By Joe McGrath Chairman of Investment Banking, Barclays
COVID-19 is a human, social, and financial crisis that has attacked more than just our health. It has attacked almost every aspect of every society. Thankfully, there are some remarkable entrepreneurs with creative ideas and unbound energy who have dedicated themselves to tackling this omni-crisis.
These entrepreneurs have been working for years to solve some of the most intractable social and environmental problems facing humanity, like ensuring there is enough food, water, and employment for a growing global population, weaning the world off its reliance on plastic, and cleaning up the air we breathe.
Now, many of them have pivoted their businesses–at an astonishing speed–to help address the consequences of the pandemic. They have looked at their technology, their products, and their services with fresh eyes, considering how they might serve a new purpose.
They are reasons for optimism and hope, and we’re proud to be working with them through our Unreasonable Impact program—a partnership established in 2016 between Barclays and Unreasonable Group, which operates accelerators, provides business mentorship, and offers a global network of support for sustainable entrepreneurs. Unreasonable Group found its name in the aspirational words of the playwright George Bernard Shaw: “The reasonable person adapts them self to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to them self. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable person.”
SOURCE is just one of the amazing businesses on the program. SOURCE Hydropanels produce unlimited drinking water by combining sunlight and air, without the need for any additional electrical or water supply. The company operates all over the world, and following the outbreak launched a project with the Navajo Nation, the largest Native American tribe in the U.S.
The Navajo Nation is so remote and isolated that many homes lack running water and electricity. People there often need to drive hundreds of miles a week to secure the water they need to drink, cook, and clean. And where running water is scarce, washing hands is more challenging. This has exacerbated the impact of the virus on the territory, which at one point had the highest COVID-19 infection rate per capita in the U.S. SOURCE worked with Navajo Nation leaders to donate their Hydropanels and equip 17 homes with their technology, providing clean water for the community.
Airlabs—another Unreasonable Impact business— is an Anglo-Danish team of atmospheric chemists, airflow engineers, and sensor developers. Before the pandemic, they were producing breathable air in ‘clean air zones’ in some of the world’s most polluted cities. Marc Ottolini and his team are now contributing to the fight against COVID-19 by reconfiguring their air filtration technology to enable deployment in offices, dental surgeries, ambulances, buses, trains, and subways so the air in these spaces is cleaner, lowering the risk of exposure to airborne COVID-19. For those working in enclosed spaces or in close proximity to patients, this is a game-changing, possibly life-saving reimagining of the technology.
Before the onset of COVID-19, U.S.-based Nanobiosym was working to empower individuals to get information about their health when and where they wanted it through real-time, mobile diagnostics. Their precision diagnostics platform decentralizes testing, making health care more accessible for everyone. Nanobiosym has now dedicated themselves to rolling out a real-time, mobile, and accurate COVID-19 test which could be key to a full re-opening of the global economy.
The amazing people behind these businesses are making tremendous headway in tackling challenges related to COVID-19.
But if they are to accelerate their efforts, they need financing, access to networks, and expert business support to operate at scale. Barclays has awarded 23 of these inspiring and outstanding entrepreneurs–including those at SOURCE, Airlabs, and Nanobiosym–grants ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 each to support their growth. Barclays has also connected them with senior leaders across the bank in rapid ideation sessions specific to their COVID-19 challenges to help them continue scaling up their solutions.
The initiative is an extension of the Unreasonable Impact program, which is working with more than 150 entrepreneurs building inspirational, sustainable businesses that are at the forefront of innovation, from clean transportation to revolutionizing the way we grow food. They are disrupting entire industries in their quest to solve some of our most pressing societal issues.
They’ve removed 55 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and diverted 290 million tonnes of waste for use elsewhere. Together, they have supported the creation of more than 37,000 new jobs since joining Unreasonable Impact and raised more than $3 billion in funding. Most importantly, they have had a positive impact on the lives of more than 220 million people– and counting.
Through Unreasonable Impact, we are using our size and scale to help create a sustainable ecosystem of socially impactful businesses. We are building a community around these entrepreneurs to catalyze their growth and share with them the connections, knowledge, skills, and breadth of experience within Barclays. And this is what our clients increasingly expect of us—more and more investors are looking to combine financial returns with positive social and environmental outcomes.
The impact of the COVID-19 outbreak has been bleak for many. But the burden has not been shared equally—the elderly, the poor, and the historically underserved have been hit hardest—reminding us that the consequences of this disease are representative of pre-COVID-19 society and deep structural and health inequalities that have long existed.
In April, Barclays announced a £100 million Community Aid Package to support charities that are helping people and communities most impacted by COVID-19. Alongside a colleague-matched fundraising initiative, the company is donating funds to charity partners across the UK, Americas, Asia, and Europe to ensure help reaches those who need it most.
Boosting entrepreneurship, however, is also going to be essential to our post-pandemic recovery. And to the Unreasonable Impact entrepreneurs, the challenges COVID-19 presents are surmountable. I have unwavering faith in their ability to build a bright future for us all, and I’m so incredibly proud to be a part of their journey.
Join us as we introduce this year’s 14 Unreasonable Impact UK and Europe entrepreneurs at their Demo Day. This virtual experience will allow you to engage with the entrepreneurs and learn more about the companies. The viewing window opens at 9am on November 18 and closes at 9am on November 21. Register here to receive your viewing link.