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Every other year, the Danish nonprofit Index gives away about $550,000 in prize money. The winners: people who have designed solutions to life-altering problems like health and hunger. But the organizers got to thinking: Could they accomplish more? “What could we do with this volume of design solutions — and the budding design entrepreneurs looking to build?” says Liza Chong, the nonprofit’s director of strategy and development. “Could we work with them and scale them and help them grow?”
Their answer: Yes, they could. Now they’re doing it with Danish Ventures, a fund that aims to raise $45 million in coming months, and that will invest $750,000 to $2.25 million into worthy projects. It will start by considering Index nominees, but with an eye toward the operation behind the design. “We want scalable companies that can target some of the world’s biggest problems,” Chong explains. Plus, this is a moneymaking enterprise, not charity work: “We want to show that profit can be made from purposeful companies.”
But the fund will offer more than just money. Over the past 15 years, Index has built a network of “movers and shakers and academics and doers, not only in design but also in the world of entrepreneurship and financing,” says Chong. “A lot of funds have more capital available to entrepreneurs. Our differentiator is very much about connecting people.”
Venture capitalists don’t often talk much about design, but Chong says it’s a valuable way to evaluate companies. “Take the core notions of what most Danes regard as good design: quality, strength, dexterity, sustainability. You can apply that to businesses as well,” she says. “We are drawn to things that are useful.” And the world can definitely use more usefulness.