“You’re such an angel” - When innovation and impact thrives

For me, making sure my investments focus on innovation and impact is non-negotiable. In 2024, we are grappling with a new normal that includes environmental calamity, failing health systems, social and economic inequality, geopolitical instability, and concentrated pockets of power for vested interests. Therefore, any money I put out in the world can’t solely be done with the purpose of seeing a return; it must make a positive impact too.

To ensure an investment strategy holds true to your values, you need a clear thesis about how and why you invest. That’s why I coined a term to guide my decision making - I’m looking to back “intersectional incredibles”.

Intersectionality is when you have two or more, currently or historically, marginalised identities, which conflate and provide greater barriers in life. For example, this could mean you identify as both queer and a person of colour. I believe intersectional incredibles have a unique level of creativity, resilience, and empathy, which make them better entrepreneurs and ones to watch.

When looking for an intersectional incredible, I’m seeking true innovation and genuine impact from their business ideas. So, what do we mean by ‘innovation’? Another buzzword? Thrown around promiscuously like their cousins ‘digital’ and ‘sustainable’? Yes, but for me there is meaning behind it. So well thought-out, I published a model for the World Economic Forum on it. In terms of startups and investing capital, it means innovation that is moving the needle. There are three types - I’d say the most common (that is step 1 of “proper” innovation) is ‘architectural innovation’. Using existing technologies, but in new markets and with a nuanced / unique business-model. Secondly, we have ‘disruptive innovation’, think the world of DeepTech. Or, are you looking beyond Artificial Narrow Intelligence and moving into General Intelligence? New technologies, not previously utilised, but in the same / similar market with existing business-models. The crème-de-la-crème is ‘radical innovation’. Brand new markets with fresh tech, sometimes destroying entire value chains. The closest for me here is in the world of AgTech and FoodTech.

Once we’ve aligned on innovation, how is this founder fostering genuine ‘impact’? Let’s not confuse this with ESG, the process or approach to running a business, or in this case, managing assets. This should be embedded in any startup you invest in - but can sometimes take time as the company scales. Impact is, for me, solving ‘global future of’ problems. What is the future of sustainable energy? What is the future of equitable education? What is the future of affordable and innovative healthcare? This is quite wide-ranging, granted. I’ve invested in and focused on ‘impact’ that includes Fintech For Good, HealthTech, ClimateTech, and community-driven consumer products. It goes beyond ‘carbon tunnel vision’, which isn’t sexy, and assumes all ‘impact’ focuses on emissions. To make this tangible, I will talk through three recent investments I made - which make me ‘such an angel’, as they were intersectional, innovative, and impactful - therefore, enhancing my chances of better returns.

Sex, renting, and mind control

An eclectic title for a peek at my eclectic mix of the venture-backable, impact-focused companies in my portfolio. I’d like to highlight the intersectional experiences, and empathetic approach, as a grounding principle to the innovation each of these companies are building. To start, let’s talk about sex, baby. Polari Group. They are revolutionising anorectal health, which is an area that has received little to no innovation. What I love about them - isn’t just the fabulous, intelligent, and very receptive founding team - but the versatility *pun intended* of their product. It is a consumer product, helping people prepare for anal sex without the shame and stigma of douching. What other product can change the healthcare space, and be a development in SexTech that can alter the entire mindset and cultural norms of the Queer community (plus anyone else who does anal)?

Next up, ever found yourself with a horrible flatmate or realised when you need to move homes, other than Facebook Groups or SpareRoom, there really isn’t anything that makes the journey less painful (than it already is)? The renter marketplace, and associated community-focused tech, is in dire need of a shake-up. That’s why I invested in Redwood Rent. Many people talk about how social media has made them more disconnected and that they crave re-connection with communities… but few people are tackling the systemic problems of affordability, loneliness, and the (un)conscious discrimination of how we find a sense of ‘belonging’ in our cities. Redwood combines multimodal, geospatial, and ethical machine learning to create a recommendation model that finds you the best flatmates, with similar values and shared life experiences. With buying a home becoming a pipe-dream for millions today (and future generations), finding community through renting and third spaces is fundamental - it is the untapped market ripe for a (home) makeover.

And finally, mind control? Very tongue and cheek, but one of my favourites. How can we accurately track mood and wellbeing? What’s a smarter way to understand early onset dementia? Attention is our most finite resource, and there’s an impactful, yet very lucrative market in that. NX10 is a neurometrics DeepTech startup that uses AI to predict cognitive states. This can vary from knowing when you’re getting bored of playing certain games, to stress levels at work. With medium to long-term insights being able to understand sleep quality, learning and memory patterns, and ultimately neurodegeneration. To create a longer, healthier life we need to better harness data on brain function, so why not turn your passive phone usage into a health monitor? Your iPhone knows how you feel, time to put those insights to work for our neural health.

What iiF these founders are the future unicorns?

The reason I’m hosting the inaugural intersectional incredibles Forum (iiF) this July 16th, at Google’s HQ in London, is because I believe intersectionality as a criteria for investment fosters innovation. This will be the first-of-its-kind initiative dedicated to unpacking intersectionality. iiF is for superstar, intersectional founders who are thriving in their industry, particularly as LGBTQ+ or migrants (our first year’s spotlight). This is also for smart funders who want to embed intersectionality in their decision-making and understand its necessity for returns. I know, with the current investor mindset, the next generation of unicorns will be inconceivable; especially without looking at true intersectionality, impact, and innovation. Follow my investing journey to stay updated, and join me in creating the companies of tomorrow; building a sexier, more meaningful, and just future.

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Christian Tooley is the Founder of i³ investing and Venture Expert at Bain & Company.