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[Bilan] - How Can We Bridge The Gap Between Capital And Social Innovation For A Sustainable Future?

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

Last week, I was invited to take part in Startupfest, one of the must-attend events on the Canadian startup scene. The Mouvement des accélérateurs d'innovation du Québec held a special place at the event, with its Acceleratorfest.

I took advantage of this opportunity to immerse myself in the Quebec innovation ecosystem, meeting representatives from numerous incubators and gas pedals, including Fonder Fuel, which was holding its demo day that week, the entrepreneurial base at HEC, La Piscine, Concordia's District3, the MTLab for innovation in tourism hosted at UQAM, and CEIM and CENTECH, a key tech venue linked to ETS.

Unsurprisingly, as in my student days (over 20 years ago!), I was welcomed with open arms, in a spirit of sharing and collaboration. I think it's fair to say that HES-SO Geneva and -Pulse have found a new audience, interested in our pre-incubation approach and curious to discover our innovative entrepreneurial nuggets.

After participating in several panels alongside Richard Chenier from Centech and Marwall Helfitess from Station F, mentoring startups and attending some fascinating talks, I nevertheless ended the week with one question on my mind: how can we reconcile the interests of capitalist investors with the need to support startups tackling climate and social issues?

The words of a Canadian investor still resonate with me: "We are capitalists after all, we look for return on the capital we invest (!)". Although this is fundamental in the capitalist system, I was proud to represent Switzerland in this North American ecosystem, aware of our lead in the field of impact.

Our Climate Act, which promotes innovation and strengthens the economy's efforts in this area, the launch of LEVO by E4S, an impact assessment tool that is transforming the way startups measure success, and the support of Innosuisse, which is committed to sustainability, all lead me to make this statement: "We are human after all".

By integrating corporate social responsibility (CSR) considerations into their decisions, investors could focus on climate-friendly objectives, while supporting sustainable growth. Returns on investment might be lower in the short term, but in the long term, everyone would benefit.

It's audacious to imagine the harmonization of these two worlds, but that's what entrepreneurship is all about, so let's be audacious!

My meeting with Quebec innovation players reinforced this feeling that incubators and gas pedals play a crucial role in this movement, by setting up collaborative programs focused specifically on climate and social issues. In addition to the valuable advice and mentoring they provide to start-ups, they also provide infrastructure and a solid network.

But financing the most promising projects must also be considered, and this is where the public and private sectors must join forces to foster healthy, sustainable growth.

Governments can encourage investors to fund these types of startups by offering tax breaks, subsidies and promoting partnerships at major awards, such as those presented at the end of Startupfest. By aligning public resources with private capital, it is possible to accelerate the growth of impact startups and facilitate the transition to a sustainable future.

The festival featured a number of awards, highlighting companies that embody this vision and counterbalancing the ultra-capitalist rhetoric of some panels.

Among my favorites:

Ora Medical received the Women in Technology award with $100,000 from The Firehood and an additional $210,000 from BDC Capital (Canada) and other crowd partners!

Congratulations also to Lara Emond, founder of Quebec startup Iris + Arlo, for the Impact grant from the FTQ fund.

Other startups from HEC's entrepreneurial base included Vega BioImaging, rewarded by Front Row Ventures, which is developing an immunolabeling technology to improve the detection of therapeutic targets in cancer, as well as ÁCARA, and CapmAI for their NextAI - Best Startup awards.

There was also the announcement of Lab Excelles, endowed with $100 million by the BDC, which will invest in companies run by women seeking to make a positive social impact.

ÁCARA, rewarded by NextAI, whose Carbon Farming software will help farmers practice sustainable agriculture while generating new revenues.

It is essential to create opportunities for knowledge sharing and cross-fertilization between startups focused on capital growth and those tackling climate and social challenges. Events bringing together startups, gas pedals, public authorities and investors play a crucial role in this dynamic, fostering networking, ideation and collaboration.

Encouraging dialogue and partnerships between all stakeholders enables the exchange of ideas, technologies and best practices, accelerating the transition to more sustainable investments.

As in Canada, the question of regions is as crucial as it is in Switzerland. While capital is concentrated in Toronto, forces are gathering to promote virtuous innovation in Quebec.

In Switzerland, capitalist investors tend to concentrate in Zürich, while Geneva stands out for its sustainability initiatives linked to the strong presence of international organizations, and Lausanne represents a considerable start-up magnet thanks to the EPFL.

The only solution is to join forces, despite the language barrier, not just in the service of capital, but for our common good and, incidentally, for the survival of humanity.

When can we expect a Startupfest in Switzerland?

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