Will These Unicorns Bring Magic? - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Will These Unicorns Bring Magic?

Will These Unicorns Bring Magic?

By Eromo Egbejule

By Eromo Egbejule

Disruption is the story of our time. Millions around the globe have succumbed to a novel virus in less than 18 months. Our home and working lives upended. The world shaken beyond imagination.

So disruption — through the prism of companies fueling pathbreaking change — is the theme we’re running with in today’s Daily Dose. Firebrand organizations are embarking on ambitious new initiatives to change our lives for the better. From food scientists in Silicon Valley to Indian startups leveraging the power of 3,000-year-old science to Berlin coders bringing Greek mythical figures to life, read on for key insights into the disruptor companies upending how we see and experience the world.

SUSTAINABILITY & CLIMATE CHANGE

Apeel

Nothing good lasts forever — especially good, but perishable food. Enter Apeel Sciences, which is on a quest to improve the shelf life of avocados and other fruits and vegetables in retail chains. Aided by a $100,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the California-based startup launched in 2012 with the aim of cutting down on global food waste and improving sustainability. Its use of plant materials to fabricate the edible layer used in coating food items replicates a natural biodefense system. Apeel’s work has been deemed appealing enough by the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Katy Perry and the Singaporean government, just a few of its many funders.

Machine Learning vs. Greenhouse Gases

Greenhouse gas emissions continue to represent an existential danger to the planet, but just how committed are companies to reducing their carbon footprint? Perhaps Emitwise, the new sheriff in town, can monitor that. The London-based startup has created an artificial intelligence platform that can measure emissions of gases such as carbon monoxide across the supply chain for companies and audit their performance in order to help them cut back. Its aim, says CEO Mauro Cozzi, is to be like a “QuickBooks for carbon.” This May, Emitwise raised an additional $3.2 million, bringing its total seed funding to $6.6 million as it seeks to boost its capacity to automate carbon accounting.

A Greek Spirit Goes Digital

Elsewhere in Europe, Berlin-based Dryad Networks is focused on protecting forests by detecting wildfires before anyone or anything else can. Named after the tree spirit from Greek mythology, this new startup is on an ambitious path to use solar-powered gas sensors and Internet of Things networks to digitize forests across the planet. Its German founders, Carsten Brinkschulte and Marco Bönig, say they were inspired by the horrific wildfires that ravaged the Amazon in 2019. According to an October statement, their long-term ambition is to “Deliver an effective communications architecture for even the most remote forests and make sub-one-hour wildfire detection the new reality.”

New Lives for Old Phones

At least 225.4 million used smartphones were shipped worldwide in 2020. But this market represents only a small portion of discarded devices; many are either thrown out or buried in a drawer or closet having been deemed useless and forgotten. Now, the Danish startup Worthmore is calling on phone owners to turn in as many old devices as possible so they can be recycled. Turns out they contain elements — cobalt and indium, to name just two — that are becoming increasingly scarce. In return, the owners share in the profits, keeping two-thirds (or donating to an NGO if they so choose) while the company takes the last third for its troubles.

Tokyo skyline at Night

SOCIAL JUSTICE INNOVATION

Invisible Hate vs. Visible Racism

For years, Black Lives Matters protesters have been demanding that monuments to Confederate heroes be dismantled. A number of them have been felled but more continue to stand as symbols of America’s enduring racism. In 2017, Atlanta-based creative agency 22Squared began working with the NAACP state chapter on a tech-based strategy to topple the remaining statues. The result of that collaboration is Invisible Hate, a tool with an app and interactive mapping that offers extensive information on where to find these monuments, what they represent and how to join activists seeking their removal.

Justice in 4K

A viral video that captured the atrocity of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin was crucial in securing a murder conviction. Now, Devshi Mehrotra and Leslie Jones-Dove, two University of Chicago alumni, have developed JusticeText, a software to assist public defenders in analyzing video footage for criminal justice cases. Pilot programs are already being conducted in counties in Illinois, Louisiana and New York.

Inclusive Medical Research

Like many facets of life in America, health care has long been tainted by institutional racism that has sidelined people of color or used them as guinea pigs. Take the Tuskegee syphilis experiment on Black men, for example, considered the longest nontherapeutic experiment conducted on human beings in medical history. Now Acclinate, a minority-owned biotech startup based in Huntsville, Alabama, is engaging communities of color on behalf of big pharma to ensure inclusive clinical research and foster trust in medical science. The jury is still out on its impact, but it has moved forward by launching e-DICT, a clinical trials management system with a database of diverse potential research participants, to aid its goals of inclusion.

TELUS

As the pandemic continues to exert a toll on low-income families worldwide, Canadian telecoms giant TELUS is stepping up to the plate, even beyond its borders. First, it gave free internet to low-income Canadians for two months last year, with a focus on helping students and people with disabilities. Then, its social impact fund, the TELUS Pollinator Fund for Good, raised $100 million that it will dedicate to early-stage financing for socially innovative startups. One of its earliest investments was in Windmill Microlending, a Canada-based charity that has been giving microloans to refugees and skilled immigrants. Another beneficiary is Raven, an impact fund for early-stage investment in Indigenous-led businesses in Canada and the U.S.

Tokyo skyline at Night

NEW PATHS

Older Adults

In recent years, there has been a spate of auto crashes involving older drivers in Japan, where nearly a third of the population is aged 65 or older. SWAT Mobility, a Singaporean bus-sharing startup that uses high-precision, route-optimizing technology, is now expanding its services to support this demographic in the world’s “oldest” nation. Like its more popular competitors Uber and Bolt, the company doesn’t own any of the vehicles in its fleet. It also operates in the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia, where it focuses on business-to-government and business-to-consumer models. “The aging population requires new ways to get around, especially in rural parts of Japan,” says Jarrold Ong, SWAT’s co-founder and CEO.

RobinFood

As the restaurant industry continues to rebound and evolve in the aftermath of the pandemic, a Latin American company is disrupting food delivery services with its contactless kiosks. Three years ago, Bogota-based RobinFood began building a cloud restaurant network across Colombia, Brazil and Mexico to serve low-income earners who struggle to pay for mainstream fast food joints. Its meals, which are dispensed in five minutes, cost $2 on average, and users can pay with either cash, credit or debit cards. Currently, RobinFood has over 50 virtual restaurants, with plans to boost that number to 1,000 over the next five years.

Uncomplicating EdTech

Brazilian edtech company Descomplica is another firm whose foresight has come in handy in the post-pandemic era. As COVID-19 continues to threaten learning practices worldwide, Descomplica (Portuguese for “uncomplicate”) is the first of its kind to enter into higher education in the country by launching five-minute online classes. These on-the-go courses are tailored to smartphones and other mobile devices and are currently being used by around 5 million people every month. They come in handy in Brazil, which has 105 million cellphone users. In February, the company closed an investment round of $84.5 million with backers like U2’s The Edge and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Vegan Frenzy

A vegan startup frenzy is underway in India, thanks in part to a large vegetarian population and religious beliefs that prescribe the lifestyle. Indian celebrities have also been vocal in endorsing veganism. Meanwhile, tech companies across the country are now taking advantage of India’s vegan landscape in order to scale innovation. Oziva, a plant-based nutrition venture that claims to be the world’s first connected multichannel nutrition brand, is one of them. Oziva offers nutrition supplements that combine modern food research with the ancient tenets of Ayurvedic herbal science, as well as fitness and wellness consultations. As one of the new-school leaders of India’s food supplements industry, it recently closed a $12 million series B round of funding that will help to scale its business and finish construction of its own manufacturing facility.

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