Hendrik Bartel is the CEO and co-founder of TruValue Labs, Inc. a San Francisco-based fintech startup leveraging advances in natural language processing, cognitive computing and machine learning to provide real-time sustainability insights. With his entrepreneurial background and knack for turning complicated technologies into user-friendly products, Hendrik has led product development initiatives at companies including Amazon and Cisco in addition to his work at early and late-stage startups. Following the completion of his MBA, Hendrik recognized an opportunity to provide previously hard to access sustainability data and to provide real-time ESG data through Insight360, an online platform that helps investors make smarter decisions.
Christopher P. Skroupa: You’ve been involved with a number of technology startups in your career, but this is the first time you’ve been involved in sustainability. What brought you to this space?
Hendrik Bartel: I guess you could consider me a technology native; I’ve been involved in the tech industry for the first fifteen years of my career, and I’ve been a part of at least four startups – using technology to find disruptive solutions to problems. After the last startup was acquired, I completed my MBA at Saint Mary’s College of California, which is where I started to learn about economic sustainability concepts and how these are being incorporated within the finance and investment industries.
In a class taught by Professor Jim Hawley, I felt an immediate affinity to the topic of sustainability and what investors refer to as ESG (environmental, social, and governance) issues and long-term performance. It was immediately obvious to me that sustainability and ESG are fundamentally crucial trends if we expect to be able to address the range of issues facing the contemporary global economy.
For me, sustainability is the only concept that can rival the importance of technology for the future of humanity. Our shared natural environment, the priceless “natural capital” we depend on for our lives and livelihoods, has been taken for granted since the industrial revolution. Our relentless focus on the short-term – short-term profits, quarterly results, and a myopic approach to our investments – is preventing us from understanding the big picture of where this path will take us.
So understanding these trends, recognizing the importance of sustainability – like I said before, it just made sense to me, and we can see these issues becoming increasingly mainstream. But what was particularly fascinating to me was the fact that it appeared that investors just didn’t pay attention to the fundamental issues that arise from sustainability analysis.
Skroupa: As you mention, there is an obvious trend towards recognizing the importance of sustainability and ESG – but what do you think are the main obstacles from the investor perspective for wider adoption of these principles? What’s holding back effective ESG integration?
Bartel: While I think there are a number of obstacles investors face when they try to incorporate sustainability, the more I became exposed to the industry, the more one major barrier became increasingly apparent to me: data.
I saw how the traditional ways of incorporating sustainability principles was held back by the provision of sustainability data. This data has been difficult to access, lacks transparency, is inconsistent and infrequent, and of course the biggest barrier of all, it’s expensive.
So for me, what’s holding back effective ESG integration is the lack of data. While intuitively, sustainability and ESG makes sense, without sufficient data to act on, how can someone be sure they are taking a sustainable approach?
Through ongoing conversations with Professor Hawley, I started to approach the problems we were discussing from a technological angle: how could we use technology to solve this issue in sustainability, one of the most pressing trends we’re facing?
Skroupa: You launched Insight360 a few months ago to help solve these problems. How are you using technology to provide solutions? What are the benefits?
Bartel: To answer that question properly, I first need to talk about the technology itself.
The technological abilities we have today are incredible: we are at a stage where most of us have access to the sum of human knowledge in the palm of our hands, ready to access at any time. This wouldn’t be possible without the internet – the foundation of our information-based society. Our interactions within this interconnected world have resulted in what we call Big Data – extremely large data sets that can be analyzed to reveal patterns and trends that were completely inaccessible just a short time ago.
However, the vast majority of available information is noise; one of the biggest challenges facing many industries is how to cut through this noise and extract the signals that matter. We see that in the ESG space; investors face too much information, making it difficult to find the data they need.