The world around us is changing, and necessarily for the better. Climate change is set to incrementally and increasingly impact the planet, poverty continues to harm thriving communities and developing nations alike, and persons that fall outside of societal norms still face tremendous inequalities. Fortunately, for every problem, there are hardworking and passionate people around the world tackling these challenges head-on. In an effort to identify and accelerate the collective solutions for poverty, gender equality, and 15 other goals, the United Nations formed the Sustainable Development Goals. By 2030, the UN, working alongside companies, startups, NGOs, governments, and other organizations, seeks to join forces to solve some of humanity’s greatest challenges.
Among the many organizations rising to the occasion are dozens of Founder Institute portfolio companies. To better understand and illustrate the importance of the UN SDG initiative, today we’re highlighting 15 portfolio companies each building solutions to help meet the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Learn more about the Founder Institute's invitation to Entrepreneurs and Startup Organizations Worldwide, and sign the joint Pledge for Responsible Innovation.
Goal 1: No Poverty
According to UN data, one in 10 people in developing nations still live with their families on less than $1.90 per day. That means there are many millions of people worldwide who fall in or around this income amount. In just over 10 years, the Sustainable Development Goals aim to eradicate extreme poverty in its entirely, which is defined by persons living on less than $1.25 per day. The No Poverty goal also encompasses loftier components, including that the poor gain equal rights to economic resources.
San Diego Founder Institute graduates Renee Zau and Darryl Rettig co-founded DonationMatch. The startup is a cause-based platform that connects companies with nonprofits seeking item donations for silent auctions, raffles, and giveaways. To date, the company has facilitated $48.4 million in donations, helping to fuel nonprofit missions around the world, while at the same time helping businesses to reduce waste and achieve donation goals through impactful organizations that match their values.
Goal 2: Zero Hunger
Currently, one in nine people in the world (~815 million) are considered undernourished, with the majority in developing countries. The Zero Hunger goal is seeking to change this by eradicating all forms of hunger by 2030. This includes bringing more sustainable food production systems and technologies into the fold, doubling the output and income of small-scale food producers, and ensuring there is sufficient genetic diversity preserved in staple crop seeds.
Sergio Ballester is the founder and CEO of Indigo Drones, a Costa Rica Founder Institute portfolio company that provides aerial informatics support to farmers. The specialized drones offer mapping and crop monitoring services, which help farmers to improve yields, reduce waste, and reduce overuse of fertilizers. This is particularly useful in tropical areas where resource waste and fertilizer overuse is prevalent, the cost of which impacts the incomes of these farmers. For Ballester’s efforts, MIT Technology Review recognized him as an Innovator Under 35.
Goal 3: Good Health & Well-Being
Not every couple who wants to is able to easily conceive a child. After delivery, we also now understand the health factors that most contribute to childhood mortality. Fortunately, the number of childhood deaths is declining; however, more than five million children still die before their fifth birthday each year. The Good Health and Well-Being Goal focuses on reducing these numbers to less than 70 deaths per 100,000 births by 2030, in addition to putting an end to all preventable deaths due to disease.
Katherine Bicknell and William Sacks are co-founders of the New York Founder Institute portfolio company founders of Kindara, a fertility and digital health company launched to make a difference in the lives of women and couples trying to conceive. After raising more than $8 million to help provide women with the tools, knowledge, and support to better understand their fertility, the company was acquired in 2018 by Prima-Temp. Kindara offers one of the most popular fertility apps on the market, with over 1.5 million downloads, which pairs with Wink, a Bluetooth-connected thermometer that helps seamlessly track fertility data with greater ease and accuracy, leading to healthier pregnancy outcomes.
Goal 4: Quality Education
The United States is divided by rampant inequality in public education. Around the world though, there are much more staggering educational disparity, with 57 million primary-aged children that are not even attending school. Further, 50 percent of those children are living on conflict-impacted areas, which make it even more challenging to make changes in these areas, or even simply for parents to leave and relocate. The Quality Education goal is designed to “ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable, and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes.” This includes equal access for people at a disadvantage, such as providing opportunities to women who are interested in technical or vocational education tracts.
In 2014 Kostas Karolemeas founded FI Athens-based AllCanCode. The startup was designed for both kids and adult learners, where users build adventure games for web and mobile apps, which teach them how to code and build professional skills along the way. In today’s world, education doesn’t need to necessarily be provided through traditional institutions, and private entities such as AllCanCode are providing innovative educational models and solutions in a focused, mobile-accessible form.
Goal 5: Gender Equality
According to the UN, 750 million women and girls alive today were married off before the age of 18, and at least 200 million women and girls in 30 countries have been subjected female genital mutilation. Among these numbers are 18 countries that allow husbands to legally prevent their wives from working, and 49 countries that lack laws protecting women from domestic violence. The General Equality goal is designed to end all forms of violence against women and girls in both public and private spheres. This includes ending all sex trafficking as well as other forms of exploitation such as forced childhood marriage.
Santiago Founder Institute Portfolio company Girltank was formed in 2012 with a similar goal in mind. Founded by Tara Roberts, the startup’s goal is to make entrepreneurship more inclusive to women. She discovered through her travels a great need to network and support women across international lines, and developed Girltank to become a community hub and storytelling platform. Girltank was created to remove the inequalities that are placed on women trying to make changes in the world through building more female-owned businesses.
Goal 6: Water & Sanitation
People need access to both clean drinking water and acceptable forms of sanitation. Only 7 in 10 people have access to safe drinking water, and 6 in 10 lack proper sanitation facilities. Fortunately, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of the global population using an improved drinking water source has increased from 76 per cent to 90 per cent. The Water and Sanitation goal seeks to ensure access to water and sanitation for all.
Watsan Envirotech, founded by J Chandrasekaran, is a Chennai Founder Institute portfolio company that focuses on water sanitation. The startup’s primary goal is to provide water and sanitary solutions to rural communities and urban slums. They do this by manufacturing, selling, and distributing cheap, effective, and non-electric water filters designed for families and individuals.
Goal 7: Affordable & Clean Energy
According to the UN, 13 percent of the world population does not have access to modern electricity. Another 3 billion rely on resources such as wood and coal to cook and heat their homes, which produce harmful airborn pollutants. Greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are already changing our climate, and will have substantially more drastic effects in just a few decades. The Affordable and Clean Energy goal is designed to create access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy.
Energyly is portfolio startup of the Bangalore Founder Institute, and was founded by Dayal Nathan. The startup focuses on energy analytics, helping specifically targeted industries, businesses, and homes to reduce their energy costs. They created an advanced visualization engine that provides end users with real-time energy monitoring to drives savings, by combining engaging imagery and context-rich real-time data to keep customers actively participating in imporving their energy consumption.
Goal 8: Decent Work & Economic Growth
The way people work is changing, and AI and other technologies will replace many existing jobs over the next decade. Although the global unemployment rate hit a new low in 2017, 61 percent of workers are involved in some form of informal employment. The Decent Work and Economic Growth goal is designed to foster sustainable and equitable economic growth for all workers. This means achieving “higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation, including through a focus on high-value added and labour-intensive sectors.”
In 2013, Viola Llewellyn co-founded Ovamba as a Johannesburg Founder Institute portfolio company. Ovamba’s mission is to support central African economies by improving access to credit for small and medium sized enterprises. Delivering financial access and capital markets to more small and medium sized businesses, Ovamba is helping these SMBs to grow by giving them the tools to invest in their own futures.
Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, Infrastructure
There are many parts of the world that still lack access to mobile broadband networks (16%), and infrastructure places an outsized economic constraint on developing countires. The Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure SDG is designed to build a resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation across the globe. The key emphasis is on developing reliable and sustainable infrastructural solutions that support economic development as well as human well being, while also ensuring financial affordability.
In today’s world, younger generations are increasingly unable to purchase homes. Housing constraints are highly localized and involve many complex factors. Prefabulous is a Founder Institute Tunisia portfolio company working to deliver homeownership locally through prefabricated housing. A major twist on the concept of what a home is and what it can be, within a two months after being ordered, the Prefabulous home can be delivered - all designed to the owner's specification. Prefabulous home components can also later be disassembled in order to be moved elsewhere, or recombined and adapted to the owner’s changing needs.
Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities
Like Goal 5 focusing on Gender inequalities, Goal 10 broadens scope to all forms of inequality experienced both within and among counties and economic divides. Most of the rich world relies on the labor of developing nations to manufacture clothing and technology consumer products, but underdeveloped countries consistently miss out on many economic benefits due to structural income inequalities. The Reduced Inequalities goal is designed to empower and promote all countries to lower all forms of inequalities, especially for those individuals negatively impacted due to their age, sex, disability, ethnicity, or religion.
SevaExchange is a Silicon Valley Founder Institute portfolio company and B-corp founded by Anitha Beberg. The startup offers a platform using AI and blockchain technology to galvanize global volunteerism by reinventing timebanking services for the modern digital economy. Through localized adoption, this technology-enabled timebanking currency can function as a form of proto-UBI (universal basic income), creating new ways to incentivize the kinds of work that are too often undervalued by other economic measures, creating greater equity and reducing inequalities in the process.
Goal 11: Sustainable Cities & Communities
The world is growing, with 3.5 billion currently living in cities. In the next decade that number is set to hit 5 billion. However, 95 percent of urban expansion is set to occur in the developing world, with another 833 million otherwise left to live in sprawling slums. The Sustainable Cities and Communities goal is set to ensure everyone has access to safe and affordable housing, including access to basic services like water sanitation and transportation.
Founded by Danny Adams, GoFar is a Sydney Founder Institute portfolio company that helps cut emissions produced by vehicles, as well as improve driver safety. Through its unique app and in-car device, GoFar provides drivers with real-time feedback to help them reduce fuel consumption and improve safety on the road by teaching good driving habits. The product can also help organizations that operate vehicle fleets to teach their drivers safer and more efficient driving, with the ultimate goal of reducing to zero both wasted fuel and vehicle accidents.
Goal 12: Responsible Consumption & Production
Current levels of rich-world consumption are unsustainable from a climate standpoint. The developed world needs to lead the way by reinventing many of its industries, to decrease the carbon impact and the material waste costs associated with many facets now considered normal in modern life. From fossil fuels, to packaging, to agricultural phosphorous: if available energy, clean air, and clean water are rights that humanity intends to pass onto future generations, the developed world must aggressively support its transitions towards greener energy and increasingly closed-circle product lifecycles. The Responsible consumption and production goal is a lofty one, outlining a 10-year framework. The framework offers a plan to drastically reduce food waste, begin making more environmentally sound decisions, and help encourage companies to adopt increasingly sustainable practices in all forms of their business.
Last year, Founder Institute Belo Horizonte portfolio company Eletrobio was launched, allowing users to sell, buy, or donate used electronics and components. This marketplace reduces the cost to acquire new devices, as well as recirculates existing and used devices, extending product lifetimes and reducing electronic waste. Founded after years of research, the team realized the impacts of climate change, as well as the loss in their local economy due to mismanaged and wasted used electronics.
Goal 13: Climate Action
Humans activities, primarily associated with fossil fuel consumption, have already created unprecedented changes in atmospheric composition, the result of which is expected to drive increasingly drastic climate change trends and more frequent extreme weather events into the foreseeable future. In the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement, the signatories of which include 195 parties, global leaders took an important step towards beginning to mobilize the solutions for avoiding the worst possible climate outcomes. The SDG Climate Action goal is designed to educate, mitigate, and change how humans impact the planet we live on.
All For Eco is a Stockholm Founder Institute portfolio company with mission to inspire individuals and make it fun to live an eco-friendlier lifestyle. Climate change is not likely to be solved through any exclusively top-down approach. Each person on this planet plays a role in contributing a real carbon footprint, but not everyone is yet aware of their responsibility. All For Eco offers solutions for teachers to provide key learning details that the next generation of students need to understand, so that everyone can play a part in reducing greenhouse emissions and unrecyclable consumer wastes.
Goal 14: Life Below Water
The majority of our planet is covered by water, and over 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their economic needs. Wecome as these efforts are, unfortunately a ban on straws and plastic bags will still not be enough to reverse the human impacts on global oceans. The Life Below Water goal is designed to conserve and only sustainably make use oceans, seas, and marine resources.
While not an FI company, there are a number of startups around the world working to protect life below water and cleanup human oceanic environmental degradation, including an interesting technological nonprofit consortium called The Ocean Cleanup. In September 2018, the Ocean Cleanup launched its System 001 into the Pacific to begin testing its trash collection solution at scale. And while no monumental challenge is without its setbacks, the 001 System is now being tested in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the Ocean Cleanup team is learning from both the failures and findings to improve their system design.
Goal 15: Life on Land
Like our oceans, the way humans impact our land is also not sustainable. Deforestation and the destruction of sensitive ecosystems like wetlands and drylands are contributing to massive and likely irreversible losses of genetic diversity and species biodiversity. The Life on Land goal plans to sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss. Specifically in the next 10 years, the UN wants to have identified proven strategies to combat desertification, restore degraded land, and reduce drought and flood stricken areas.
As a result, startups that can demonstrate scalable reforestation strategies or other terrestrial ecosystems preservation technologies are of huge interest to governments and industry alike, each of which area eager to identify investment strategies that can prove to be sustainable from both an environmental and financial perspective.
Goal 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
According to the UN, “corruption, bribery, theft, and tax evasion cost some US $1.26 trillion for developing countries per year; this amount of money could be used to lift those who are living on less than $1.25 a day above $1.25 for at least six years.” SDG 16 is designed to Promote just, peaceful, and inclusive societies. This means the end of abuse and exploitation in all forms against children, a reduction in all forms of violence, and the promotion of the rule of law.
Founded by Michael Odiari, GetCheckApp is a Houston Founder Institute portfolio company designed to create a safer environment for both police officers and citizens during traffic stops. Instead of being exposed, often unsafely, by the side of a road while speaking through a vehicle window, officers and motorists can speak and exchange information through a secure mobile application, all without exiting the vehicle.
Goal 17: Partnerships For the Goals
Perhaps the loftiest Sustainable Development Goal is that of the Partnerships for the Goals. This final goal is focused on the revitalizing the global partnership for sustainable development, and bringing the entire world together in a collective effort to accomplish the other 16 Sustainable Development Goals. From financial and social inclusion, to developing cleaner and lower carbon energy technologies, to providing specialized support in vulnerable developing regions, global partnerships collectively representing an unprecedented scale of human cooperation will be needed to achieve truly sustainable development.
Through efforts including FI for Good campaign and Pitch for Purpose competition, the Founder Institute is dedicated to helping foster startup technologies that will help to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We believe that world-changing ideas comes from innovators, and that entrepreneurs will be the ones who bring to bear the kinds of scalable ideas needed to solve humanity’s greatest 21st century challenges.
Do you have a startup or business idea that addresses one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals? Send us your 30-second elevator #Pitch4Purpose by visiting the FI for Good page – finalists will be invited to pitch to investors in a Global Online Demo Day, and the champion will have an opportunity to pitch onstage at their choice of upcoming 4 Years From Now conference event.
Graduates of the Founder Institute are creating some of the world's fastest growing startups, having raised over $950M in funding, and building products people love across over 200 cities worldwide.
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