André Pienaar Interviews Eva-Maria Dimitriadis

André Pienaar: “Welcome to the C5 Innovation Channel. My name is Andre. We here in our boardroom in London. C5 is a specialist venture capital firm focused on investing in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing. Today, to have a cup of tea with me is Eva-Maria Dimitriadis who’s been leading C5 Accelerate, our social impact investing platform. Eva, it’s great to have you with us today.”

Eva-Maria Dimitriadis: “Thank you.”

André Pienaar: “Social impact investment is very exciting new asset class. Tell us a little more about it.”

Eva-Maria Dimitriadis: “I’d love to. Well, it’s new and also not that new. It goes by many names. And, as early as 1969, John D. Rockefeller coined the term: venture philanthropy, which was really, in a way, the first form of what we see as impact investing today. The phrase, impact investing, was born more recently, in about 2007, and really it’s about deploying pools of capital, typically private capital, to achieve not just a financial return, as you would see in typical investing, but also a social and/or environmental return. And so it’s really, what we call, the double or triple bottom line, doing good and doing well at the same time. And it has really ballooned in the last few years, so several years ago it was calculated about 50 billion dollars of assets under management in the impact investing space. By the end of the 2017, that number was 228 billion. And it’s predicted that by this year it will reach 500 billion, which is still only a tiny fraction, about one percent, of total assets under management. But it’s, as you can see, a growing segment of investment and one that people are really excited by.”

André Pienaar: “That’s very exciting, and in C5 we got involved in social impact investing by running two accelerators, one in Washington and one in Bahrain, and really using the power of the cloud to help scale early-stage businesses that can help make a difference. And this has attracted a lot of interest both from founders from all over the world, from investors, from stakeholders, and also from the media. So, tell me about the innovation that we’re doing in our accelerators and tell me about how you see the future direction of this business.”

Eva-Maria Dimitriadis: “Definitely. Well, I think it is, it’s very much a growing space and, you know, there’re lots of different statistics and people talk about how millennials would much rather work for a company that has a sort of strong social purpose, than prioritize money or salary. And I think this is really evident in entrepreneurs that we’ve supported over the past few years. We’ve helped about 75 companies through our global accelerators. And of those, you know, at least 36 had a very, very strong social purpose attached to their for-profit business models. These are not charities; they are scalable businesses with a technology product in most cases. And their purpose varies, so some of them are trying to support refugees and finding jobs, others are focused on education, others are looking at how to get renewable energy to parts of the world where there’s no energy at all and understanding that that is a vital ingredient to development. And so naturally a lot of them are doing things to support some of the world’s most pressing challenges in the developing world, but not in every case. There’re many issues that are being addressed in the Western world and they’re all very exciting. So we have about 22 companies in our impact portfolio at C5 where we have a small stake of a number of really talented–“

André Pienaar: “So from the 78 companies that passed through our accelerator program, we’ve invested in 22 so far?”

Eva-Maria Dimitriadis: “We’ve invested in 33, but I’d say 22 are really in that impact category.”

André Pienaar: “Terrific, and one of the most exciting things for me, when I meet with entrepreneurs coming through our accelerators, is just the diversity of founders that we have from all over the world, and the fact that our accelerators can open up innovation and venture capital for parts of the world like Africa, where I’m from and where I was born and where I know you were born, that’s been underserved historically by venture capital, and the extent to which we can use the power of cloud computing to open up venture capital, innovation and these opportunities to this whole determined and very resilient and innovative generational founders.”

Eva-Maria Dimitriadis: “I think that’s a really important point. I mean we’ve made a very conscious decision to be inclusive in our approach, and there are some quite horrific stats about the deployment of venture capital worldwide. I mean diversity has many different aspects to it, but if you take just women as a data point only 10 percent of venture capitalists are women.”

André Pienaar: “10 percent?”

Eva-Maria Dimitriadis: “10 percent, and therefore it’s not surprising that only one percent of V.C. funding goes to women-founded companies.”

André Pienaar: “Only 10 percent of venture capitalists are female, and only one percent of all capital deployed in venture capital are going to female founders?”

Eva-Maria Dimitriadis: “Correct.”

André Pienaar: “That’s rather alarming.”

Eva-Maria Dimitriadis: “It is rather alarming, but also an exciting opportunity. Because I think, in today’s environment where equality and diversity are on most agendas, you see a lot of founding partners who are setting up funds specifically dedicated to supporting women-founded ventures or diversity or Africa-focused businesses. So, there’re lots of different shapes and sizes, but there’s a conscious effort to be more inclusive. So, we’re very proud that 42 percent of the companies that we’ve supported in our Washington accelerator have had a female founder or more. And we have supported about 23 different nationalities through the programs, so we’ve had applications from far and wide, all of Africa, Asia, Middle East, US, North and South America. And so this is something that’s quite important to us and we think that if you’re going to solve problems in certain parts of the world, then who can understand them better than people who are from there.”

André Pienaar: “Well, I think that’s I think you touched on a very important point, which is: to work with founders from countries where they’re grappling with real-world problems, real-world issues, and using technology and the potential of innovation to change their own societies and communities and using both the power of cloud and venture capital to accomplish this. But I’m really excited about the statistics that you shared with us about female founders and how our two accelerators are working very actively with startups and our female founders. Tell me more about our Nebula program, which is a program specifically focused on empowering female founders and female technologists and opening up the technology sector and creating and introducing more diversity.”

Eva: “Yes, we founded Nebula about a year ago and the name was really the brainchild of our executive director in the Middle East, Hadyah Fathalla. Nebula means the place in the clouds where the stars are born. And so we thought this was a fitting name given that we’re a cloud-focused organization and that we’re cultivating stars. And so Nebula really looks at connecting and up-scaling women who are interested not just in tech but across stem. And they can be founders of companies, they can be engineers, they can be academics who are looking to commercialize their passion areas. And it started in the Middle East, but it’s really becoming a global network where we can offer, for example, someone who’s graduating from the Bahrain Polytechnic a mentor who is based in New York who can tell them about their past five years in finance, or in legal sector, or as an entrepreneur. And so it has a lot of power and obviously the interconnectivity also gives opportunity to list job applications, to create really leadership thought leadership, and skill creation. So one of the things that we’re doing actually in May is hosting a Women in Cyber academy. As you know there going to be about two million vacant jobs in the cybersecurity sector in the next few years and not enough people to fill them. And so this is a great program that Nebula can help with.”

André Pienaar: “That sounds terrific. Eva, I’ve got one last question for you, which is: How do we make impact investing measurable? How can we measure the impact that these investments and that these startups make, the difference that they make, and the extent to which the capital which we deploy can really help to turn the dial?”

Eva-Maria Dimitriadis: “Well, it is the, I wouldn’t even say One Billion Dollar Question, that’s the 500 Billion Dollar Question this year. There are many different ways and, at the moment, it is not standardized. Publicly-listed companies who have and E.S.G. program have to find their own methods, small impact organizations have to find their own, charities and other foundations also have their own methodologies. I think the important thing is that we are measuring it and it’s becoming much more widespread that people are asking those questions. I think technology can play a vital role in this through the use of A.I. and long-term, longitudinal measurement. But, really, it depends what the company or foundation is trying to achieve. So, if I take one of our portfolio companies, TaQadam, they help refugees to get jobs using an A.I. training tool. And so, for them, a key metric is: how many refugees did we provide jobs to? Another organization might be focused on getting energy to Kenya, so how many individuals have become beneficiaries of that program? So it’s a little bit difficult, and continues to be difficult because it’s sort of: How long is a piece of string? But the important thing is that it’s very much at the top of the agenda for most people in this space, and I see more and more innovation and we have supported a company called MARK LABS that does exactly that. They use A.I. to measure impact for corporates, governments, not-for-profits, private equity firms. So trying to systematize that data and make it standardized across a group of companies.”

André Pienaar: “Eva, it sounds like you’re doing some very exciting new things in C5 Accelerate. You’re using the cloud to innovate the way in which we do venture capital. You’re opening up the venture capital innovation sector for people wouldn’t normally have access to all the opportunities in this sector. And you’re helping us bring in new talent and more diversity, which is very exciting. Thank you so much for joining us.”

Eva-Maria Dimitriadis: “Thank you André. Thank you.