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Expert Blog – August 17, 2021

Karel Asselbergs, Director of Participations, argues in this blog that StartGreen can really make an impact by thinking in 'and…and', instead of 'either…or'.

Think broadly
Few people know that StartGreen is the party behind six large, successful funds, such as Energiefonds Overijssel, Participation Fund Sustainable Economy North Holland and Borski Fund. We serve two types of customers: sustainable entrepreneurs looking for money and lenders (investors). StartGreen forms the intermediate layer: we set up a fund, attract funding from lenders and use it to finance the impact companies of the money seekers. With the investments from our funds we want to make an impact in the field of at least one SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) of the UN. I am convinced that this will only work if we do not limit ourselves in the possibilities, but think as broadly and inclusively as possible.

Add a tooth
Take Energiefonds Overijssel for example. The province of Overijssel has described its energy transition goals in the NEO programme: New Energy Overijssel. Energiefonds Overijssel is an important implementation tool for achieving these goals. StartGreen, as manager of this fund, provides about 25 percent of the fulfillment of those NEO goals. We are well on our way to achieving those goals, but as far as I'm concerned, we could go a step further. There is a lot of discussion about which energy sources and carriers we should use for the energy transition. “Are woody biomass and offshore wind farms really necessary?” I say: if we want to achieve the climate goals, we have to bet on everything.

Everything in the mix
There is no time to argue for years about pros and cons. We have to start extracting energy as soon as possible with sun, geothermal energy and wind; 'and…and', instead of 'either…or'. Even woody biomass deserves a place in the energy mix in my opinion. I realize that I'm making a controversial statement with that, but we won't make it without it. With the important caveat that every energy source must be used responsibly. For example, only process local pruning waste and other residual wood in professional biomass plants. Moreover, you should see the application of biomass as a temporary step in the transition, as my colleague Anouk describes in her blog about biomass.

Combination of investments
Energiefonds Overijssel is also a good example of 'and…and' in other areas. From this fund we finance both sustainable energy projects and innovative companies. A solar park, for example, needs financing to be built. Once erected, the sun will steadily shine through and the project will typically provide stable cash flows and a fairly certain return. Innovative companies have a completely different dynamic: they often involve smart inventions that have the potential to change the world. If the technology also proves itself in practice, such an investment can yield 3 or 4 times the investment, but it can also fail and it does. A considerably higher risk, but with the chance of a higher return.

Making and accelerating meters
Because we can never guarantee that an innovation will be successful, it is nice that we also invest in stable energy projects from Energiefonds Overijssel. These form, as it were, the cork on which the fund floats and which make it possible to invest in innovations, which are often the accelerators of the transition. So, on the one hand, we can make progress with energy projects and, on the other, accelerate the process with innovations. During the corona crisis, this was a good combination: some innovative companies had a difficult time, but Energiefonds Overijssel was able to maintain its resilience thanks to the stable return of the energy projects.

Everyone contributes
'And…and' also applies to the stakeholders of the projects we finance. For a project to have a chance of success, everyone must contribute: governments, companies and private individuals. It is not without reason that citizen participation is an important theme in the climate agreement. A good example is the solar park on the Bomhofsplas near Zwolle: with 18 hectares and 72,000 panels, the largest floating solar energy installation in Europe and the largest outside Asia. It provides 7,200 households in Zwolle with green electricity. For that project we sought cooperation with the local energy cooperative: Blauwvinger Energie. This created support among local residents, who can also benefit from the proceeds.

Double efficiency
Finally, the 'and…and' principle applies to all projects in which StartGreen invests. Because of course we want to make a financial return, but we only do that through companies that make the world a little better. That goes hand in hand for us. So we want to achieve both financial goals and make a social impact; preferably with financially well-performing companies, because they have a better future perspective and are therefore actually more sustainable in that sense. This intrinsic motivation does not only apply to me, but is in the DNA of all StartGreen employees. That makes it such a great company to work for and gives me energy, literally and figuratively!

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