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From global no. 1 to shaping the world’s business commitment to Environmental, Social and Governance

From global no. 1 to shaping the world’s business commitment to Environmental, Social and Governance

(The imec team celebrate their World’s Top Accelerator ranking)

Huge congratulations go to Belgium-based incubator imec, a world-leading research and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies, which has been ranked as the World’s Top Business Accelerator – Linked to a University by UBI Global at the World Incubation Summit currently taking place in Ghent.

Having previously held the title since 2015, we know what a privilege it is. The achievement allowed us to demonstrate to the companies that we support and our university partners that SETsquared has been measured against its peers and offers real value and impact. It enabled the wider SETsquared ecosystem, including our six university partners – Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter, Southampton, and Surrey – to become international thought leaders, attracting more engagement and access to partnerships.

But it is not just about being no. 1 in the world, it is about being able to learn from others. And that is what the UBI Global index does – it brings peers together to share best practice, and that support and collaboration is really what being no. 1 has meant to us.

By joining UBI Global as an official research and advisory partner this time round, SETsquared has been able to give back to the network that has helped us so much.

It has been an honour to support the ranking and recognition process for the World Benchmark Study 2021-2022. SETsquared has been focused on the environmental, social and governance (ESG) aspects submitted by incubators and accelerators, evaluating the value and impact it has on their client start-ups and local innovation ecosystems.

It is the sixth iteration of the study, which has attracted thousands of incubators and accelerators from 90+ countries around the world to self-assess their performance and impact for analysis, study, benchmarking, and ranking by UBI Global.

I am very passionate about supporting accelerators and companies to articulate their impact. From raising investment and funding to winning new contracts and customers – having clear environmental and impact policies is fundamental to success.

Expectations have progressed from just being environmentally friendly. There are still many companies greenwashing and paying lip service instead of making a credible commitment to the environment and society. The ESG standards require companies to not only define their environmental, social and governance impact in the world today but also measure it.

Increasingly investors want a return on their investment AND to know that their investment has the potential to do some good, from an ethical perspective. They are using the ESG framework to screen potential investments and that evidence is driving their decisions. Start-ups with ESG strategies in place are seen by investors as less risky and more likely to succeed.

It has become common for procurement and tender applications to ask pertinent questions about ESG commitments, so it is much wider than calls for investment funding and vital that it can be succinctly articulated.

The Global Impact Investing Network estimates the size of the worldwide impact investment market has now surpassed USD 1 trillion. Research by PwC found that 89% of their survey respondents, who invest in the UK, suspect corporate disclosures still contain greenwashing – highlighting the need for high quality ESG evidence that builds trust and shows that the company is managing risks and opportunities responsibly.

Sir Ronald Cohen, Chair of the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment (GSG) has written an inspiring manifesto, Impact: Reshaping Capitalism to Drive Real Change. In it he explains how an Impact Revolution is creating a significant shift in the way investors and consumers act. Driven by impact investment, he believes that changing the world for the better and making a profit can go hand in hand. And the rise of AI and big data is a driving force for this revolution, making it easier for businesses to measure their impact on a granular scale and have greater transparency.

For some time now, SETsquared has been providing specialist support to help guide the companies to understand and communicate their ESGs effectively. The Impact Workout is a masterclass run by SETsquared that aids business leaders to position their strategy in alignment with sustainability and social value trends. From there, they can confidently engage investors, funders, researchers, industry experts, and stakeholders with their trajectory.

During SETsquared Investment Showcases, every company will pitch for financial support and must showcase their ESG commitment, whether that is just one presentation slide, through the narrative of their story or throughout their entire pitch. We think it is very important and vital for securing business growth.

This is why we are honoured to be helping to drive this aspect for UBI Global. The ESG is a new survey section in the World Benchmark Study, which will not count towards their UBI Global ranking this time round, and it has revealed interesting insights and opportunities for improvement.

One incubator based in India, TechBridge Invest, described their ESG activities as a focus on ‘People, Planet and Profit’, and I think that nicely sums up ESG positioning. It resonates with both client businesses and not-for-profit organisations because they must raise money to put it back into the business. It also echoes Sir Ronald Cohen’s hypothesis that changing the world for the better and making a profit can unite.

Karen Brooks awards the ESG rising stars at the World Incubation Summit

(Awarding the ESG rising stars at the World Incubation Summit)

A lot of incubators and accelerators are focused on the client side, helping them articulate their ESG proposition, evaluate impact and communicate it effectively. But there were some that went further to also strategise and directly target groups with a focus on EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion). These groups were recruited to join specific programmes and activities tailored to their needs instead of being invited to sign-up for standard running initiatives. This commendable approach recognises the benefits of different values, abilities, and perspectives while celebrating differences to ensure everyone has access to specialised support to launch or grow viable businesses.

All surveyed recognised the importance of measuring ESGs, but there was little evidence of benchmarking. It is not easy to benchmark yourself and find comparable operations to benchmark yourself against. However, what we have started with the new ESG survey section in the UBI World Benchmark Study 2021-2022 will be a useful tool for incubators and accelerators to see what others are doing in this space now and in the future.

ESG is a global issue with local impact; you can relate to them wherever you are in the world. Some aspects may be highlighted or extenuated in certain locations, more so than others, but we ALL have these issues. How you behave as an organisation within your community, how you serve that community and support those around you is important, and those should be ESG KPIs for every incubator.

Many incubators and accelerators are aligned with parent organisations, such as universities or private companies. It might be that the parent organisation is not wholeheartedly getting behind ESGs or measuring them as effectively as they could. If the incubators themselves are focused on ESG then they can feed back to their parent organisation, demonstrate what they are doing and become leaders.

Issues around environment, social and governance are here to stay and ESG is only going to grow in importance. They are a gateway to a prosperous and just future, and I am pleased to be advancing their significance to bring about positive change.

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