In this edition of Stories of an Investor, we caught up with Helena Eriksson, Angel Investor and Founder of Stage 6, an impact-focused angel investment network in Singapore. Helena shared with us how she looks at the returns in impact investments, and the trends she is closely observing in the world of impact investing.
Starting off with you, you started your career in the world-renowned Ashoka organization and the Clinton Foundation, how have these experiences shaped who you are today?
Helena: Ashoka was inspiring because I felt that every employee came to the office with such a drive to make the world better. They were literally all turned on by making the world better. That kind of energy is contagious.
What was interesting to me at The Clinton Foundation, was to understand the behind-the-scenes of the fundraising through the Clinton Global Initiatives and other unique fundraising events. That’s when I noticed that I love fundraising and bringing extraordinary people together around a common purpose.
On the topic of finding the meaning of life and making positive changes in the world, were you always passionate about changing the world since you were young? If not, what triggered this endeavor?
Helena: Working towards making the world better always gave my life meaning, yes. What I discovered later in life is that the meaning of life isn’t just about giving back and trying to make the world better but it’s also about being alive now with eyes wide open enjoying the moment. It’s not just about how much good you do in the world but simply about how you show up every day and how much light you spread by just being awesome!
There is a common misconception that returns for impact investing are largely non-financial, similar to philanthropy. How do you view this and what are your views on returns in impact investing?
Helena: The phrase “impact investors” has a bad reputation amongst investors as it is often associated with charity and losing money. I think the way to make a maximum impact is by investing in highly scalable companies that will disrupt the entire industry. In other words, I look at the deals that VCs would look at in impact-focused sectors such as the future of food (alternative protein), financial inclusion, or circular economy technologies. I focus on businesses where there is a clear social or environmental impact delivered by the product or service. So the more products you sell the more money you make. There is no compromise between the 2. I think impact investing and venture capital will eventually become the same sector because soon we won’t be able to grow a company without paying attention to its environmental and social impact. Some of the smartest people I know have recently launched companies tackling climate change while in the past they probably would have started tech companies. Today the problems are just too big to ignore.
Unlike financial returns that can be measured by fixed metrics, how do you measure non-financial returns especially when different start-ups may be making different impacts in the world? Do you follow any frameworks to measure them?
Helena: There are several impact frameworks for startups such as the United Nations SDGs, GRI, IRIS, or GIIRS frameworks. Bcorp is also awesome.
I invest at the seed stage so there isn’t much to measure yet. The most important aspect is the founder’s intent and integrity while making sure that the product or service their offer is actually addressing the problem they claim to solve.
Just putting it out there, I absolutely love what you do at Stage 6 and all that it stands for, but for the audiences that may not be familiar with Stage 6, how would you describe Stage 6 and its mission.
Helena: Oh thank you! We are a private network of angel impact investors based in Singapore and London. A mix of senior executives and family offices. Every month we present 2 companies (or funds) that have the potential to become big and really disrupt old paradigms. We get a unique deal flow between Europe and the Asia Pacific and focus on the future of food, health, and circular economy.
Democratizing angel investing is something I find fascinating. Investing is often perceived as elitist or only for the lucky few, while in fact, it is one of the only ways to reach financial freedom and once you learn a little about it you will find out it’s accessible as long as you have some savings.
To end the session, what are some trends that you are watching closely in the world of impact investing and why?
Helena: Alternative protein, vertical farming, and regenerative agriculture. With the food security challenges that COVID has highlighted, the funding into these companies has grown massively. In the USA, in 2020 alone, alternative protein companies raised $1.5B which is twice the amount raised as compared to 2019.
As Agriculture and land use are responsible for 20% of global emissions, the global meat market is a $2 Trillion market ready for massive disruption. Singapore definitely the place to be if you want to invest in food.