At the InnoFrugal 2019 conference on 7 and 8 May in Helsinki, I learned about the funding and resources that make circular economies possible. It was an interesting experience for me because I didn’t clearly understand who participates in this type of financing. What is their motivation? The researchers, investors, and entrepreneurs provided useful insight into this growing field.
The mission of the InnoFrugal conference is to “Deliver Impact by engaging investors, public & private sectors along with other non-profits to respond to the limitations in resources and turn these constraints into innovative ideas and quality, accessible, affordable and sustainable solutions for realizing the US SDGs” (www.innofrugal.com).
I asked Venkata Gandikota, founding partner of Vault Impact and lead organizer of InnoFrugal Conference why he began the program in 2014. He explained that he wanted to bring greater awareness to this very viable industry. In his opinion, there are great opportunities for investors to find projects with high quality but low cost for implementation. In particular, developing countries need the support of these entrepreneurs and investors to solve very practical problems. And there can be a return on these projects for investors. It should not be considered aid or philanthropy. He also noted that opportunities exist in developed countries who are trying to find innovations to solve infrastructure and logistics problems.
During the conference there were many references to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which seem to create a guide for the various types of impact investment projects. The SDGs were enacted on 1 January 2016 with the purpose to “mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.” The target date for achieving the 17 SDGs is 2030. The UN also has an affiliate program which assists firms who chose to invest responsibly. The Principles for Responsible Investing (www.unpri.org) “works to understand the investment implications of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors and to support its international network of investor signatories in incorporating these factors into their investment and ownership decisions”. It was created by Kofi Annan in 2005 and has grown to include over 2250 signatories around the world.
The speakers and panel participants at InnoFrugal 2019 included representation from both the private and public sectors. HE Mrs. Vani Rao, the Ambassador of India to Finland and Estonia, spoke about the ways India is using digital technology to create social benefits. This lead to a presentation by Arun Sharma, COO & Chief Platform Architect at Smart Village Movement, a non-profit registered in India. He discussed the company’s status as a research project for Berkeley Haas Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation and their efforts to identify innovations for rural communities in India. He announced a call to action for any entrepreneurs who are ready to present solutions for key pain points in India’s rural economy.
From Finland, Markku Heino of Business Finland and Spinverse along with Kaisa Arkkila of Finnpartnership/Finnfund discussed a partnership to fund Finnish companies interested in internationalization to Emerging Markets. Finnpartnership offers consulting services, financing and matchmaking to support business who are “profitable and responsible, the activities ideally creating a cycle that reinforces positive development” (www.finnpartnership.fi). For example, market information and support is available for Somalia, Egypt, Vietnam and Kenya.
For both emerging markets and developed nations, topics on frugal innovations included sustainable forestry, affordable healthcare and advanced mobility. Elina Kajosaari of Avanto Ventures discussed the unique Mobility City Campus ecosystem underway in Rotterdam, Holland. “Its goal is to bring together all stakeholders in the mobility (transportation) ecosystem in one location, to develop and showcase cutting-edge innovations that will shape the transportation of both people and commodities for decades to come. (www.investholland.com).
In all, the InnoFrugal conference presented information on frugal innovation from all perspectives of circular economy. It gave insight into successful investment projects, current needs, and potential partners for research and funding. While the concept of impact investing may still be in its early stages, it seems evident that Finland will want to encourage more conversations like this if it wants to be considered a leader of global technology and innovation. The planning for InnoFrugal 2020 is already underway.