Predictions for impact investing in 2021

AIN’s Head of Impact and CEO of SeedTribe, Olivia Sibony peers into her crystal ball for 2021 to see what it has in store for the impact investment space.

With the huge focus on the pandemic over the past year – many might have thought impact investing was on the back burner. Luckily this didn’t prove to be the case. In the teeth of the first lockdown on the Angel Investment Network platform we saw renewables become the 11th most popular keyword for searches, a rise of 34 places compared to 2018. We also saw terms like Greentech rocket up the rankings for investors looking to invest. So looking ahead, what can we expect? Here are three predictions.

A rise in interest in impact-focused startups


In 2021 we can expect more investors to back impact-focused startups. We have witnessed a new regime take office in the White House rejoining the Paris climate agreement, committed to net zero emissions. Part of a rapidly growing movement worldwide. More consumers are voting with their wallets in demanding brands’ values are in line with their own. Additionally more investors are wanting to see the ethical credentials of businesses they are considering backing. This is particularly the case with passion-driven angels. This virtuous circle means we will in turn help to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs focused on the solutions to mankinds’ most pressing problems. We are also seeing the huge financial rewards for companies focused on ESG goals. Elon Musk becoming the richest man in the world was a watershed moment in this regard. It can be extremely profitable to embed purpose into your business model.

The establishment of more metrics for the measurement of ESG

Impact-driven investors are looking for more established measurement of environmental and social performance to give them more understanding of where and why to invest. We saw a real landmark moment at the end of the year with the big four accounting firms agreeing a reporting framework last year for ESG standards. We will see this more widely used and taken up in 2021. At SeedTribe we use the UN Sustainability Goals (SDGs) as the basis for our framework for the companies we back and for how entrepreneurs can benchmark their progress. The SDGs are the closest we have to a standard for ESG ratings. The 17 SDGs and their 169 associated targets are by no means perfect, but they are the best blueprint available to achieve a more sustainable future. They have been agreed by all countries.

What I am seeing on the ground is more demand for startups considering the full impact or end to end life cycle of a product or service. For example it is not enough to merely produce solar panels if they are not produced in a way that is in itself carbon-efficient or end up unrecyclable. Better still of course, is seeing start-ups embrace a truly Circular Economy. We need to ideally create close-loop cycles without any waste at all. A start up like Aeropowder is a great example of that. They have created the world’s first sustainable thermal packaging made from feathers – Pluumo. The poultry industry is drowning in feathers (3.1m tonnes per year in the EU alone) and has limited disposal options. Powered by feathers, Pluumo can keep food deliveries chilled while replacing expanded polystyrene. They are gaining huge interest from investors. 

Increasing cross-border collaboration


One silver lining from covid is the increasing level of cross-border collaboration using technology tools. In 2021 with most travel on hold for the foreseeable future, we are likely to see the further rolling out of systems enabling start ups to collaborate and share best practice and insights. For example, WeFarm is the world’s largest farmer-to-farmer digital network. They enable farmers worldwide to SMS any farm related question to a network of other farmers who can help, enabling farmers in Colombia to learn from farmers in the Congo. These sorts of initiatives can improve efficiency, best practice and help reduce CO2 emissions. This is being led by startups but will trickle up to larger firms with enormous data pools being harnessed to create actionable insights to reduce CO2 emissions. 

As we look to the future we can be confident in the vision of startup entrepreneurs and enlightened investors to help drive the change we want to see in the world in 2021.  

Sixty Second Startups – FastWater Dispenser

We caught up with Wayne Edward Clarke, Founder of Fast Water Dispensers, who explains how he is revolutionising water dispensers in the Philippines.

What does your company do?

We manufacture a revolutionary new kind of water dispenser for refillable blue 5 gallon water bottles.

Fast Water Dispensers Product Demo

Why did you set up this company?


I come from Calgary, Canada, where the tap water is top quality drinking water. When I moved to the Philippines I wasn’t used to using refillable water bottles for drinking water, as everyone does here. The long amount of time it took to draw a coffeepot full of water from a standard water dispenser to make coffee every morning became more frustrating until it was intolerable.

I searched the stores and online retailers for a faster water dispenser, and found that there were none available.

It took a few days of research, design, and fabrication to produce the item that I now consider to be my proof-of-concept prototype, and I used it successfully for months. I realized that there must be millions of other people who are as frustrated with their water dispensers as I had been, and I recognized that this was an opportunity that was too good to let slip away.

The key to our success will be:


-A product design that’s a disruptive improvement over all the existing competitors
-A tough, quality, environmentally friendly product that should last a lifetime for a price that’s competitive with cheap plastic Chinese dispensers
-The very low cost of labor in the Philippines
-0% taxes for 6 years and zero import/export fees in the Philippines Special Economic Zones
-Utilizing the training techniques of elite athletic teams to achieve world-class employee performance -A manufacturing process that achieves an unbeatable investment-to-production ratio by utilizing very ingenious jigs and simple machines but no complex or expensive machines.

Our most effective marketing channel will be:

-Online retail sites such as Amazon, Lazada, Alibaba Express, etc.

What we look for when recruiting:

Bright, adaptable, fast learners. This applies to our office workers and to our factory workers, who will also need good hand and tool skills. At the pace we’ll be working we’ll need to rotate the assembly line teams from station to station fairly often to avoid repetitive motion injuries and employee burnout and to keep morale high, so they’ll each have to learn every task in the factory.

Once we reach sales of about 2 million FastWater Dispensers per year in it will be worth transitioning to a completely automated robotic assembly line. We’ll then use our highly trained and integrated manual manufacturing teams to build and operate the assembly line for our next ingenious product design, of which I have many, and the entire cycle should repeat about every three years.

The biggest mistake that I’ve made is:

Not researching Alibaba and the Chinese suppliers represented there sufficiently before researching my costs for equipment and materials. I’d prefer to buy from local Philippines suppliers, but there’s only a few of them and they’re hard to find and communicate with compared to the crowds of companies on Alibaba. The Chinese companies can be challenging to communicate with because of language and cultural issues, and I wish I’d learned more about that before I started. Having dealt with many of them to cost out my business plans, it’ll be a lot easier when I start purchasing.

We worked with AIN because:

AIN seemed like the method of raising financing that was most likely to get results. There seems to be a lot of fundraising services that specialize in online and high-tech businesses, and a few who cater to emerging market businesses like the guy who wants to upgrade his small pineapple farm, while AIN represents a much broader spectrum of what I think of as ‘normal businesses’, like mine.

How has coronavirus impacted your business and your fundraising plans?

-In-person networking has gone from being the most important part of any fundraising strategy to being almost impossible. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to reach our fundraising goals without it, but we’re giving it our best shot!

How are you coping with lockdown, and what is your strategy for it?

I’m doing pretty well, thanks. I already worked online from home, so my life hasn’t changed much. It would be very hard if I were single, but luckily I have a fulfilling relationship so we can keep each other company. I’m a mask and face shield guy, I take every precaution, because I’m 57 so I’m in a moderately high-risk group, and I’m not taking any chances.

Keen to hear more?

If you would like to see what other companies are up to on Angel Investment Network, or are interested in raising funding yourself, you can find your local network here.