André Pienaar, Founder, C5
7th August, 2018
Napoleon said that in war, the moral forces are three to one. In C5, we believe the same about investment and about innovation.
It therefore gives us great pleasure to host the second dinner on social impact investment and innovation during the AWS Imagine Conference in Seattle this week.
Why is C5, as a venture capital firm, a partner of AWS? AWS is not an investor in C5. As a venture capital firm our investor families decided to partner with AWS, not because of money, but because of the moral forces.
This may sound like an uncommercial way of thinking by our investor families, but let me explain to you how we think in C5.
Venture capital is all about building profitable partnerships with successful entrepreneurs. AWS’s support for startups and entrepreneurs worldwide is simply unrivalled. We are often amazed to see how an almost trillion-dollar company like Amazon can focus on the success of a small startup that runs on AWS. Our family investors are investing to help make a difference. We had an inspirational day today sharing innovation for not-for-profit missions with each other. As evidenced by the Imagine Conference, we can also say that AWS’s support for not-for-profits and their missions worldwide is exceptional. Finally, AWS and its people’s consistent quest for innovation struck a chord with us. We share a belief that innovation is not only about improving products and services for customers but also about creating new models for serving others.
It is a combination of these three factors that led C5 to join the AWS Activate programme through which AWS supports accelerators and startups worldwide.
Now, let me share with you our experiment in innovating social impact investment. C5, with the PeaceTech Lab, AWS and SAP NS2 run an accelerator in Washington DC that focuses on peacetech. The term “peacetech” may be completely new to you. What does “peacetech” mean?
Peacetech is about the drawing on all of the strengths of American innovation for good rather than for bad. American innovation is unique. It is uniquely built on an open innovation model. This model not only shares the benefits of its innovation worldwide, but also often shares the actual know-how with partners. The world has benefited exponentially from this model over many years.
This has been accelerated by cloud computing, which reduces the costs of computing power for everyone by 50 percent every three years. This is an extraordinary boon to the global economy. The pace at which cloud is reducing the cost of computing power makes innovation more accessible to everyone, year on year. The top 10 cloud computing companies are all American. The cloud sector is a great strength of the US economy. Cloud is the beating heart of innovation today not only in the US but worldwide.
Peacetech is built on this open and inclusive innovation model. Peacetech is also built on the power of the cloud to scale rapidly. It is a movement to scale startups and technologies that can help accelerate development, prevent conflict and, as President Reagan said “build a strong peace for America and for everyone.”
In the PeaceTech Accelerator, we do this with our partners by building a network of more than 1,800 entrepreneurs, who are really young leaders, many of them from conflict-affected countries who are dedicated to this mission to innovate the way in which we develop countries and manage conflict.
To give you just 3 recent examples: Anona helps subsistence farmers in East Africa use blockchain to bring transparency to the way they get paid in the supply chain to supermarkets by cutting out the middle men; Hala Systems help to protect civilian populations through cloud linked sensors from air attacks in the Syrian civil war; Video Volunteers empower citizen journalists in India to help achieve factual and accurate media reporting.
Practically, this means that we help scale these startups by giving them 5 C’s during their time in the Accelerator: (1) We build the capacity of the team; (2) We help them to get smarter about using the cloud; (3) We work to win transformative clients; (4) We teach how to raise capital and; (5) We certify the startups at the end of the programme.
We build this partnership through an intensive programme of mentorship on campus over 8 weeks. We are privileged to have an amazing and committed community of mentors, each a leader in their field, who volunteers their time to help scale the startups.
Our accelerator is an experiment in innovating early stage venture capital and social impact investment.
Innovation requires resilience because it can bring great adversity to the innovators. I am reminded of Jumo Games, one of our first startups, that bring communities together through gaming in the world’s poorest country in the midst of a devastating civil war. No one knows this adversity better than our entrepreneurs who are building their businesses against the odds, often out of poverty, to help bring peace in conflict-affected countries.
We want to say a heartfelt thanks tonight to our resilient partners: to the Peacetech Lab, to SAP NS2 and to AWS; to our mentors; and most importantly, to our entrepreneurs, for your strength of commitment.
In conclusion, yes, innovation can bring adversity. But innovation also gives unrivalled freedom; freedom from the chains of old broken models. As a young man, I had the privilege to meet Nelson Mandela. Mandela was an innovation leader throughout his life. He was imprisoned for 27 years as a result, in a desolate place and often in solitary confinement. Mandela loved reciting a poem called “Invictus” to encourage young people in adversity. Invictus is Latin for “unconquerable”. Mandela’s favourite lines from this poem were:
“It matters not how strait the gate,
how charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.”
This, is the freedom of innovation.