For-good investor Zinc.vc launches in London to solve world's biggest problems

Mike Butcher
Last year, a new VC emerged in Silicon Valley, designed to deal with the world’s biggest problems.

Last year, a new VC emerged in Silicon Valley, designed to deal with the world’s biggest problems. 50 Years said it wanted to solve real-world problems, while at the same time as making money. What if you took that ethos and created a sort of Ycombinator-for-good?

Today London, seems to be poised to catch up with that idea, with the launch of Zinc, a new ‘company builder' fund from the founders of the Seedcamp accelerator and the LocalGlobe VC. Zinc plans to tackle big social issues head-on, one at a time, while at the same time creating investable businesses.

It's not London's first such project, as Bethnal Green Ventures got there first, but it might be the most ambitious to date.

The first mission it's set itself is tackling the global problem of women’s emotional and mental health, an issue which affects one in four young women in the UK and 300 million people globally. It will bring together 55 entrepreneurs from around the world to tackle this issue inside six months.

Founders taking part in the first Zinc mission will be immersed in expertise on women’s emotional and mental health, with expert speakers drawn from the UK’s top universities and other experts.

The 55 participants in the first programme were selected from a pool of 800 applicants from around the world. The group includes 24 women and 31 men, comprising medical doctors, data scientists, serial tech entrepreneurs, UX/UI designers, computer vision experts, parents and founders of social enterprises. The average age is 33 and over half of the founders have previously started businesses.

At the end of the six-month programme, Zinc expects to form between five and 10 early-stage companies in which it will take an 8% stake.

Paul Kirby, chief executive, and co-founder of Zinc, said: “Technology has done amazing things in the last 10 years but it has not really yet risen to the big social challenges of our age that affect communities across the world. In many developed economies, there are intractable problems that are not being resolved, no matter how much money is thrown at them.” Ella Goldner, general manager and co-founder of Zinc, said: “We are looking for businesses that can have an impact on at least 100 million people.”

Saul Klein, a partner at LocalGlobe, which is backing the initiative, likened Zinc to Ycombinator: “When I co-founded Seedcamp with Reshma Sohoni 10 years ago it was a leap into the unknown, but it along with YCombinator has quickly become a proven model for business creation. With Zinc we want to make a similar leap forward and start a movement to tackle global challenges in the developed world.”

"Post-Trump and Brexit, the technology industry has a chance (perhaps even the need) to prove its value is more than financial and that it can positively impact society not just be disruptive,” he added.

Zinc has been seed-funded initially by London based early stage venture capital fund LocalGlobe, which has invested £500,000, and is now raising additional capital.

Camden Council is providing workspace for the Zinc founders in its Town Hall.

Among Zinc’s founders are Amit Khutti who co-founded DrEd; Elena Mustatea who works on digital health at Atomico, the London VC investor; and June Angelides, founder of Mums in Tech.

Zinc advisors include Professor Ann Blandford, UCL Institute of Digital Health; Professor Vic Strecher, University of Michigan; David Halpern who leads the Behavioural Insights Team (the government’s “Nudge” unit); Polly MacKenzie, Director of Money and Mental Health; Professor Matthew Hotopf , King’s College London; Sarah Wood, founder and CEO of Unruly; Lady Edwina Grosvenor, founder One Small Thing; Tom Hulme, General Partner at Google Ventures; Esther Wallington, Chief People Officer for HMRC.

Zinc follows in a long line of other projects designed to systematically create companies at the founding stage, and Klein and his team have over 12 years positive experience of building companies. Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe, Transferwise, Revolut and Zalando all emerged from accelerators/incubators. And the model has been pushed further with Singularity University and Entrepreneur First.

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