#026 Alessa Sollberger: on impact investing, blockchain mavericks & conflict leading to freedom
How can we really understand impact in the investment and policy space? Crypto and blockchain: where has it been, and where is it going? And how can we be the architect of our own reality? Big questions that we are deep diving into with Alessa Sollberger—entrepreneur, investor, founder of Top Tier Impact.
Alessa Sollberger is an entrepreneur, investor and active board member of several companies. Swiss-born and fluent in six languages, Alessa created her first business at eleven years old, and has been investing in the blockchain and biotech sectors since graduating from Oxford University in 2012. After covering product in early-stage technology startups, Alessa worked in private equity at Blackstone, and in venture capital at Mosaic Ventures. She’s the youngest member of her Oxford degree’s advisory board.
Alessa also founded Top Tier Impact (TTI), the global network of impact and sustainability leaders. Its mission is to accelerate the mainstream adoption of impact and sustainability within the investment and company management space.
In this episode, we unpack impact investing and policy, a breakdown of blockchain and Bitcoin, the untapped opportunities, and using external conflict to reflect internally on the journey to freedom. You can listen to the whole conversation on the Live Wide Awake podcast here or read the highlights below.
On how Alessa defines “impact”…
The way we define “impact” at TTI is as a global paradigm shift towards sustainability and equality across all economic sectors. So not just the clean part of energy or the sustainable part of food. It’s like the entire energy industry, entire food industry, and so on, shifting towards a paradigm where sustainability inequality are embedded in the core of how the industry operates. And on how we’re seeing the impact space evolving… It goes back to this systems view, how can we horizontally improve the entire impact space? Where are the big leverage points? Obviously, there is a lot of capital coming into impact at scale. So if we can direct that capital better, and make sure that it gets matched optimally, to where it’s really needed. I look at these flows are going, and how we can approach that.
And with the policy side, it’s kind of similar. Because there is a leverage point… I mean, quite frankly, if let’s say every country tomorrow were to legislate carbon emissions out of existence, it would be terrible and catastrophic, but we would have to adapt one way or the other. So you can’t underestimate the impact of policy. For example, in the UK, climate-related financial disclosure is becoming mandatory for a huge segment of companies, and the adjustments are massive. For us, it’s about… how can we make that more effective? How can we bring the private sector and real expertise into those discussions as much as possible?
On where Alessa thinks there’s the greatest growth to solve the most pressing issues today…
The energy space has a lot going on, from many different angles. Clean energy, clean tech, carbon emissions reduction technologies. The mission is critical, because obviously we’ve got net-zero targets to hit, which we don’t yet have the technologies for. So there’s a big gap that needs to be filled. There’s stuff in the works, and it’s moving.
But then also, I think we’re at a very interesting point in time, from a technological standpoint. You might be familiar with the clean tech bubble in the early 2000s in Silicon Valley—back then the technology didn’t quite make sense yet. The cost hadn’t dropped to a level that made it actually economically feasible and not just like, subsidies or VC money. But now, things have changed. Technologies truly have reached scalability, they’ve not been needing grants… With the solar space, for example, it’s very timely and exciting from many different perspectives. And as I said, of course, we need to actually get our emissions down.
Another area for sure that’s really active is regenerative farming, regenerative agriculture… making sure that the way we approach our soils, the way we approach our foods and what we end up putting in our mouth, has a certain approach and system behind it. And also regulation in that area is really ramping up. For example, in the UK, we’ve been seeing interest growing in regenerative farming from various stakeholders, because of new regulations. Or another factor that might be driving that is also consumer demand. That’s been quite strong within the food space, and it’s been going on for several years already, right? So these are both incredibly exciting, active areas.
On what all these terms in the investment space mean…
Just like how the Internet has been about democratising the access to information consumption and creation, the same thing is happening with Blockchain technology and value. So value consumption, creation and movement… A lot of friends who have come from different sectors have become investors. Everybody can become an investor, everybody has a value angle to it, everybody can create financial products, it’s just that we’re not there yet. This is such a fundamentally different approach to how value is moving. It’s peer-to-peer, which we don’t have in traditional finance. We always have an intermediary, whether it’s through an online portal or a bank. But this is not that.
And if you take it a step forward from there… it’s no longer about just building companies. It becomes about being able to actually create your own world, economy or country, where you can really set incentives to interact in a certain way. This is also why from an external observer’s perspective, all of this can be quite intimidating. And the last part is… moving away from Big Tech, moving away from monopolies, and that concentration. Because this ecosystem just operates in such a fundamentally different way. Now there are differences: some protocols are very decentralized, and others are not. But this is part of the evolution of the ecosystem. Because let’s face it, being fully decentralized and letting your users decide everything is not the most efficient way to go about building a company.
If I have to summarise it, it’s a fully democratised approach to how we interact with value. And then it’s also like taking a step forward with how much ownership and how much authority we can actually create in our entrepreneurial endeavors.
On where Alessa is at with doing the inner work…
It’s happened in phases. But at this point, it’s an integrated thing. It’s not like, every six months, I do this thing, or take a week off. It’s integrated into my life now, and how I go about things in general. For me, I’ve really thought about it as taking responsibility. Seeing the mirror image of yourself… Any conflict externally is a great occasion to reflect and solve a conflict within. Anything you might project, suspect, or be upset about or whatever, is really a reflection of something that you can learn. So always asking yourself why, and taking responsibility in a loving way. I think this is super important, because ultimately it’s about figuring out what you can accept within and welcome into yourself. We have everything within ourselves. So things outside that affect us should be signs for us to go within.
I find that extremely empowering and freeing, to realise that it’s all within you. The power is within you. And no, you don’t need like a guru to tell you what to do. You don’t need to get people to do certain things to get you to feel happy or for you to feel a certain way. Because all you need is within yourself. The more you approach it, also from different angles and from your personal experiences, and things that you face within yourself, the more it sinks in, the more you understand it. So it kind of compounds on itself as well.
On her breakthroughs over the years…
I’ve had a lot of breakthroughs that relate to things that would bother me, and just looking within, solving those conflicts, understanding the roots of that. All of that has been wonderful. I wouldn’t say that it feels like one big breakthrough moment. Really, it continues to build upon itself. And at the end of the day, this is just developing a wonderful relationship with ourselves. It really comes back to the relationship with ourselves. And as we know from relationships with other people, it’s not like one thing happens, and that’s it, now we’re best friends or partners, or whatever it is. So in that same way, it’s a continuous process.
For me, I think there’s been quite a few areas where I’ve integrated and realised that nothing bothers me anymore. And in fact, something that would have annoyed me about someone’s behavior… where I’d be like, “oh, why did they do that? It doesn’t make sense. They’re so unfriendly…” Or whatever it is. It’s just about building compassion for ourselves, which we can then extend to others naturally. Over time, these have sort of smoothed themselves out.
On how we can live wide awake…
It comes back to that honesty, with ourselves, of what our experience is like. Our wants, our emotions, our insecurities, like all of these things. Having a space for all of these things to be present, so that when we show up ourselves… we’re present as well. I think there is a saying, that goes something like… anything that distracts you, that takes you away from the present moment, is something you don’t want to face in the present moment. And so the more you can just welcome all of that and be with that? The more present you can be in your life. Whether it’s being more effortless, or having a more intense and rich life experience… That all comes. And that to me, is being wide awake.
Three things I’m taking away from this conversation with Alessa:
1. Crypto and blockchain can be very complicated to understand. But it really is just at the very beginning, so if you’re curious, you are not too late.
2. When something upsets you on the outside, use this as an opportunity to look and reflect within.
3. There is so much we don’t understand yet in our world. Just because we don’t fully understand something, or it hasn’t been scientifically proven yet, doesn’t mean there isn’t value and ancient wisdom there.