28 Jul 2020

How can tech for good investment help for better air quality for all: Part 3

By Cansu Deniz Bayrak

We are working with our friends at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity to understand how early-stage venture capital can help tackle negative health effects of air pollution in London and beyond. We are publishing a three part series to share our learnings from a VC perspective. This is Part 3, catch up on Part 1 and Part 2.

At BGV, we believe scalable technologies are key to creating a sustainable planet, healthier lives and a better society. Over the last decade, we have invested in tech for good companies tackling air pollution ranging from analysing pollution data for actionable insights for citizens and businesses alike to building zero-emission delivery platforms and more. We know that these products and services are pieces of a bigger puzzle. There is a diverse set of needs and root causes to be addressed and meaningful innovation can only come from inclusion, adaptation and cooperation. This is exactly why we are very pleased to be working alongside an urban health charity, Guy’s and St Thomas’, with deep subject expertise in the negative effects of air pollution.

Let’s talk numbers for a second. Air pollution outdoors and inside our homes claims about seven million lives globally each year. According to data from the World Health Organization, London is 10% over the safe level. 68% of the world’s population is predicted to be urban by 2050. There is ample research that underlines the importance of building more sustainable, healthier cities and we are running out of time. The COVID-19 crisis has brought to light the importance of improving London’s air quality and the need for systems which protect residents, particularly those who are most vulnerable and underserved. 

The scope of companies addressing air pollution is vast yet given the nascent nature of the sector, many are early-stage. There is a divergence between companies that are addressing the effects of air pollution and those addressing the root causes. Both approaches are valid and useful – we need imminent interventions as much as we need to reconfigure our existing systems.

From a venture capitalist perspective, the various opportunities and risks associated with each approach led us to look at specific technology verticals where early-stage investment has the potential to make a meaningful impact. Worth noting that there are certain technologies that are mainly research-driven and more capital-intensive from the get-go, such as New Materials, who could also have a big impact, but we haven’t really focused on those. The six verticals we think would benefit from early-stage investment to help tackle air pollution are Property Technologies, Connected Cities, Transport and Mobility, Consumer Engagement and Air Purification. 

The wider innovation ecosystem for anti-air pollution is still emerging, too. We believe a group of policy-makers, corporate companies, investors and researchers who are willing to advise and nurture startups in this area would be invaluable. They would not only fund these companies but also give them opportunities for commercial validation and direct interaction with their beneficiaries.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity is currently in the process of shaping their ten-year Health Effects of Air Pollution Programme and have published an insights page on our joint work to date, where we looked at the role ventures that have both social and commercial aims could play in supporting the health of residents in South London and beyond. In the meanwhile, we will keep looking for early-stage tech for good opportunities in this space, under our Healthier Lives and A Sustainable Planet investment themes. Entrepreneur, investor or organisation – please reach out if you are interested in tackling the negative effects of air pollution.