Siemon has been an IT entrepreneur since age 18, but when he sold his last company, he started considering the environment around him... He met Fernando and was introduced to PYM.
How did PYM come into your life?
I had been an IT entrepreneur since age 18, but when I sold my last company to a big infrastructure fund, things changed for me. I started to consider the environment around me - the small and the great. First, I became the cliché of my generation: a vegan yogi! Then, as I was trying to figure out my next steps, I met Fernando from TONIIC. He introduced me to the concept of impact investing and it blew my mind. I had never even heard about it and yet it was exactly what I was looking for. Soon after this, I was introduced to Frank and PYM. I feel very aligned with the PYM mission, so I am excited to be part of the community as a trusted peer.
One of your focus areas is ‘tech for good’.What does this mean to you? And is there such a thing as ‘tech for bad'?
Technological advancement always contributes to the future in some way, but for most tech companies, societal contribution is a side effect to financial gain. Often, the mission or purpose has to be ‘found’ in retrospect- ‘the why’ is a marketing exercise, not the main drive or raison d’être. With impact ventures it is the other way around. The mission is where it all starts. They exist to solve a societal problem and use tech for this greater purpose. In contrast, I’d say ‘tech for bad’ are companies with blatant disregard for anything else than making money.
Can you give us an example of a ‘tech for good’ company that is currently on your radar?
Yes - a great example on my radar is ‘Impact Food Systems' - an impact venture based in the Philippines, that combines traditional banana farming with new tech. Through their data platform, they were not only able to find a cure for an industry-wide banana disease that threatens many livelihoods and vast areas of land, but also to reduce general resources in the farming process. By tracking individual plant’s needs, banana farmers can follow a plant’s health and create bespoke solutions, increasing the yield by 50% and decreasing the need for fertilizers by 80%. Quite uniquely, this is a tech solution that leads to more manual labor. However, here it is considered an advantage, for it means more jobs, less use of natural resources, and more connection between nature and human. Considering the fact that 85% of bananas are consumed locally, this company is making a huge climate but also local impact, societally and nutritionally.
What do you think is the future of impact investing? And how can tech help?
I believe we are in a transition right now; soon impact investing will become the norm and every other kind of investing will be the exception. I look forward to the day in which non-impact investments are called what they are: destructive. I think tech can help us accelerate this process and broaden our options. An inspiring tech company who does this beautifully is Satelligence, a Dutch based venture run by 25 people, who use a mix of satellite-powered geodata analytics and AI to create insights into the global performance of agricultural production and supply chain risks, such as deforestation, forest fires and flooding. The extremely valuable and previously unattainable data is such a powerful tool for change. It means we can track the whole planet, from everywhere.
Are you an optimist or an idealist?
Well I am an entrepreneur; I am an optimist by nature. But I am also pragmatic, I want to get things done. So, I am not a typical idealist, but I am a 100% impact investor and engage in philanthropy. I believe in supporting investors at different stages of realizing their vision. Personally, in the past year I have thought a lot about the world the children who are born now will grow up in and it has made me realize that I am hopeful. I think we will and can adapt.
Knowing what you know now, would you have made different business decisions?
I think so. Honestly, I wonder whether I would have started my business. My business was not harming the world, but it was not necessarily contributing either. It was so to say a ‘neutral’ business. Of course, without that business I wouldn’t have been where I am right now. So it is interesting to consider ‘contribution’ as a long-term concept too, but I still think knowing what I know now, I would have rather created an impact venture from the start. I don’t know if I believe in doing bad/neutral, and then good. I don’t think we have time for that anymore.
Do you think impact investing is a journey - a personal evolution of business or a more general one?
I think maybe, that is a generational question. The next generation might feel like it’s less personal and more general. I definitely had to go through a personal evolution, but I still came from a reality in which we were taught to first help yourself before you can help others. In some way this is still true, we have to take care of ourselves first, but there are increasingly more ways in which both can be done at once. Or at least our self-help does not negatively impact others. I hope for the next generation the personal and the general is more naturally linked.
How do you think we can get more young people involved in impact investing?
The problem with any kind of investing is that you need capital, and young people are still creating capital. So investing is often more of a ‘later in life' endeavor. Of course, there are next-gen initiatives, and things like crowd funding are a great gateway to practice, but to me getting youth involved is less about investing, and more about impactful jobs, which allow people to build capital in a positive way. This changes existing structures from the inside, because when employees demand more than just a good salary, companies are forced to transform. I am excited to watch the next generation push the Unilevers and Shells, so we can live in a world where creating capital can be as impactful as investing it.
Does tech set the new generation of impact investors apart? Can you see any other differences in the way our generation invests / thinks vs previous ones?
Actually, in my opinion the biggest difference between my generation and older generations is not per se what we invest in, but how we do it. I have found younger impact investors to be more radical. Perhaps it is because the destruction of our planet is no longer a ‘future prospect’ - some concept that might happen. We will face the consequences in our lifetime, so it is more urgent for us. It is realistic. Therefore, my generation might find it harder to get our heads around a divided portfolio. It’s the same world, so if you are investing in companies that create negative impact and have some impact investing on the side as an almost philanthropic endeavor, you are still not creating net positive impact. It is hard too, because when only a small portion of your portfolio is impact, you might not take those businesses very seriously. This is a shame for the industry, because impact ventures need keen and active investors to succeed as much as other companies. We cannot expect them to fail. We need to believe, and we need to go all in.
What are you passionate about right now, as an investor?
I am very interested and invested in plant-based ventures. I strongly believe eating animals will be like smoking in the future; an unhealthy habit fewer and fewer people should and will engage in. I am also super excited about a company that has found a solution for excess renewable power. Currently 20% of this power is wasted because it cannot be stored and it is unpredictable. This company solves that problem by using electric cars as mobile storage banks. Basically, your car becomes your home battery. Another inspiring company is Clean 02; which captures CO2 from building heating system exhaust and makes it into soap.
Next to direct investments, I also invest a lot in funds. Currently, I am in about 15-20 funds thatfocus mainly on climate, oceans, water, regenerative consumer goods and plant-based transitioning. I like it, because the managing partners do great groundwork, meaning low maintenance, and high impact for the investor. One of these funds is California based Regeneration.VC - which invests in companies that create products that accelerate the circular economy; extending and renewing use, as well as eliminating waste at every stage. I have a diverse portfolio, but everything is connected.