Time for Change — Why we need impact startups to shape a better future for people and the planet

How can we achieve the goals that are so urgently needed, to respond to the greatest challenges of today: meeting climate targets in time, managing and organizing material streams responsibly, shifting from resource depletion to renewable alternatives, and protecting the planet’s biodiversity to maintain a livable planet? 

In a globalized world with many layers and perspectives, these challenges are complex and need to be addressed on every scale and level. We at Hafven believe that industries play a central role in all of these challenges. Standards need to be transformed radically to cause impactful shifts towards a responsible but profitable economy. Innovative and daring business models can be key drivers for socially and ecologically compatible developments. Yet, to unfold their full potential, even the most sustainable models are unlikely to succeed in causing impact, if they do not find acceptance in crucial parts of our population. We are influenced by advertisements from a young age and the learned consumption patterns make it difficult to change buying decisions from one day to the next. But more importantly: We all need attractive and convenient options in what we eat, how we move from A to B, and what objects we use in our daily lives.

The things that people love

As European Startups call it in their report – “The things that people love” are adjusting screws that create change, – particularly on the product and service level. In the past years, users have become more sensitive to sustainability-driven developments and decide more often on environmentally friendly options. Surely, because Fridays for Future stirred up some rigid beliefs in boundless growth, but not least because green start-ups have shown that alternatives can be convenient and scale up to market-leading options in a very short time – whether they provide solutions for other businesses or customers. We see great potential in the B2B sector since it is particularly important for a resource-saving economy and a shift towards a conscious and equal work culture. Undeniably, new concepts can lift people’s life quality – not only for the end-users but also for the affected people along the entire production chain. 

The sharing economy, as an example, has made the sharing of goods socially acceptable and by decreasing the marginal costs of shared goods to almost zero, people even save money. Goods like music, movies, or office spaces have become proof of concept. All of a sudden, the image of sharing has transformed from a socially low-status necessity to an avant-gardist attitude. This innovative approach still disrupts entire economic branches and has changed the consumption mentalities of modern societies tremendously. 

Starting with the basic needs

The most urgent fields of action are of course the ones most existential and at the same time those into which people spend most of their financial resources. There is a pressing need to reconsider how we supply increasing numbers of citizens with food that is healthy and also tastes good. With fossil fuels running low, new solutions must be created for how we move things and people in the future more safely and efficiently. To respond to the vanishing of finite resources and the accumulation of waste in landfills, new systems are required for how we manage materials. Here, the circular economy has brought up a new understanding of material use, maintaining its value, and designing out the concept of waste. This vision now needs to find implementations through smart ideas and solutions. Also, we need to find viable ways to implement clean energy, while creating new jobs for those who are affected by this enormous transformation of a fossil economic branch. And last but not least, there is great potential in rethinking how we can revolutionize the way we produce all the things that accompany us through our daily lives in more efficient and local ways. 

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ― Buckminster Fuller

What are the stepping stones for innovation?

We need startups because they act differently. Recent years have proved that despite no – or low-budget preconditions, young startups can challenge big players and disrupt whole industries through progressive thinking and smart ideas. Their enthusiasm and often personal agenda gives startups an advantage over large companies. Due to their small team size, they have great flexibility to respond rapidly to societal or market-related changes and can restructure their inner and outer processes much faster. Nevertheless, they often lack the financial means and experience, to make their concepts accelerate in a short time. And here is why big companies and startups may benefit from each other: 

Established companies bring valuable experience, financial capital, and the networks for start-ups to scale up. At the same time, start-ups can contribute to large companies through their out-of-the-box thinking and agile work cultures. This attractive work culture with its purpose-driven jobs, flat hierarchies, and positions with high responsibilities attracts highly qualified employees and tends to outcompete larger companies on the job market more and more often. In addition to acceleration and venture capital, venture building is a promising way of developing and launching impactful models on the market. Our motivation is to create an ecosystem, where future-driven experts can merge into interdisciplinary and agile teams. Recognizing such upheavals as a chance, joining forces in collaborations, and adapting to tomorrow's circumstances is the first step. 

Written by Claudia Bumb, Program – and Communication Manager at Hafven Innovation Hub