Creating an IMPACT – Demuth and his merry team of changemakers

And so it begins, the start of the in-person events. No more mic issues, freezing screens or indeed sitting around in only dressed from the waist up – we are back attending events in person, talking to actual people and trying desperately to remember how on earth we did this before Covid arrived.

For our first event 4i-mag attended the IMPACT FESTIVAL 2021 in Frankfurt, Germany. Not only was this my first event in a while but it was the first time I was venturing out into the wider world and I had the fear I’d forgotten how to interact with people again, despite the fact I interview strangers everyday on the phone for a living.

If you are going to go to your first event in a while, then it’s a shame you missed IMPACT FESTIVAL 2021 because it was the one to immerse you back to reality and heal us from the turmoil of the past eighteen months. An ideal mix of relaxed vibes and boundless energy. The quality of exhibitors at this sustainable event meant everyone was on the same page, there was no half measures here, these guys are all in the fight to heal the planet.

The brainchild of friends Fabian Demuth and Moritz Schwarz, took several attempts to happen but when it did it was an eye-opening delight. Demuth first had the idea of bringing people together at the beginning of last year and approached Schwarz who was keen to jump onboard.

They approached Main Incubator, an R&D unit, and early-stage investor, of Commerzbank Group, as a partner, and the agreement brought the idea to fruition, bagging Demuth a new job.

Courtesy of Impact Festival

“Bringing people together and inspiring people was one of my favourite tasks in the past and I had some event management experience from previous jobs,” said Demuth when I grabbed a quiet word with him away from the bustle of deals and collaborations coming together.

He remarked on the relative inexperience of the team brought the festival together but expressed it was made up by their motivation and devotion to the cause, something you could really get a sense of throughout the two days.

“The facts are clear for so many years, sustainability should be important besides the climate crisis. It should be our goal to respect nature and keep the planet well for us to hand over to the next generation. I would like to hand over the planet in as good condition to my grandkids as I found it,” he said.

I asked him if he recalled the first time, he had the realisation there was a cause which needed addressing.

“There were different situations but the first was quite a few years ago when I saw the documentaries on the garbage island in the ocean, it was really shocking to see the dimension of it,” he said. “Documentaries are important for us to see what we are doing to nature because if we are sitting here looking out the window it is not in our immediate line of sight.”

Germany’s impressive statistics for recycling but with no follow through to monitor where the products ended up was also a huge concern for him. “It’s scandalous that it’s not tracked to see if it’s recycled in Germany or sold to another country and it ends up on a beach or burnt somewhere – regardless, it’s in our numbers for recycling.”

He also highlights the reports of plastic pollution on some of the world’s most remote areas such as Mount Everest and earth’s deepest place, the Mariana Trench.

“You can’t imagine that the most remote places on earth are trashed completely. Microplastic is something we can’t reverse,” he said.

This is someone who craves real action and that’s what the team at IMPACT FESTIVAL have done. The quality of the companies present imply this was not an ‘awareness’ event with the hope of some investment match making but an event that will have real impact on the world right now.

Hand picking the start-ups from 500 applicants was a complex process due to the number of industries covered such as urban mobility, AgriTech, sustainable finance and social innovation.

“It was quite quality focussed – we checked if they are creating a real impact and if they are scalable. If their aim was to build something sustainable from scratch and it was not just a bridge technology – which of course we need in some traditional industries where it is quite hard to transform,” he said citing Agriculture and the Construction sector as examples.

There were many insightful talks and keynotes from notables of industry and workshops to get some deeper on to how these people are making real change in the world today.

Of the keynotes that I caught two, in particular, which pricked my ears, on the theme of urban mobility, something there are many issues around in Ireland, causing many frustrations.

The Tunnel Vision of Mobility Thinking from Marco Te Brömmelstroet of the Urban Cycling Institute in Amsterdam and Sandra Philips’, founder and CEO of Movmi, keynote If We Repurpose It, They Will Come: Mobility Infrastructure and Behaviour Change really hit home with me that change can happen in this area and even from a journalistic point of view, there is so much more us writers could be doing in this space to support that.

The event was live streamed on You Tube and you can catch all these talks on here and the schedule here. I suggest you do, the discussion on voluntary carbon markets held little back between Renat Heuberger, CEO of South Pole, Daniel Egger CCO of Climeworks and Christopher Blaufelder (you’ll find it close to the end of day two).

Holding an in-person event while there is still a pandemic sweeping the planet is a not an easy task, having postponed the date twice already it was right up to the wire again if it would go ahead.

It’s a challenge bringing people from all around Europe, and some further afield, to meet in a warehouse in the Offenbach area of Frankfurt am Maine was not an easy one, quite the stressful situation for the young team at times but one which undoubtedly paid off.

“We’ve had really great feedback from the exhibitors about the event and also about the design concept of the booths.” There was no glamour here, booths were basic with used pallets as tables which really gave you the idea we were there for the words and not the distracting visuals.

“A few exhibitors and visitors have already told us they want tickets for the next event,” he said.

So, what does the future look like for Demuth and his IMPACT FESTIVAL?

“The hope is to do this every year and to bring together the most relevant people to create an impact. It sounds quite simple but that’s our goal,” he said.

“We want to give start-ups the possibility to get funding from investors through the festival. This year we had investors from ten different countries. It’s important to get enough capital for start-ups to accelerate their processes because we don’t have a lot of time left.”

“We need new frameworks; we need quicker investment deals, and we need quicker implementation of those processes, and we hope to accelerate this with IMPACT FESTIVAL.”

There is no doubt this team will succeed with their mission.

I went to a sustainability event having written a few pieces on the subject and have returned someone who wants to add this subject to everything she writes. It’s no longer acceptable to just ask businesses about their green agenda, it’s now important to dive deeper and question their green agenda, every single bit of it.

Fiona Alston is a freelance journalist based in Ireland covering tech, innovation, start-ups and interesting SMEs. Alston is also passionate about athletics, health and horses having competed in triathlons, equestrian events and horse racing, and her lived experience comes through when covering sports personalities or fitness features. Growing up on the family farm in Scotland, Alston graduated from the University of Sunderland with a BA (Hon.) in Broadcast Journalism, and is frequently published in The Irish Times, The Business Post, RTÉ and 4i Mag.