On the Hunt for World-Changing Companies

Douglas Hansen-Luke

On May 23rd a panel of judges, chaired by Lord Norman Foster, will quiz five fascinating start-ups, all winners of the 2017 Future Planet Awards, debating their merits in front of a live audience of investors and venture funds. The ultimate victor will carry away the ceremony’s top prize.


This is not just another business competition. From revolutionary refrigeration technology in Wales to plastic produced from biomass in China, the remarkable companies vying for the top prize have something in common: they believe their invention can change the world for the better.

Supporting companies like this lies at the heart of Future Planet Capital’s (FPC) ethos as an impact-led business. We believe that bringing the world’s biggest investors together with its brightest minds can help to address humanity’s greatest environmental and social challenges. Supporting the award winners provides a further way of accomplishing this, whether through recognition, investment, mentoring or valuable connections.

Yet these awards also have another, more immediate purpose for a firm like FPC: dealflow. The process uncovers exciting businesses that we may invest in or work with going forwards. As arguably the world’s first global university venture fund, our strategic partnerships around seven leading universities on three continents give us unusually broad access to exciting and innovative new businesses. Yet the awards were designed to be even more democratic: all-comers are welcome, whether from other university ecosystems or even beyond academic circles.

A wonderful example of that broader reach is Sure Chill, the winner of the Future Planet Award for Healthcare. Although the technology behind this low-energy refrigeration solution has been validated by a Berkeley professor, it was designed not in a university lab but in a garage in the Snowdonian hills.

The inventor behind that innovation was inspired by his time spent working in developing countries and the realisation that vaccines simply couldn’t be delivered to large swathes of the world’s neediest people, not because of a lack of vaccines, but because of a lack of reliable electricity to support refrigeration. Vaccines have saved more lives than any other form of medicine but they are rendered ineffective or unsafe when they become either too hot or too cold.

The work to support the individual category award winners has already begun. We’ve already introduced Sure Chill to members of the Jenner Institute at Oxford who immediately recognised their value. The technology also saves a dramatic amount of energy when used for conventional refrigeration, such as supermarket chilling, giving scope for impact on Climate Change.  

The other winners vying for the main title are just as exciting. Alphabet Energy (Winner: Climate Change) is tackling the waste and pollution caused by gas flaring, helping the oil majors to achieve their target of eliminating oil and gas flares by 2020. Bluepha (Winner: Sustainable Growth) won the President’s Award at Tsinghua University in China for their invention: a method of manufacturing plastic out of biomass, which is now approaching an economic cost of production. PragmatIC (Winner: Security) from the Cambridge cluster can replace silicon chips with plastic, which has the potential to revolutionise the supply chain by adding intelligence and traceability to everything. And, finally, SAM Labs (Winner: Education) is already offering fascinating new STEM services to educators and children around the world.

When determining the overall winner, the judging panel (Lord Norman Foster, Lord Nat Wei, Jim Wilkinson of OSI, Patrick Chung of XFund, Nick Greenwood of Royal Berkshire Pension Fund and myself) will be thinking about which company stands the best current chance of breakout success within the next twelve months.

We will also consider which company could benefit most from our own network, so that we can help them turn their ambitions into reality. For that is the mindset we believe investors in this sector should always take: rather than “how much money can this company return to me,” the correct question is: “how much can I do for this company?”

The Future Planet Awards live final will take place on Tuesday 23rd May, as part of the Global Corporate Venturing Symposium


About Douglas Hansen-Luke, Executive Chairman of Future Planet Capital

Douglas is an experienced asset management professional dedicated to helping institutional investors and corporations achieve strategic investment objectives. With a background in senior managerial positions at leading asset management firms, he is now focused on connecting large investors including sovereign wealth funds with hard-to-access opportunities in technology and life sciences.

As Executive Chairman of Future Planet Capital and Managing Partner of HLD Partners he maintains a strong interest in the investment challenges of emerging markets, agriculture and socio-environmental impact that have long influenced his career, as well as a firm belief that investing for good can also be good investing.

About Future Planet Capital

Future Planet Capital is the world's foremost global innovation investment platform. Through a unique series of partnerships with top-tier universities in Asia, Europe and the U.S., the firm possesses an unrivalled level of access to technology and life science firms that emerge from academic institutions and the "clusters of innovation" that surround them.