Google launches incubator for SDG-aligned startups

Google has this week launched a new "accelerator" programme for startups, aimed at supporting new firms striving to drive progress against one or more of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

To gain a place in the programme, startups will have to show Google their potential to help create a low-carbon, resource-efficient, more socially equal world. Image: Google

To gain a place in the programme, startups will have to show Google their potential to help create a low-carbon, resource-efficient, more socially equal world. Image: Google

The tech giant has said it will choose startups to support based solely on their past work or their potential to drive progress towards the 169 targets listed under the SDG framework, selecting eight to ten startups within the coming weeks.

Each of these startups will then be covered by the accelerator programme for six months, starting in early 2020. During this time, they will receive mentoring from Google staff and access to 1:1 support from Google’s engineers. Google has also said it will pay for the startups to access local mentors and external experts in each startup’s respective field.

Once this original cohort of startups completes the programme, a second batch will be chosen.

Google’s chief sustainability officer Kate Brandt said the accelerator has been designed to address three “unique challenges which founders face when building a social impact company” – namely accessing funding, developing and monetising the business, and creating products with the input of engineering expertise.

“Technology can help address some of the world’s biggest challenges, from empowering others to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to address social challenges, to setting ambitious and long-term environmental sustainability goals,” Brandt said.

“When businesses and investors work together with government, non-profits, communities and individuals, we can make real progress.”

Searching for sustainability leadership

The new accelerator is part of Google’s Google for Startups initiative, which has already backed a number of social impact startups including South African green building firm Asaduru and UK-based Limbic, which uses AI to analyse mental health data.

But its launch comes as Google is facing growing calls to bolster its climate strategy, with more than 1,000 staff having this week signed a public letter calling on their employer to commit to an aggressive "company-wide climate plan" including the cancellation of contracts with fossil fuel firms and the halting of donations to climate change deniers.

Google has been using 100% renewable electricity across its operations for several years now and, building on this commitment, recently pledged to ensure that all ‘Made By Google’ products will include some proportion of recycled materials by 2022 and to make all customer shipments carbon-neutral by 2020, through the use of carbon reduction and offsetting.

On the latter, Google this autumn made its biggest renewable energy purchase to date, signing a package of 18 clean power deals.

But the company has also made large donations to more than a dozen organizations that have worked against climate action or sought to roll-back environmental protections, the Guardian revealed in October

Google justified these decisions by explaining that it selects organisations to collaborate with based on their advocacy for “strong technology policies” – but staff are lobbying for the cessation of such funding decisions, and for the company to set a 2030 net-zero target.

Sarah George



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