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Responsible business and impact investing. “We need more pepper in the discussion”

Impact investing - InCredibles panel during Masters&Robots 2023

The topic of impact companies and responsible investment is becoming increasingly common. However, is this a real trend or rather a fashionable statement among companies? Can an impact business be profitable? And: don’t the conversations taking place on this topic need a small dose of pepper to make it take shape and not just be a marketing ploy by companies?

Distinguish “the wheat from the chaff”

It does not take a market expert to know that private companies are primarily aimed at making a profit. Today, however, many investors do not look at a business solely through the prism of financial parameters, but also pay attention to how the company acts in the social and environmental sphere. The challenge is how to assess profitability considerations and positive impact matters at the same time. As Maciej Balsewicz, founder and managing partner at bValue, admits, this can introduce a bit of confusion. – But my role as an investor is to ‘distinguish the wheat from the chaff’ – to sift through the chaos and see where it is, where the facts are and where the marketing is.

Business in dialogue with science

One of the socially engaged companies is ReBread – a company that aims to rescue as much unused bread as possible. The stale bread can stop being a waste and become a raw material – and reusing the bread will save resources and energy.

– Some people are surprised when they hear that we don’t want to sell for a while. But we start from the premise that if we want to make a real difference in the world – that is, not to waste bread – then we need to focus on working with scientists. Our mission, by the way, is also for business to appreciate scientists and learn how to work with them – this is something we are sorely lacking,” emphasises Bartłomiej Rak, co-founder of ReBread.

For the sake of macro problems…

Fighting food waste is just one example of the battle to slow climate change. Another way is for companies to calculate and report their carbon footprint – something Plan Be Eco offers to its customers. The company operates commercially, but was founded – as its co-founder, Joanna Maraszek, says – out of vocation.

– Even when I started my studies, I saw that whatever I was going to do professionally in the future, it had to be related to fighting climate change. The climate catastrophe is happening before our eyes and we have realistically 6-10 years to save our planet. There are more companies like Plan Be Eco – because more and more people are aware that the climate needs to be taken care of, and they can translate this into business. Such an impact business can also be very profitable,” says Joanna Maraszek.

… and micro

However, you do not have to immediately save the entire planet to be an impact business. You can operate on a micro-world scale – like Mariusz Pitura, CEO and co-founder of the Pogaduszki platform, which enables speech therapy diagnosis for children without leaving home and offers exercises to improve pronunciation. Pitura admits that the idea for the business came from his own experience, and the aim is to help children get a better start in the future.

– Children with a speech problem often have trouble assimilating and socialising, do less well at job interviews and may also be more prone to mental health problems. So if we – as parents – step in earlier and help our children, we too will have an easier time,” says Mariusz Pitura.

As he admits, running a business with a mission can make it easier to attract investors – because ‘chemistry’ can play a major role in addition to financial issues. – It’s easier to do business when the business chats are sparkling, he believes.

Responsible career development

Addressing relevant social problems is not only the domain of private companies or the public sector. The third sector also plays an important role in this respect – but here awareness-raising and skilful management of career opportunities in NGOs are still needed. Young people starting out in the labour market should know that they can work in foundations or impact companies under decent conditions, with good contracts and adequate remuneration. Especially as the company’s positive social and environmental impact is important to an increasing number of job seekers.

What’s more, the mission can be what binds the whole team together. Employees who build or promote a product are not motivated solely by salary – but by the positive impact they can have on the world.

Impact companies are becoming an increasingly important players in the business world – and not just as a buzzword, but as a real force for social and environmental change. While their approaches may be very different, they have one thing in common – they are committed to solving important social and environmental problems. It is essential that there is more than hype slogans under the banner of ‘mission’ – that there are genuine values behind.

The article is based on the panel Profit with Purpose: Leading Beyond the Bottom Line, featuring Jarosław Sroka, Board Member of KI Next, Coordinator of the InCredibles Program and the winners of the 7th Edition of Sebastian Kulczyk’s InCredibles programme: Joanna Maraszek, Chief Product & Sustainability Officer / co-founder at Plan Be Eco, Maciej Balsewicz, Founder and Managing Partner at bValue Fund, Mariusz Pitura, CEO and Co-Founder of Pogaduszki and Bartłomiej Rak, Co-Founder of ReBread.