People are increasingly aware of the need for a more sustainable way of life. However, while there’s no shortage of people talking about sustainability, there’s not enough action. Today’s startups are in a unique position to drive change but they often lack the necessary connections, this is where Grip can help.
The NOAH Conference connects sustainability businesses with impact investors. By meeting together and collaborating on potential solutions to the toughest challenges facing this planet, there’s an increasing opportunity to bring about real change.
After ten years using in-house development, I’m relieved that we have finally found a trusted AI-matchmaking provider who specialised in engaging our attendees
Marco Rodzynek was a successful executive director at Lehman Brothers when, one fateful Monday morning back in 2008, he was called into a meeting. Along with the rest of the staff, he was told it was time to start looking for a new job.
That Friday, at the height of the financial crisis, Marco carried his box out of the office. However, rather than feeling sorry for himself or trying to find another job as a banker, Marco decided to make the most of the opportunity and launched his own company, NOAH.
For Marco, NOAH’s goal was to foster relationships between investors and entrepreneurs. “I was an investment banker for 24 years at Lehman Brothers, and during that time I found that there was no ongoing communication between investors and entrepreneurs. If you’re an entrepreneur trying to build relationships and get funding, you want to talk to investors all the time, not just when you need money.”
The next year, the very first NOAH conference happened in 2009, with presentations from companies including Spotify, Yahoo, and Google. The event was positively received by investors and entrepreneurs alike, and soon there were multiple NOAH conferences happening annually around the world. As the event grew, Marco also expanded the scope of the conference to include corporates and service providers, allowing more people to make meaningful connections.
The NOAH conferences ran for ten years with great success but then, in 2020, the global pandemic brought a temporary halt to in-person events. Marco took this enforced break to re-evaluate the conference’s purpose. As a strong supporter of animal rights, Marco decided that rather than just supporting the European digital ecosystem, he would expand NOAH and use this platform to support global natural ecosystems.
“The name had always been a reflection on Lehman Brothers going under, and how it was NOAH that saved me. Now I felt it was time to do something to save the planet and focus on sustainability. While the previous model might have been more profitable, I think it’s more important to do the things you really believe in.”
This involved expanding the number of stakeholder types from four to 55, with researchers, scientists and more invited to the event. In addition, Marco insisted that all the companies featured at NOAH had to be sustainable, digital and profitable.
Marco firmly believes that meaningful change can only be achieved through economic systems. He points out that the taxi market wasn't disrupted because government officials decided to create an app, but rather because Uber saw inefficiencies that they could fix to provide a better service.
In the sustainability space, all of these models are relatively young startups. By putting a spotlight on these companies and introducing them to investors, Marco enables them to raise capital and bring about that much-needed change.
“There’s a lot of talk around climate change and sustainability, but not a lot of action. There are plenty of white papers and opinions, but people are not really looking for or implementing solutions. Do you know how many startups were at COP26? Two. Out of 37,000 attendees.
Rather than complaining about that though, I chose to do something.”
While it might not be so important for traditional VC-funded businesses, collaboration is key for sustainability startups. Impact investors need to work with each other to truly make a difference.
However, finding good impact investors can be a significant challenge for startups. While it’s not so difficult to find investors for food tech or electric vehicles, once you start talking about anything remotely political it becomes much harder. Topics such as biodiversity, indigenous people, deforestation and fuel extraction are all complicated issues with no easy solution.
“Anybody can build an electric car and raise money. But how do you preserve the way of life for the indigenous people of the Kalahari Desert? That is exactly why I created the conference,” explains Marco, “to directly address those tough challenges that people don’t want to talk about.”
NOAH provides a space for people to discuss and collaborate on potential solutions to the biggest sustainability challenges. There is no shortage of success stories from the NOAH conference. Plenty of startups have raised millions, companies like Grover who secured €37 million in investment after a successful pitch at NOAH. With a new focus on sustainability, Marco hopes that future investments can lead to even more meaningful progress.
At the NOAH conference, a startup might meet with an investor or another stakeholder and that startup could potentially be the one that ends up solving climate change. But, unless you get these people in the room mixing, you can't bring about change.
For ten years, NOAH relied on in-house tools to manage event matchmaking. After a thorough review of the market, they decided to use Grip’s AI-powered matchmaking and networking service for the 2021 conference. This resulted in a more fluid, robust and valuable experience for attendees. Even before the event started, lots of participants used Grip to book meetings and connect with other attendees. Then during the event, the Grip mobile app enabled participants to easily request meetings with others, making full use of breaks between sessions. They could then head to one of the dedicated meeting areas within the venue to have their meetings and network with other participants. This resulted in more than 3,000 connections, with over 1,000 meetings booked between startups and investors over two days.
More importantly, using Grip has freed up time for the event organiser so the team could focus more on making the NOAH Conference better than ever. “After ten years using in-house development, I'm relieved that we have finally found a trusted AI-matchmaking provider who specialised in engaging our attendees,” said Marco.
Marco is already working hard on making the next conference more beneficial for participants, including potentially switching up the format to encourage more in-depth meetings.
In previous conferences, speakers would have ten minutes on stage to pitch their startup and build curiosity, followed by a series of one-to-one meetings with interested investors. While this has worked well, Marco is exploring different ways to make these presentations and meetings more productive.
“Rather than trying to convey everything in ten minutes and then repeating it one-by-one, we’re planning to have an additional 60-minute satellite session with multiple investors.” This will allow the speaker to go into more depth on the subject, knowing it’s something all the attendees are specifically interested in, thereby increasing the potential for collaboration.
In addition, instead of having a huge buzz over a two-day event, there are plans to make NOAH an “always-on” conference throughout the year. By building an ongoing community around that event, companies and investors can carry on collaborating after the event has finished.
Using Grip’s platform, NOAH participants have been able to connect and build long-term relationships aimed at solving the most serious environmental issues of our age. Marco’s master plan is to use the power of connections to create a more sustainable future. Grip is proud to support him on this mission by connecting thousands of purpose-driven entrepreneurs and investors who aim to make the world a better place.
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