ESG For Early-Stage Startups

In the world of startups, incorporating policies and practices for environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues is often seen as something for later-stage startups. We challenge that notion.

We believe that it’s far easier and more effective to integrate ESG from the beginning, making the next generation of unicorns or Fortune 500 companies more diverse and inclusive, more conscious of their employees' health and safety, and better serve their communities and the environment.

What is ESG?

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria are a set of standards for a company’s operations that 500 Startups latest global flagship fund is integrating into its investment analysis and decision-making and portfolio management processes.

Environmental criteria consider how a company performs as a steward of nature.

Social criteria examine how it manages relationships with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities where it operates.

Governance deals with a company’s leadership, executive pay, audits, internal controls, and shareholder rights.

Getting Started With ESG

A Guide for Early-Stage Startups that mitigate ESG risk create a sustainable culture, which can help attract both investors and customers.

Learn how to get started with ESG in this guide.

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ESG 2020 Annual Report

500 Startups focuses on ESG and responsible investing because we recognize the potential impact of startups on the environment, workers, communities, and society in the future.We integrate ESG into our investment strategy through a three-stage process that involves screening, investment, and monitoring and reporting.This is our first report for our global flagship Fund V.

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The Global Flagship Fund ESG Policy

The purpose of the ESG Policy is to ensure that the Fund takes a responsible approach to investment throughout its investment cycle and recognizes the potential impact of its companies on the environment, workers, communities, and society, as well as the potential impact of climate change on the companies in which the Fund invests.

Specifically, the policy helps the Fund to:

  • Account for material risks and potential opportunities which may make the business more or less attractive for investment.
  • Advise companies on ESG value creation opportunities.
  • Encourage the building of diverse and inclusive teams.
  • Contribute to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

The Global Flagship Fund ESG Investment Process

This begins with a pre-selection questionnaire to evaluate whether companies are operating in line with UN Global Compact Principles. Questions range from labor rights and gender equality to environmental impact and anti-corruption practices to the treatment of indigenous people. 

The Global Flagship Fund appointed an ESG specialist and the investment team will recommend tools and training and nominate mentors to work directly with select companies to inspire ESG materiality policy and build opportunities. Such portfolio company’s ESG status will be documented, including annual updates to company responses to the screening questionnaire.

500’s ESG specialist will also be responsible for maintaining and updating reporting systems and training. The ESG specialist will develop quarterly education modules on key ESG topics to include mentors, speakers, and tools. The ESG Specialist will also publish an annual ESG report.


Resources for Startups

Looking to better understand the ramifications of ESG policy for your early-stage startups? Check out our list of resources.

Standards, Frameworks, Certification

These are the main frameworks and standards from top organizations on the subject like the United Nations.

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Environmental Criteria

Check out these resources to help startups become more energy efficient, reduce waste, and be more mindful of how their business affects the environment.

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Resources to help early-stage startups understand and incorporate policies around board composition, as well as, anti-bribery and anti-corruption mechanisms.

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Social Criteria

From data protection and privacy to gender and diversity and more, these resources are to help address a variety of societal issues that may be affected by your startup.

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ESG Webinars And Content

ESG for Early-Stage Investing: Accelerating Responsible Venture Capital

Watch video → read story→

Beyond Disruption: How Tech Startups Can Shape the Gig Economy

Alex Rosenblat, Author

Uberland: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Rules of Work


Why Responsible Tech is a Business Imperative

Lyel Resner, Adjunct Professor of Public Interest Technology and Social Innovation

at NYU and a Fellow at the MIT Civic Data Lab, Co-Founder of Swayable (YC W18)


Environmental Stewardship: Why It's Essential at Every Stage of Business

Join us for a fireside chat with Jeremie Bacon and Tracy Barba where we will discuss why it's essential startups focus on environmental stewardship from day one, where to get started and common pitfalls to avoid, advice for communicating on ESG with investors, customers, and suppliers.


Social & Environmental Sustainability: What Startups Can Do Right Now

Join us for a fireside chat with sustainability expert Mike Stopka & Tracy Barba, Executive Director, Global Stakeholder Engagement and ESG at 500 Startups, where we will discuss how early-stage companies can get started right now implementing sustainability in meaningful and strategic ways, build credibility with investors, customers and suppliers around environmental and social responsibility, and updates on the key ESG issues we should all be following.


Gig Economy Strategy: Current Market Signals & What Startups Need To Know

Join us for a fireside chat with Paul Estes, author of "Gig Mindset: Reclaim Your Life, Reinvent Your Career, and Ride the Next Wave of Disruption". We'll be discussing his take on the current market signals around the gig economy following the Deliveroo IPO, what that means for all tech businesses, post-pandemic trends around engaging with gig workers, and how early-stage startups can start developing a gig economy strategy.


World-Class Culture for Startups

Join us for a fireside chat with Sal Giambanco where we'll discuss his experience building world-class human capital departments at PayPal (2000-09) then at Omidyar Network. Sal will be sharing his thoughts on building a culture that prioritizes the wellbeing of all of a company's stakeholders, starting with employees and extending to community, customers and supply chain.


Gender Equity for Startups & Eliminating Unconscious Bias

Join us for a fireside chat with Ilene Lang, the former CEO of Catalyst, a global nonprofit leading companies to build workplaces that work for women. Ilene will be discussing her experience as a pioneering tech executive in the 1980s and 90s (at Lotus Development Corporation, then as the founding CEO of AltaVista Software, Inc.), and her work at the global forefront of thought leadership and research to accelerate progress for women through workplace inclusion.


How To B Corp For Startups

Join us for a fireside chat with Eliza Erskine to discuss the benefits of B-Corp certification for startups and gain a deep understanding of the fees and requirements of the process.


Water Conservation & Innovation For Startups

Join us for a fireside chat with Alaina Harkness on what every startup needs to know about water conservation and innovation. Some of the topics Alaina will be discussing are where to look for water hidden in the supply chain, the state of water innovation and the water conservation movement globally, how startups can support the Blue Economy, and tips on what startups can do today to help protect local water resources.

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Diversity, Equity & Inclusion for Startups

Join us for a fireside chat with Mariah Lichtenstern on how startups can be deeply implementing diversity, equity and inclusion from early-stages. As an investor and operator, Mariah will be sharing her expertise on implementing DEI within company culture, what it is that signals to investors a company is serious about DEI, and an overview of the Startup DEI Pledge, which she helped design.

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