“We’re building something far bigger than ourselves. That’s both a privilege and a responsibility,” shares Jaclyn Seow in her bio on the Openspace Ventures website.
As head of ESG & Impact at the US$600million South-east Asian venture capital firm, she assesses potential investments for ESG compliance and impact, promoting greater awareness of ESG among portfolio companies. She also engages investors and stakeholders to share best ESG practices.
For Seow, “something far bigger” refers to “our companies, some of which have grown from 50 to 200 employees in a year or amassed over 10 million registered users from over 55 countries in just three years”.
Openspace Ventures, launched in 2014 as NSI Ventures and founded by entrepreneur Hian Goh and investment banker Shane Chesson, has a portfolio of 40 tech-powered companies that employ more than 10,000 people.
“Their influence extends substantially beyond the jobs they create. Our companies support the livelihoods of more than 2.2 million people across Southeast Asia,” she says.
Companies Openspace Ventures has funded include Singapore women’s clothing brand Love, Bonito; Thai fintech startup Finnomena; and GoTo, the merger between Gojek and Tokopedia that’s regarded as Indonesia’s most valuable tech startup.
“These companies provide millions of underserved people access to markets, financial services, healthcare and education through their technology. So it’s critical that they are built with a strong commitment to accountability from the start, and that’s where early- stage investors can influence actions and perspectives.”
But where does ESG fit into the big picture of profitability and the performance of companies? The ESG concept includes factors such as transparency and accountability, proper waste management, and cybersecurity, as well as whether a company mitigates environmental pollution.
According to Seow, some of these are business- critical, like food safety and minimum wage, because they have regulatory implications. “As investors, we want to go beyond what is legally required. We want to support businesses that are making a positive overall impact on society.”