“Today we can no longer ignore the harsh reality. We need the human ingenuity and entrepreneurial drive that brought us the present to address the environmental challenges that threaten our future.” Ief Winckelmans is a man on a mission. The founder of the global impact investing network Ocean Impact Alliance is a skilled impact fund manager with a passion for protecting the Earth’s ecosystems. We learned how Ief brings together ecopreneurs, a support network and global impact investors to change the world through responsible economic endeavour.
Parvati Magazine: Your father was a deep sea treasure diver. How did that shape your life growing up?
Ief Winckelmans: It definitely had a massive influence on how I look at life, how I respect nature. I became inspired by nature, by how incredibly powerful the ocean and the sea can be.
PMAG: You pivoted from Internet pioneer to eco-business. Do you consider yourself a business man, ecopreneur or both? And how do those two things relate to each other?
IW: I got to know the Internet [in the early 1990s] as a student at Catholic University of Leuven, where we created an Internet-based distance learning project with universities in three countries. The IT/internet aspect of that project led to my career in IT and telecommunications, and because of telecommunications, I ended up in China. By working in China you see the massive scales of the pollution and destruction that rapid industrialization brings with it. In the West, we have become extremely good at putting our waste out of sight. But we haven’t really developed the real solutions for it.
When I sold my business, I was thinking, what can I do to make a positive impact? What is my expertise? What are my skills? What are my resources? What can I bring? That developed into Ocean Impact Alliance.
When you do a regular fund, or today they call it impact investment fund, you are still an investor and you’re still aiming to make the most profit possible. The challenge for me was I wanted to do a genuine ecological impact fund. I wanted to make sure that the investments we did were effectively green or blue, or clean tech solutions.
PMAG: How are Ocean Impact Alliance and your global impact investing network helping your registered ecopreneurs realize their sustainable business visions?
IW: We are not just a network of investors, we are a matchmaking service. That’s in essence what we do. We bring parties together from different disciplines and from different fields and industries because it makes sense to make the connections between them. We now have 15,000 organizations and 87 investors in our network.
A big part of the opportunity today is for us to find very early stage projects and introduce them to nonprofit foundations and subsidy financing to help them get funded in the earlier stages, and then we develop our pipeline for our network of investors.
PMAG: What are some of the most notable achievements that have happened through this network of impact investors?
IW: Just one example is a technology putting sensors on the bow of ships, reading the waves, and then adapting the speed and the course of the ship to the waves. It’s making those massive container ships use the waves to their advantage, so it’s surfing, in essence, those ships, from one side of the ocean to the other. That is bringing down the fuel consumption significantly, in some cases between 10 and 30 per cent.
It’s not only about money, it’s about impact. We want to see the wave reading technology implemented in as many ships as possible. But then there is also the other part, ships are burning dirty fuel. By 2020, they need to install scrubbing technology so they don’t have the dirty exhaust anymore. But now there is no incentive for these shipping companies to install scrubbers on their ships because it’s a massive cost to them. It can cost them up to 25, in some cases up to 50 per cent, of the cost of the vessel.
What I figured out was that we can go to the shipping company and say, “Look guys, we can save you fuel with the wave reading technology, but we are only going to offer you the solution if you’re willing to install these scrubber technologies with the cost savings. Then you will start making money with the cost savings later, but you have to do it anyway because the policy is by 2020. We are giving you an incentive to install the scrubbers now on top of installing the wave reading technology.” It becomes a win-win for everybody involved.
PMAG: What do you wish more people understood about the ocean?
IW: Ocean Impact Alliance is not only about the ocean. We have a holistic approach, because our entire global ecosystem is connected to the ocean. It’s where all life came from. It provides the oxygen we breathe, it makes life on this planet possible. Without healthy living oceans, there is no life and this planet becomes another dead brick in space.
Ief Winckelmans is the visionary founder of OCEAN IMPACT ALLIANCE. Growing up on dive boats and yachts gave him a deep passion and respect for the ocean. After a career in the ICT industry, he is using his skills and expertise to facilitate the transition to a sustainable blue economy.