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Talking to VIDA about Digital Sustainability

In the second edition of our founder interview series, we caught up with VIDA co-founder and CEO Dr. Tobias Engelmeier. VIDA is a map-based data software for infrastructure investors to assess climate risks, track their impact, and meet reporting requirements. Driven by the vision to revolutionize infrastructure investment, Tobias shares with us insights into VIDA’s role in the battle to fight climate change and the secret to having an all-remote company. Finally, we discuss with our Investor and Head of ESG, Dr. Carolin Althoff, how the company is a prime example of, our investment thesis, digitization and sustainability going hand in hand.

About VIDA

Created: 2018, Munich
Dr. Tobias Engelmeier, Nabin Gaihre, and Philippe Raisin
Cusp Capital thesis:
Digital Sustainability
Learn more:

What inspired you to found VIDA?

In the 2000s, I spent several years in India as a solar energy entrepreneur. I traveled from village to village, on poor roads, collecting data for possible investment sites. The process was slow, laborious and there was no way of measuring impact. In a moment of despair, I came upon a call from the European Space Agency seeking to use satellites to expedite clean energy access. Thus, VIDA was born. To protect the environment by facilitating green solutions at scale and using technology to power up a more equal and fair vision of the future.

How does VIDA work?

VIDA is map-based, data software that is easy for anyone to access and use. Our subscribers can assess over 50 location risk layers for any location in the world, at the click of a mouse. We aggregate ever more of the most advanced and sophisticated datasets into one easy-to-use map-based platform from which infrastructure investors can run due diligence on potential sites and share project site information with their teams and collaborators.

Is there a typical VIDA client?

We work primarily with infrastructure investors across the world - this could be funds, banks, governments, municipal governments or local developers. So there’s quite a wide range.

Impact management and risk mitigation, that sounds intense. What does that mean?

We live in intense times ;) We help our users to identify a range of location risks in order to make better, more informed, investment decisions. These range from climate risks, such as flooding, or heat stress scenarios, to environmental risks (e.g. how close is a site to a protected area?), to security risk, as well as demand risk (is the investment needed in this site?) and accessibility risk (what are transport links for this location?). It covers the ESG spectrum, and then some.

How does using VIDA support the battle against climate change? 

Building the right infrastructure is perhaps the most important part of our battle against climate change. And VIDA helps us do this, all across the world: by accelerating the construction of decarbonizing infrastructure (such as solar and wind, and grids), by building infrastructure that helps people adapt to climate change (e.g. energy access or flood protection), and building infrastructure that is itself more resilient to the effects of climate change.

What’s the sentiment in the market, do you still have to do lots of educational work?

I believe this is the year that ESG and climate risks really go mainstream. Whereas before companies often saw it as a nice-to-have, now a majority of people I speak to are on board. This is partly due to regulatory pressure, but also to values such as being planet friendly, becoming more mainstream and more urgent.

Is there a particular project that you feel had the biggest impact?

In Sierra Leone, where only one in four people have reliable access to electricity, we teamed up with the government, the World Bank and clean energy developers to assess and prioritize the 6,000+ best sites for a massive rollout of clean energy infrastructure. This means that Sierra Leone is effectively leapfrogging their way into the future - literally millions of households and businesses will be positively impacted by this. You can find a case study on this on our website.

VIDA colleagues and clients are spread all over the world. How do you nurture team spirit and ensure consistent customer success?

Being a fully remote company is a core value for us. We believe that hiring team members from across the world gives us access to the best talent and mitigates against our own biases when developing our product. We’re really proud to have a subsidiary office in Kigali, Rwanda. Nurturing team spirit happens through regular all-hands meetings, our in-house newsletter, Slack channels that are just for fun. We will also have our first global in-person meetup this summer.

Looking ahead, what’s your vision for VIDA? How will your solution disrupt the infrastructure market?

Right now, we’re focused on collaborating with key infrastructure investors. In terms of scale, these funds control the future of infrastructure investment globally, a trillion dollar industry. Our vision is that not a penny is spent on infrastructure worldwide unless the proposed investment site has been through the VIDA due diligence process.

Quick fire-round:

Your business hero…
My father
The biggest challenge you’ve faced…

Oh, there are many. And this is my fourth business. I suppose it’s doing everything at the same time: building a business and building a family.
Why infrastructure investors?

They control our future. We want to control them.
What did you want to do when you grew up?

I had a thing for the military, so probably a general.
Any advice for other founders?

Here is a piece of advice I heard from a very successful entrepreneur: “Don’t die. And don’t kill yourself trying not to die.” I suppose it means: if you manage to hang in there, be resilient, survive the difficult times, you’ll get out on top. And while you do that, don’t destroy your health and the social fabric that holds you.

Our two cents 

Dr. Carolin Althoff, Investor, General Partner and Head of ESG at Cusp Capital focuses in particular on digital solutions in the field of ESG such as @VIDA within the fund's investment theses. With her expertise in the ESG domain she positions Cusp Capital as one of the ESG-thought leaders in the industry while continuously working to expand ESG structures within our fund as well as our portfolio companies.

How is VIDA a prime example for digitization and sustainability going hand in hand?

Infrastructure investors require a much-needed upgrade to the paradigm of digital efficiency – and greater usage of data for informed decision making especially with a focus on various sustainability impact issues. By integrating multiple data layers, VIDA empowers infrastructure investors to make decisions, monitor assets, and address impact, aligning with the evolving market dynamics where a proactive, data-driven approach is essential for navigating climate change impacts and ensuring long-term profitability.

From an investor’s perspective, why did you decide to partner with VIDA?

We work with entrepreneurs who understand that ESG is a business imperative in building the next generation of tools and services, leading to a positive impact on our planet and society. We see exactly that in Tobias, Nabin, Philippe and their team. Apart from that, VIDA adds substantial value to a massive industry by responding directly to its need for efficiency, transparency, and sustainability (especially impact measurement).

Why do you enjoy working with the VIDA team?

Tobias and his team bring remarkably deep expertise around all things ESG. I thoroughly enjoy the exchange and working with this exceptionally diverse and hard-working team.

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