For the past three years the global financial powerhouse has been helping high-growth entrepreneurs create jobs of tomorrow through a unique multi-year partnership with the Unreasonable Group.
Can profit and purpose co-exist? And if so, is it imperative for the companies of tomorrow to look beyond just increasing shareholder value? If you are of the view that this is indeed possible, then you would agree that the next set of global business powerhouses will come from among those that are today striving to solve some of mankind's most pressing challenges. These include food and energy security, job creation and building a more sustainable planet.
And, you are not alone if you think doing good can also be good for business. In a study of over 1,000 global CEOs published in September by United Nations Global Compact and Accenture Strategy, 88% said that global economic systems need to refocus on equitable growth. Meanwhile, 78% of CEOs from both Asian and North American businesses believe we need to decouple economic growth from the use of natural resources and environmental degradation.
While many of the larger companies may find it daunting to take up this mammoth challenge, Barclays is one such company that is walking the talk. For the past three years the three-century-old global financial powerhouse has been helping high-growth entrepreneurs create jobs of tomorrow through a unique multi-year partnership with the Unreasonable Group. The partnership - Unreasonable Impact - starts with an accelerator programme, held in select geographies across the world, to support the scale of growth-stage ventures. It provides entrepreneurs with the resources, mentorship and global network of support that they need to rapidly create jobs and address key global issues.
“Barclays recognises the role of innovation to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges" said Jaideep Khanna - Head of Barclays, Asia Pacific Region. “And so, the Unreasonable Impact partnership is helping dynamic, fast-growing companies to scale up their businesses. This enables them to address key social and environmental issues, while at the same time creating employment opportunities".
In the first three years, the accelerator programme has supported 94 ventures across three regions – Americas, UK & Europe and the Asia Pacific. The results were swift. Between them, these companies have created more than 20,000 net new jobs, reached 187 million customers and generated more than $1.9 billion in revenue.
This year, the programme has identified 15 entrepreneurs from the Asia Pacific region, all of whom are solving significant challenges at scale. Take the example of String Bio from Bengaluru, India which is solving not one, but two problems – reducing the concentration of methane, a greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere, while developing a sustainable protein to meet the rapidly rising animal and human food requirements. The bio tech company has developed a unique process to produce protein at scale, which is significantly more efficient than the current industry standard.
“Today, we have several patents to our name and are now looking to set up manufacturing units. We will start with animal protein, then eventually get into human food and cosmetics as well," said Vinod Kumar, co-founder of String Bio. Vinod, who co-founded the company with his wife Ezhil Subbian, spent several years in stealth mode refining the technology. Today, as he prepares to hit the market, Vinod's primary challenge is to find the right partners to licence production - a hugely capital intensive affair.
It is just not India. Right across the Bay of Bengal, Peetachai “Neil" Dejkraisak was bitten by the start-up bug while finishing up at business school. Soon after, he started Jasberry, a company that aims to help poor, small-scale farmers and enhance food security through high yield, organic products. Jasberry follows a unique cooperative farming model with standardised processes and access to finance which has led to a wide network of 2,500 farmers in Thailand. The business is already profitable, and has led to an increase in daily income for farmers from $0.4 to $6 a day. Its first product - Jasberry rice - is a non-GMO super food that has been developed by Thai scientists through cross breeding over 10 years.
"Today, I have a supply-side problem where I am not able to meet the demand from markets such as the US and Europe. I need to scale efficiently. I am keen to explore cooperative farming partnerships in countries such as India," said Neil, while adding that he has plans to launch other products such as quinoa and even pasta in the future.
String Bio and Jasberry are part of a new wave of purposeful enterprises with a proven record. But they have to overcome certain obstacles if they are to be successful in their mission. This is where management wisdom from some of the world's largest and most successful companies - such as Barclays - can play a pivotal role.
“We are taking a shot at fixing some of the largest social and environmental challenges that we have today. There is no shortage of ideas, but very few individuals will risk everything. And that is what we are looking for," Daniel Epstein, CEO of Unreasonable Group, comments. Investors are also looking for these individuals and their positive impact companies as they increasingly look to incorporate environmental and social factors into their investment strategies “There is also no shortage of capital, so through Unreasonable Impact we’re supporting the entrepreneurs to connect with new strategic partners," Epstein added.
Last month, the 15 founders from the new group met at Singapore for a two-week long intensive programme. Here mentors and industry specialists led brainstorming sessions to solve the unique growth challenges that vary across functions -from operations, supply chain and finance, to market development and brand positioning.
Every session is intended to forge a strong sense of community, with daily life at a programme centred around a belief that business is fundamentally about people, partnerships and relationships.