At the heart of Imperial College Business School’s vision is an emphasis on benefitting business and improving society. One alumnus has gone on to build a company that embodies this vision, building a start-up focused on renewable energy. Imperial MBA Alumnus Karl Harder managing director of Abundance Generation, a revolutionary crowd-funding organization, which advocates ethical investing. For Harder, this means empowering individuals to invest in local projects for renewable energy, including wind, solar, anaerobic digestion, and hydro products.
Harder entered the business world with a passion for sustainability which he inherited from a long and rich personal history in environmental policy. When he earned a Bachelor in Environmental Science at university, he confesses, “I thought you could change the world through campaigning,” but he was quickly disillusioned. He then pursued change through policy, working as an Environmental Advisor at the Houses of Parliament, but was again disappointed. So, he turned to business and found a home there; “I realized that if you form a business, if the numbers stack up to help you do something positive, you are very free to do the kind of things that you want to do,” Harder explains.
Harder is now using the full force of business to harness the power of community to build a more sustainable world. Abundance Generation uses democratized finance to allow people to essentially vote with their money. There are a number of renewable energy projects available for users to choose from, and more are being added each month. The user can sift through all the different options and read about the project, see how much has been invested, how many investors are involved, what the minimum threshold is, and even browse through photos of the initiative in action.
The more people band together to invest in a certain project, the more the power of one single, wealthy entity is offset.
Harder insists that it’s not just about creating a more sustainable world, but also positively changing the nature of how people interact with their money. “It’s an area that, up to now, has had limited choices,” he says, “but our understanding of the markets and the research that we’ve done show that the majority of investors would feel happier if they knew their money was going to things that they believe in, and is earning them a decent return.”
Before Abundance Generation, that wasn’t really an option. “The initial inspiration [for Abundance] came from the sense that the ability for people to connect to things that are happening in their area through their money has been limited,” recalls Harder. He saw something missing in the market: when people invest in banks, they don’t know where and for what cause their money is going, so, he elaborates, “what we’ve put in place is a mechanism that allows people to control exactly where their money goes and what sort of return they get, either social or financial.”
But the road wasn’t an easy one: It took four years of extensive work with regulators to create the infrastructure for crowd funding. “I started working in October 2008 and it didn’t launch until late summer 2012,” recounts Harder, “that was basically because we were the first of our kind, no one had really done what we had done before.” While it was a painstaking process, it led to the creation of not just a company, but also a whole new sector. “It was a very torturous and complicated process to get authorized. So, we’ve certainly helped to create the industry that is regulated crowd-funding,” Harder says.
The framework that Abundance put in place is still ripe for growth. In the future, Harder envisions Abundance as facilitating investment on a broader platform of social infrastructure projects, not just renewable energy: “In my mind,” posits Harder, “there’s no reason why the public shouldn’t be able to replace the city in financing big PFI deals.”
Creating such a novel and dynamic industry didn’t come without its struggles, but after the regulators rejected Harder’s proposition four times, he kept pushing through his idea until they couldn’t be ignored. “Don’t take no for an answer,” cautions Harder, “perseverance is the key, and stubbornness.”
Of course, it helps if you are passionate about your business and equipped with the right skillset. Harder had the passion, but came to Imperial to learn about how to start a business. With the idea for Abundance already in mind, Imperial was a clear choice because of its strong entrepreneurial focus. He was able to gain valuable insight into how to design a business plan to turn his vision into reality, “I think the thing that Imperial really gave me was the design-level approach to business creation,” Harder explains. With that expertise, Harder was able to systematically build Abundance from the ground up.
Through business, Harder is now living out his ambition to make a positive difference in the world. With 2005 investors and £11,820,362 invested in projects so far, Abundance Generation is a testament to constructive change born out of the fusion of forward-thinking vision and hard work.