This guest post is by Tinia Pina, the founder and CEO of social startup Re-Nuble.
First-mover advantage remains the driving force behind much of the technological innovation we enjoy today. Venture capitalists worldwide constantly search for new mobile products and consumer web apps to finance in their quest to tap new markets.
Under this model, public good and social benefit usually take a back seat to IPO considerations and profit potential. It’s a model that works — and works very well — bringing us the likes of Angry Birds, Instagram, and countless other mobile technologies that continue to take over the world and generate handsome profits for their backers.
I must confess that I’m shamelessly addicted to Angry Birds and want more mobile apps like it. But like so many game-changing technologies, it hasn’t fundamentally altered my relationship with the world.
From Rovio’s financing to its development to the countless hours I’ve personally spent on the app, there exist numerous opportunities in which we could have invested resources to change not only “the game” but also the entire planet.
Green technology implemented in resource efficiency and sustainability business models are prime examples of worthwhile endeavors whose profit potential attracts investors but whose track records impede actual investment.
Just to put this in perspective:
- Total U.S. VC investments in green clean tech reached $6.6 billion in 2011
- In that same year, MoneyTree reported that VCs poured $28.4 billion into 3,673 internet sector deals
In the relative absence of a quick adoption rate, the government must step in to support green or clean tech. However, despite numerous successes, a few high profile failures (such as Solyndra) are enough to reinforce the belief that avian iPhone apps should take precedence over saving the planet — at least as far as investment goes.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Enter social entrepreneurship
Social entrepreneurship is an emerging trend that marries traditional capitalist principles with more altruistic notions of societal good.
The idea is to do real good in the world, while continuing to generate profits.
According to his landmark book, How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, David Bornstein defines social entrepreneurs as those who inspire positive, meaningful change without compromising the basic tenets of good business.
Pioneers in the field enjoy first-mover advantages just like their counterparts in the consumer tech sector. But they don’t view new opportunities exclusively through the lens of technological innovation. In fact, many social entrepreneurs actually embrace proven technologies that have already existed for years. The advantage comes from how they choose to apply and scale established tools. In other words, the scope and reach are unprecedented, not the actual technologies themselves.
From microfinance to organic recycling to sustainable farming, social entrepreneurs continue to expose the false choice between corporate profits and good works, concepts that share equal footing once you begin internalizing the benefits (rather than externalizing the costs).
But if one no longer has to sacrifice profitability for societal good:
- Why hasn’t the greenclean tech movement taken over Silicon Valley and Wall Street?
- Why do we continue to rely on government intervention to develop solutions that benefit investors and the planet alike?
- Why do we accept low success rates for consumer tech start-ups, but continue to hold green tech start-ups to a different standard in which a few notable failures can tarnish the entire industry?
As a social entrepreneur, I have many more questions than answers.
Maybe we simply need more high profile successes to attract VC interest. Or perhaps another Hurricane Sandy will help highlight the consequences of continued inaction.
What I do know is that the transition to a more sustainable global economy is inevitable. And with so many separate environmental and social challenges to tackle, there are an infinite number of green clean tech first-mover opportunities from which investors can choose.
Tinia Pina is the founder and CEO of Re-Nuble, an organics-to-energy sustainability social enterprise. Tinia founded Re-Nuble with a mission to “Redefine Waste” within local, urban communities. She frequently tweets as @viare-nuble.
Photo credit: NASA