary international cooperation.
“Simply put, the extraordinary potential of private sector innovation for sustainable development calls for extraordinary international cooperation.”
While private sector innovation and engagement has leapt ahead, for example during the pandemic with vaccines and treatments, or with new approaches to make work and education accessible for many during lockdowns, public-private-research partnerships are in the spotlight as never before, including several within the UN system.
As we continue to build understanding and approaches towards Sustainability in a post-Covid context, I would suggest that multi-stakeholder initiatives like the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) point the way to leveraging scientific innovation and understanding, wherever it is found, across academia, in the business community or in connection with citizen science.
How do you see the role of business innovation in working toward the SDGs? How has business innovation contributed thus far? How might we continue to improve and expand the role of business innovation in achieving the SDGs as we work toward the 2030 deadline?
Multilateralism continues to be a must in today’s society and global marketplace. It continues to deliver important benefits to people all over the world, and to business. However, the current approach to multilateralism is not living up to its full potential, and the pandemic has raised the difficulty level significantly, requiring even more so an all hands on deck approach, especially for the private sector.
“The current approach to multilateralism is not living up to its full potential, and the pandemic has raised the difficulty level significantly, requiring even more so an all hands on deck approach, especially for the private sector.”
A recent report by the UN Secretary General, “Progress Towards the SDGs” shows that efforts towards the SDGs have been knocked off track, and that hard won progress in key development areas has lost ground in many parts of the world: poverty eradication, access to education and gender equality, among others. And these issues aren’t just important for political leaders – they go to the heart of empowering our economies as well.
Recovering sustainably in the Decade of Action and Delivery will require a stronger than ever business commitment and enhanced meaningful engagement. The private sector has to be seen, fully accepted and recognized as an essential partner in building back better – a source not only of funding, but also of innovation and its deployment, expertise, technology, fresh ideas, and diverse perspectives of business and employers. It has earned the right to be part of those conversations, with actions to back up words. But now it can, must and will do more.
With less than ten years until 2030 climate and sustainability targets are due, driving the SDGs forward and building back stronger together must now go hand in hand. We have seen what innovative business is capable of when confronted by what seem to be unsurmountable challenges, such as climate change, or the COVID-19 crisis. The private sector has been at the forefront of tackling the pandemic through innovation and stepping forward – from the historic race to develop vaccines through Project Warp Speed, to opening up business premises to production of personal protection equipment (PPE) and vaccination campaigns, to training and educating employees on public health and safety, for example through USCIB’s Business Partners to Convince initiative.
“With less than ten years until 2030 climate and sustainability targets are due, driving the SDGs forward and building back stronger together must now go hand in hand. “
What perhaps excites and energizes me the most is that over the past few years in particular multilateral organizations such as the UN and its agencies have realized and an initiated a process of institutional evolution that will enable them to work more closely with business and other stakeholders. If we are to really “leave no one behind,” the UN must now accelerate opportunities and channels to bring business and other important societal actors to the table. Now is the time for inclusive “hands on” multilateralism, to engage all sectors of business, and to inform decision making, innovation and investments for the decades to come.
The need for business to be involved and to make a positive contribution was true nearly 30 years ago at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio, and it is true today as we look ahead to COP26 in Glasgow. We must tackle all of society’s challenges using best private sector systems-thinking, as well as doing, which simply put means putting business purpose and innovation into action. Looking ahead, I will continue championing private sector innovation as the catalyst for sustainability and to make the case for inclusive multilateralism for scale and impact. And while there is (still) no shortcut, the steps forward to make the world more sustainable are as vital as ever, and I am looking forward to continuing the journey.
About Norine Kennedy
With over 20 years’ experience as USCIB’s lead environment, energy and climate change expert, Norine Kennedy promotes U.S. business participation in international environmental policy and management initiatives, and works closely with industry, government and NGOs to promote sustainable development and green growth. She also spearheads USCIB’s strategic international engagement initiative, which seeks to advance meaningful business participation and regulatory diplomacy in inter-governmental organizations, and focuses on increasing accountability of international institutions regarding business interests.
In addition to staffing USCIB’s 120 company Environment Committee, Kennedy represents business in environmental discussions at the UN and OECD. She was a business observer at the UN’s 1992 Earth Summit in Rio and served on the U.S. delegation to the Rio+20 summit in 2012. She regularly participates in meetings of the UN Environment Programme and UN deliberations on the Sustainable Development Goals and Post-2015 Development Agenda, and in negotiating sessions for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Kennedy joined USCIB in 1991, having served at the World Environment Center as project manager in its corporate programs department. She holds a master’s degree in international environmental policy from Claremont Graduate School, and a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Wellesley College.
Exclusive for the HelloScience community Kromann Reumert shares insights on how to get your team organized and ready for investments
Exclusive for the HelloScience community Kromann Reumert shares insights on how you secure intellectual property
Exclusive for the HelloScience community Kromann Reumert shares legal insights on how to protect personal data and GDPR compliance
In building a more sustainable world, imagination is key. We must envision new futures and find creative ways to bring those ideas to life. As an illustrator and artist, I spend my days delving into the imagination, to give energy and vision to the stories and people that make up the HelloScience community. Over the past months, I’ve dedicated my creative energies and ideas to illustrating and designing the HelloScience 2020 Annual Report. My hope is that the visuals illustrations, design complement the content, and can help expand the way we reflect on our journey, catalyzing new and imaginative ideas for how we might keep building together.
On behalf of the whole HelloScience team, I’m excited to share the HelloScience 2020 Annual Report. Here’s to the power of imagination and creativity in building sustainable futures, together!
Julia & the HelloScience Team
Since 2017, Novozymes and HelloScience and its Community of Stakeholders have been exploring new approaches and models to collaborate and innovate. The COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed new opportunities to build on this work, including helping to reshape the way we think about cleaning.
What began as a series of dialogues built around our Future of Clean Livelab in 2020 have now grown into an exciting new initiative between Novozymes, Gladsaxe Kommune (Municipality), the startup Aks2Tal and a group of five major corporations in the Kommune. In early May they’ll launch a 6-week pilot project to test a new microbial cleaning solution which could pave the way toward new, innovative forms of cleaning – as well as the way cleaning agents and ingredients are produced in the future. You can read the full details about the pilot in the press release Professional cleaning companies collaborate to evaluate the benefit of probiotics in green cleaning, in response to COVID-19.
“The COVID-19 crisis has motivated collaboration among rival cleaning companies to explore the effect of Novozymes’ new probiotic cleaning product in trials hosted by five companies across Gladsaxe Municipality, Denmark.”
Alfred Birkegaard from the HelloScience Team and sat down with Gladsaxe Kommune’s Business Innovation Manager Freja Ludvigsen to discuss the pilot and how it might play a role in ushering in new forms of open innovation and collaboration in the district and beyond.
Gladsaxe Kommune has built a robust business community, as home to 3600 businesses of all sizes – from corporates, like Novozymes, to startups. In the wake of the pandemic, Freja contemplated how the Kommune might support businesses in building back better.
“I got this idea that the service industry and the hygiene and cleaning industry would somehow be essential for us to build back better; that we should focus on some kind of innovation that would ensure that we could come back to normal, in a sustainable way.”
In collaboration with Alfred and the HelloScience team, Freja worked to connect a small group of companies and kickstart a dialogue around creating an open innovation process that could then explore new approaches to sustainable cleaning.
“With Covid-19, cleaning became about more than just health and safety – also the freedom to come back to work, the freedom to be together. And what we could see was the opportunity to take this open innovation approach and then ask an open question – ‘what is the future of cleaning?’
That question led to a series of incredibly productive meetings between the Kommune and the companies, which in turn gave rise to the idea of conducting a pilot to test new microbial cleaning solutions. Freja continued; “There is an increasing sense of responsibility amongst companies to take care of the environment and the people in the environment as well – and this sense of responsibility was greatly accelerated by COVID-19. So when companies focus on that responsibility, instead of focusing solely on the return of investment in the economic bottom line, then that is in itself a game changer. With that sense of responsibility driving them, they can more easily collaborate around a broader sustainability agenda.”
Alfred added his perspectives and insights:
“When we focus on ‘grand challenges’ – such as the future of cleaning – all stakeholders involved are stepping into the unknown, and it’s really not business as usual. You have to open up mindsets and think about how you can actually put these pieces together. So it’s kind of a perfect opportunity and landscape for innovation, but the tricky thing is how to facilitate and make that collaboration happen.”
Freja shared her experiences around the question of facilitation:
“I realized that my biggest contribution in this process was my approach to facilitating with a lot of trust, with a lot of empathy, with a lot of diversity and openness about our different roles in this ecosystem, our responsibility to each other in this ecosystem – one where we can strive for the same aspiration and goals, and passion to succeed.”
As Gladsaxe Kommune, Novozymes and the other collaborators involved prepare to begin their pilot on May 3, the HelloScience team wishes them well with their efforts.
We’ll be back next month with an update on the pilot. Stay tuned!
HelloScience Annual Report
With nearly half a century of combined experience between them, Ilanit Kabessa-Cohen and Dr. Uri Weinheber share their unique views on the nouvelle cuisine that is investments, innovation, corporates & startups.
From the startup nation of Israel, and as new partners of Novozymes, in a special interview for HelloScience, they look at the different ingredients – of multinational corporates, science, innovative technologies and food – that can drive successful venturing in the food tech space.
‘Feeding the Future’ is a reference to the rising global trend within traditional and conservative food industry towards a healthier and environmental-aware future using advanced technology and science – foodtech.
Why Food Tech? What is so unique in this industry – that attracts both corporates and investors to this space?
Weinheber: I think that there are at least three trends driving the food tech industry and making it so attractive to investors and innovators and driving innovation in the agri-food segments: 1) The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 2) Growth of information technology and 3) Public awareness.
First, the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) adopted by the UN back in 2015, represent a major change in the market, and food, wellbeing and nutrition are playing a key role in the SDGs.
The SDGs reflect changes in global priorities and more funds and efforts are directed to develop solutions for these challenges – especially as many players across sectors and governments focus on issues such as SDG 2 (Zero Hunger). There is also growing focus around these issues through their connection to climate via the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Food Systems and Nutrition Summit that will happen later this year.
At the same time, we are seeing huge growth of information technologies in general and specifically data science, AI and ML (artificial intelligence, machine learning). These technological capabilities offer major advantages to the market segments where they are applied and open a wide range of opportunities in optimization and improvement of existing tools and processes.
I would also highlight the change of public awareness, the end customers and consumers, where healthy nutrition and wellbeing are more important than ever before – and where the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed this trend even further.
Kabessa-Cohen: The other side of the coin are the AgriFood industry players, who are driving the movement toward new technologies and investments from within.
It’s worth remembering that the industrialized food sector as we know it today was born during World War II when there was a need to feed many people with very little resources, especially fighting troops.
This 1st wave of food technologies was focused on food preservation and the creation of shelf stable packaged food. The globalization of food multinationals in the 80’s and 90’s brought along the 2nd wave, linked with increasing efficiency of mass production, automation, and operational and marketing excellence. This industry “modus operandi” which was established over the years gave many populations worldwide access to affordable food. At the same time, we became aware of the side effects of the unhealthy ingredients and the rise food-related diseases, not just in terms of potential issues such as Salmonella but also diabetes as well as conditions and illnesses potentially triggered by poor diets. The very recent Covid-19 pandemic exposed the crucial and interlinked relations between people’s health, planetary health and our food systems. The size and the gravity of the problem is now recognized by the wide agri-food industry and the whole world. That’s why we are seeing an accelerated effort to develop and adopt new food & nutrition technologies. These includes plant-based foods, alternative proteins, healthy ingredients, waste-to-value technologies, computer vision solutions across the value chain, controlled environment systems (vertical farms), bio-foods (cell-based), and more. It’s a moment of disruption in the agri-food industry and an opportunity to create healthy and sustainable solutions via new technologies – and new growth opportunities.
“It’s a moment of disruption in the agri-food industry and an opportunity to create healthy and sustainable solutions via new technologies – and new growth opportunities”
About Uri & Ilanit
Dr. Uri Weinheber is an experienced investor and a venturing expert, with a long track record of VC investments and acceleration of technological startups.
Weinheber’s investments include RedisLabs, a $2 Billion software startup, TalkSpace, a $1.4 Billion tele-therapy startup, Traffix, a telecom startup acquired by F5, Corrigon, a software startup acquired by eBay, ChameleonX, a media software startup acquired by Akamai, and many others.
Weinheber served as CEO and managing partner at the Time Group, one of the largest early-stage investment groups in Israel, as partner at Cathay Innovation, a global VC fund, as an investments advisor to Michelin (automotive), Dole (agri-food), Bazan (Energy) and many others. He is also a 3-time winner of ‘The Best Incubator in Israel” award from the Israeli Ministry of Economics.
Ilanit Kabessa-Cohen is an agri-foodtech expert, Venturing & Innovation leader with a proven track record earned over the past 20 years. Career positions include: Head of Dole Ventures, Head of Innovation and Digital Business unit, Nestle, and Head of Nestle Open Innovation Hub in Israel. All positions were founded and established by Ilanit, including building the unit, processes, team and end-to-end responsibilities.
The two experts work together for more than a decade and combine their expertise: Kabessa-Cohen brings foodtech, corporate innovation and trend analysis skills, and Weinheber adds his investments expertise, working with startups and venturing experience. Together they team up to provide a multi-dimensional growth engine
Looking back, what is the difference between the current state of investment and innovation as compared to the previous decades?
Kabessa-Cohen: My own innovation journey over the past 20 years and my collaboration with Uri along the last decade, is somehow a reflection of the evolution of corporate innovation models next to cahnge in investment models. From internal innovation at Nestle and the rise of open innovation models, to corporate venturing at Dole and at NovoProteins by Novozymes.
Around a decade ago the prevalent model was one of internal innovation. Then the industry realized that growth, typically in low single digits, was not sufficient. The Open innovation wave that followed drove companies to experiment with outside-in technologies, recognizing – over time – the gap and complexities between corporates and startups and long lead time to business value. The corporate venturing model is an advanced hybrid approach and response to that. We’re working to connect corporates’ strategic business targets with external collaborators to build win-win partnerships, while applying funding and support mechanisms which are more typical in the Venture Capital world. This requires a new type of inter-disciplinary knowledge at the interface between corporates, startups and the ecosystem around them, as well as a new set of tools to deliver results.
“This requires a new type of inter-disciplinary knowledge at the interface between corporates, startups and the ecosystem around them and a new set of tools to deliver results“
Weinheber: The most important recent shift in the innovation & investment landscape is the new position of the global corporates, the role they’re taking and the risks they are willing to take. Large companies now understand, more than ever before, that growth and growth engines are driven by their ability to be innovative, to invest in young promising startups, to find synergistic technologies in their ecosystem. We live in an increasingly open and innovative world and global corporates understand that, and they are increasingly acting upon this opportunity.
The corporate venturing model has more than one single form of activity. These include direct investments in innovative startups; investments in VC funds- mainly ones that work in a specific and/or synergistic market segments ; Open innovation labs, supporting collaboration methodologies with technological startups ; MNC collaborations, where several corporates work together in a consortium to support innovative startups in a specific field ; Partnerships between public and private (corporate) organizations to fund and back innovative research and development ; Joint Ventures, CVC’s and more.
The bottom line is that when you apply the right tools, for a Multi-National Corporate, the results can come much more quickly and effectively.
“The most important recent shift in the innovation & investment landscape is the new position of global corporates, the roles they’re taking and the risks they are willing to take“
Uri, we see in your background that you are very much involved in Impact Investments and Ventures. Can you share your views on these?
Weinheber: For many years impact investments were seen as a philanthropic act, as most of those impact investments showed low rates of return and limited success. But this has changed in the last few years. We all now understand that doing good, supporting important values, enabling environmental technologies and climate positive innovations can generate not only a better world for us all, but can also generate positive business models and profitable activities. I’m involved in impact investments in agriculture, renewable energy, environmental safety technologies and many others, and I see many corporates and VC funds following these models whilst still aiming for a strong Return on Investment (ROI).
How do you identify a good investment in young startups? What’s the secret?
Weinheber: It is true that young startups are often harder to analyze, and much more than mature startups where results – revenues, profitability, experience from previous investment rounds, market acceptance, growth rates – are keys in the assessment processes. But from the dozens of investments I’ve led over the years, you learn what to look for and what questions need to be asked. There are many factors at play but the first thing is always the team, and then trends in the market, the uniqueness of the technology, the competitive advantage over existing and future competition, strength of the IP (intellectual property) – and when you get the full picture, investment processes are made easier. It is never a walk in the park, but by building out a professional assessment analysis, the process is easier and more effective.
Kabessa-Cohen: Based on Uri’s many years of successful investments and on my expertise in analyzing trends and consumers behaviour, together we built an analytical toolbox to analyze business and technology opportunities. We’re using multiple AI tools covering multiple angles to create an holistic view and provides rigorous, systemic process to guide and inform scenario planning. In short, we’re enabling digitized decision making, enabling us to enhance the quality of our work.
About Uri & Ilanit
Ilanit has developed innovation and collaboration portfolios for over 20 brands, bringing hundreds of products to market. She has been working in the Agri-Food startup scene since its nascent days and is an instrumental member as co-founder of the Israeli Agri-FoodTech ecosystem as well as an active player in the Global Agri-FoodTech VC scene.
Uri’s academic background is rooted in STS studies (Science, Technology & Society) and his PhD research investigated the influence and inter-correlations between digital technologies development and social & regulation changes.
Weinheber’s book (Techno.Human, Resling Books Publishing, 2020) sheds new light on the blurring lines between humans and information technologies, and the one-way process of shifting responsibilities from humans to digital technology.
What do you both bring from the Israeli ecosystem to global activities of venturing and investments?
Weinheber: The Israeli innovation environment is very present in our day-to-day life – and has been for decades. In fact, it is part of our culture. Startups in Israel are everywhere – around 7000 startups for a population of 9 million people is amazing. People are open minded and are willing to take risks, to learn from their mistakes, to try, fail and try again, to challenge conventions.
This is a very innovation-friendly mindset and entrepreneur–supportive mentality. Innovation is often seen as a must-have ingredient in all types of companies, and this counter-conservative approach generates interesting business and technological opportunities. we try to bring this open-minded notion to the global venturing and investment activities, and we find that the crossroad of innovation openness and traditional corporates can generate smart, fast moving, efficient growth engines. Corporate venture capital – CVCs – are an efficient vehicle that align financial and strategic upsides for multinational corporates and are becoming ever more involved in startups ecosystem, mainly in their growth phases.
You have worked for many years to foster collaborations between the global corporate world and the innovative young startups. What makes this space so attractive and desirable in your view?
Weinheber: Yes, you are pointing out a very important aspect of what we do. I think that young technology startups, even if they are very innovative, talented and experienced, very often fall short and miss their targets when approaching the market. They often lack the resources, the experience, they lack the global positioning, and the network. On the other hand, multinational corporates, MNCs, have all this, but they lack the entrepreneurial spirit, they lack the spark, the innovative products and technology, they usually move too slow and they fail in delivering on time to market needs.
When you connect these two different types of companies, the fast speedboat startup and the heavy solid corporate ship, good things happen. If you do it in a smart way, if you combine their advantages and help them work together, it’s a win-win collaboration, it’s a profitable alliance, it’s what we call the ‘one plus one is ten’ model. It’s not an easy task to assess opportunities, make the right connections and provide a supportive infrastructure, but we have been doing this for years now and when it’s done right and done well the end results are amazing.
“It’s a win-win collaboration, it’s a profitable alliance, it’s what we call the ‘one plus one is ten’ model“
Where is this all heading? How will the technology investment world look like in the coming years? What will the next trends look like?
Weinheber: Niels Bohr – the Danish physicist – I think said that it’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future!. But I think that several aspects of emerging trends can already be seen and that will impact the coming years.
I believe that we’ll see more and more corporate funds involved in innovative technology investments and building future growth engines. I think that we’ll see more investments in AI and machine learning technologies in low-tech segments: AI and ML will change the food industry, the agriculture, the industrial market, building and infrastructure, energy and supply chains.
The hierarchy of global values is also changing and hence supportive technologies are being developed – so we’ll see more corporate and governmental investment in environmentally friendly technologies, health and nutrition technologies will boom and as I said before – impact investments will become a central segment in the investments world and triple bottom lines (financial, environmental and social) will be seen as a “must have” rather than a side benefit.
Furthermore, changes in investment priorities will not only generate better companies and better return on those investments, but will also help us shape a better world, and I think that’s great news.
Kabessa-Cohen: There is a global need to feed growing populations, and provide a healthy diet within our planet boundaries. The World Economic Forum has predicted that we will need to double our protein production to meet the needs of 10 Billion people in 2050.
One of the greatest growth opportunities in the foodtech sector is the fermentation derived alternative protein space. This is the sometime referred to as the rise of bio-foods, harnessing the power of biology to create new and sustainable food sources. With key capabilities in place today, and with long heritage in fermentation, companies like Novozymes are well positioned in the fermentation-derived advanced protein space.
Another interesting trend is waste-to value, utilizing agri waste, food waste or by-products of agri-food production to create new applications. Dairy by-products can become sustainable packaging, fruits peels become nutritious ingredients, vegetables leftovers becomes spray to extend the shelf life of fresh produce and much more. What McDonough & Braungart envisioned as “Cradle to cradle” 20 years ago is becoming a reality – this is the real dawn of the circular economy.
We will see also more multinationals accelerating their efforts in developing healthier and sustainable solutions in the agrifood sector. However, one company alone cannot make the change needed in this massive 8 Trillion dollar industry. The size of the problem and the size of the opportunity are so massive that it requires inter-disciplinary knowledge, innovation-investment expertise, multi-stakeholder collaborations and multi-funding approaches.