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Meet the startup bringing hard data to impact investing

Net Purpose has raised $2.5m to accelerate its solution in helping impact investors. Its secret weapon? Impact data. And lots of it.

By Connor Bilboe

Credit: Sam Duncan, founder and CEO of Net Purpose. Credit: Net Purpose

There has never been more interest in sustainable investing, with a whopping $90tn worth of capital signed up to the UN’s Principles for Responsible Investment.

But there is still a huge problem in gathering data on how sustainable an investment really is — something that is crucial for metric-driven investors. 

That is where Net Purpose, an impact data provider which on Thursday announced a $2.5m funding round led by Illuminate Financial, comes in.

Founded last year, the London-based startup is on a mission to simplify the reporting process for investors who can use its data to assess the performance of their portfolios against the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other impact measurement standards.

“It’s just really hard because [the data] is in thousands of different places and can often be inaccessible to a wider community,” says Sam Duncan, cofounder and CEO of Net Purpose.

As well as Illuminate Financial, the startup has also won over notable angel investors such as former chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management Jim O’Neill and Stefano Bernardi, a participant in VC firm Atomico’s angel programme.

“It’s just really hard because [the data] is in thousands of different places and can often be inaccessible to a wider community.”

Duncan tells Sifted that the company has been “in the dark for a couple of years building some exciting stuff,” but now has an ambitious plan to make impact measurement a breeze for 1m investment professionals by 2025. 

How?

Net Purpose first of all has aggregated impact data from 1000+ listed companies that are signed up to standards such as the UN SDGs, SASB and GRI.

This has been stage one. Stage two will be to source data from private markets as well on impact measures. 

The company says that it works with “investment management clients”, which will want data on public and private companies.

“The data is standardised, structured and aggregated on the Net Purpose platform so it’s easy for investment managers to access.”

Today there’s a wide (and growing) range of data you’ll find on Net Purpose’s database, for example on financial inclusion, renewable energy, healthcare provision, representation of female managers, CO2 emissions and much more. 

“The data is standardised, structured and aggregated on the Net Purpose platform so it’s easy for investment managers to access,” Duncan tells Sifted. 

The database provides hard facts that tell the real story behind the corporate messaging. Duncan points out there are companies whose carbon emission levels continue to grow, relative to the de-growth experts say is needed to achieve a 2-degree world.

Sourcing impact data has become easier due to increased reporting by companies and institutions, but there are still some tricky data sets to find. “We’ve started with 10 of the most common and pressing themes, such as climate, gender equality, water, access to financial services, and we plan to include more. Biodiversity and food security are examples of themes we haven’t yet covered,” says Duncan.

“We think that standards will start to converge but there’s still going to be a lot of work needed to standardise the data.”

In five years’ time, Duncan thinks that sustainability metrics will become more standardised, but warns that we won’t be fully out of the woods by then: “We think that standards will start to converge but there’s still going to be a lot of work needed to standardise the data.”

“If we can enable investors to start reporting on their impact, that’s a first step to understanding the full performance of your portfolio and making more informed investment decisions,” she adds.

Before setting up Net Purpose in Europe, Duncan started her financial career at Goldman Sachs’ investment banking division in Sydney over a decade ago. She resigned from her position as head of impact at Australian private equity firm Leapfrog Investments to start Net Purpose.

Connor Bilboe is Sifted’s editorial assistant. He tweets from @connorbilboe.

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Anjel Noorbakhsh
Anjel Noorbakhsh

It would be great to get the view of CPD. They are the leader in the impact data gathering and have collected impact data from 9,500 companies this year alone (in a standardised manner).