VC Impact Landscape

Zecca J. Lehn
4 min readAug 16, 2020

There’s a gap in the impact arena, limiting early stage startups seeking Venture Capital. This article is to help Founders and Investors align with positive impacts.

What is Venture Capital’s role in positively impacting the world? Can VC be used as a tool to create a Sustainable future, while not sacrificing outstanding returns that venture capital demands? Can we Break Sh** Responsibly?

I’ve been asking myself these questions for more than two years as an active Angel Investor, in over 25 US startups [see my personal portfolio here], each aligned with multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) factors, and it’s working!

In addition, at the start of 2020, we launched posi2ive — a biweekly podcast on Venture Scale Positive Impacts. Here, I interview Founders (post Series A close), Angels, VCs, Family Offices, and other experts from around the world.

As a former Environmental Economist, Data Scientist, and Board Member for an Environmental Non-Profit, with a history of impact investing in the public and private markets for more than a decade, I’ve supported both Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), and Environmental Social Governance (ESG), in my own portfolios and have collaborated with hundreds of startups through an impact lens in the Seed stage. I’m also certified via ISOS in the UN’s Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) — which focuses on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for reporting of large scale impacts in publicly traded companies.

For Impact Focused Founders who want to change the world, they often don’t know the demands of VCs, the private market landscape, nor opportunity costs regarding the next best deals. Many simply don’t understand the competitive landscape of companies who may gobble up impact, without acquiring these purpose driven teams. Many Founders don’t know the risks to impact that may get diluted, destroyed, or pivoted out of, or acquired away. That’s my current role, as an Impact Angel — to help Founders steer away from impact gobbling trolls.

As my investments have been in US startups within both Social and Sustainable Tech, I decided to collect data on the US startup ecosystem over the past 10 years under each of the SDGs, split between both tech verticals. Manually, I scoured through thousands of startups for 40+ hours over the past month, and selected those with clear missions surrounding impact, or in borderline neutral impact alignment with a minimum of one SDG factor. Included US startups with an estimated post Series A / M&A / IPO. There’s no governing body regarding which startups qualify. Using both AngelList and Crunchbase, I was able to find startups that had overlapping verticals aligned with an impact focus.

These SDGs include 17 factors (slightly modified wording to fit on the landscape slide):

1: No Poverty | 2: No Hunger | 3: Health & Wellbeing | 4: Quality Education | 5: Gender | 6: Clean Water | 7: Affordable and Clean Energy | 8: Work & Econ Growth | 9: Industry & Infrastructure | 10: Inequalities | 11: City & Communities | 12: Consume & Produce | 13: Climate | 14: Oceans | 15: Life on Land | 16: Peace & Justice | 17: Global Partnerships

Within the Landscape attached, under each SDG, there is a blue / green section for each SocialTech (light blue) and SustainableTech (light green) respectively. For some in the Venture Community, “Tech” isn’t CPG / DTC, nor is infrastructure like Industrial Goods / Hardware / Heavy Assets to various degrees. I’m taking the approach of including both to capture the entirety of the service and product markets, through the “Tech” term.

My research so far shows:

  • There are 60+ unique verticals in VC Impact
  • 164 US Startups with post Series A / M&A / IPO
  • 74 are in SocialTech
  • 90 are in SustainableTech
  • SocialTech averaged 4 rounds, and raised $10.1B total
  • SustainableTech averaged 3.7 rounds, and raised $11.2B total

The statistics look promising for the inclusion of SDGs in both SocialTech and SustainableTech. I look forward to diving in deeper in future articles, and bringing in constructive conversations on posi2ive — please feel free to leave comments below, and reach out on Twitter. Making a net positive impact requires collaboration, a shared focus, and consistently embracing complexity at scale.

The #posi2ive community is supporting these efforts — join in.