Photo Credit: Cervest
In this week’s Founder Feature, we have sat down with Iggy Bassi, sustainability-focused serial entrepreneur and founder of Cervest.
Iggy has advised some of the largest global organisations on sustainability (inc. Fortune 500) and has now developed a solution which will empower organisations across the world to take the action need to tackle climate change.
Read more in the interview below to learn about how Iggy Bassi is championing climate action with Cervest.
Q: Who are you and what is your story?
A: I am Iggy Bassi, the CEO and founder of Cervest, an Earth Science AI startup. I have a 20-year track record of building companies and advising global organizations (inc. Fortune 500 and sovereigns) on competitiveness, technology, and sustainability.
As previously mentioned, I also pioneered the original idea to launch a vertically integrated agribusiness in West Africa with a focus on sustainable financial, social, and environmental returns. Gadco became the largest rice production company in Ghana with a state-of-the-art processing centre and built its own branded products under the ‘Copa’ label.
Q: Could you tell us about your company and what you’re striving to achieve?
A: At Cervest, we are building Earth Science AI to help all companies mitigate the short and long term effects of the climate crisis. With $970 billion worth of assets at risk worldwide, Cervest enables organisations to predict climate security risks caused by extreme weather events through personalised, scientific insights.
Climate risk is at a crossroads where a fundamental behavioural shift is needed to ensure that all organisations are held accountable (72% of businesses consider climate risk to be a political problem) for their contribution towards climate change, yet its inclusion on the agenda of major corporations and organisations is near non-existent. We’re continually working towards the visualisation of this information through innovation.
Q: What made you decide to take on the challenge of founding your own business?
A: I previously co-founded an agribusiness startup called Gadco, which pioneered our original idea to launch a vertically integrated agribusiness in West Africa with a focus on sustainable financial, social, and environmental returns.
Naturally, my thinking progressed to how we could provide a solution and allow these sustainable growth opportunities to be made on a larger scale. It was at this point that I became focused on building a singular platform that would help businesses assess their climate risk on a physical, geolocational and organisational level, and the steps that need to be taken in order to reduce their climate risk.
Q: What is the core technology driving your start-up’s product/service?
A: Earth Science AI applied to use cases in climate security. As businesses continue to see more emphasis being placed on environmental targets, the potential use of innovative technology in predicting, solving and actioning these risks is huge. This is an emerging area of AI where we now have the critical mass of data, algorithms, computation and market demand.
The platform itself combines research and modelling techniques taken from proven Earth sciences such as atmospheric science, meteorology, hydrology and agronomy and combining them with the aforementioned artificial intelligence, imaging, machine learning and Bayesian statistics.
Q: Tell us about some of the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome?
A: A huge challenge for us has been defining the climate problem in a way that people care about. The conversation around climate change has transformed in the last 3-4 years, particularly the progression of discussion around climate-related financial disclosure. The key hurdle has been finding what it is about climate change that organisations, policymakers and governments care about the most, fine-tuning it and getting ourselves in a place to scale it.
The continual challenge is bringing a problem that is very general and making it personal. If you were to give each company a personalised health plan and disclose the information that insurers and investors will need from you, they would be quick to act. That is the path we are attempting to take with financial disclosure. This granular breakdown for companies is even more important when considering asset-level risk.
Q: What are your biggest threats?
A: The biggest threat for us is the time it takes for companies to adopt climate into their decision making. The Taskforce for Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) has been instrumental, as it has forced companies to rethink and re-frame their risk frameworks. COVID-19 has also been a notable driver in forcing governments and organisations to recognise the potential asset risks they have.
The issues around asset risk have been pushed into mainstream organisational challenges in the last 3-4 years, however, there is still a gap when it comes to investment. It will be interesting to see how ‘smart capital’ alters investors’ approaches and whether this will continue to put asset risk and climate considerations at the forefront of thinking.
Q: What keeps you up at night/what are you paranoid about?
A: Ensuring that we achieve our vision. The topic of climate is too important to end up with a number of competing models. We must create a singular, open-access platform that can serve the needs for every organisation, whether that be business enterprises or governments.
To achieve this, we must incorporate some of the most cutting-edge science and AI. The tide is changing in terms of the data that organisations need, even banks are now looking to scientific data to make informed decisions where they previously would have used company data. The food labelling industry is a good example of the model we want to avoid. We do not want climate data to get to the point where companies are just choosing the most ‘convenient’ option as they have too much to choose from.
Q: How many hours of sleep do you get and what is your morning/evening routine?
A: I sleep for 6 hours. My morning routine generally consists of some exercise, whether that’s yoga or a simple walk. Over the last couple of years, I have taken the active decision to not read my emails in the morning. This gives me space to read – and working in this space requires a lot of reading – and set myself up properly for the day.
Generally, I go to bed late and will usually check my emails in the evening. I will work until about 7:30 pm, then take a break to make calls, have some dinner, walk the dog and then head back to the desk.
Q: How do you manage the duality between driving new business and overseeing daily operations?
A: This is my third startup, so I know how to quickly and effectively bring the team together. A huge part of my job is delegation, but it allows me to ensure quality control.
My main responsibility at Cervest is the strategy, fundraising and senior hires and I really love this part of the job. Fast growth AI requires hiring well and being accountable for the growth of the team. We have spent a long time hiring our c-level staff as we needed to be sure that the chemistry and competence is there. You cannot scale yourself.
Hiring for the future is key – thinking what does the company need in the next 3-6 months time?
Q: What are your goals over the next 12 months?
A: Our first goal is to continue our mission in educating businesses and their people on why we need to act now. Whilst the overall climate consciousness is growing, this is still slow in comparison at an organisational level, and this must be a priority in the continued fight against climate change.
From a business point of view, we are continually fundraising towards our Series A and are in a strong position to be able to select who we work with. It is imperative that we work with investors who believe in our wider mission, as well as the responsibility that all organisations must take in the fight for sustainability as a planet.
Finally, the launch of our platform will be an exciting milestone and one we hope to achieve in the coming months. Once this is live, we are hoping to combine our education and risk management to give organisations globally access to the information they need around their climate risk.
Q: Can you tell us who your mentors and heroes are, and what impact they’ve had on you?
A: From the world of science I’ve always enjoyed how wonderful scientists such as Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson or Lawrence Krauss translate complexity to make it accessible to all – that’s a remarkable skill and allows us all to value the science and wonder in everyday life. Many mentors at all stages in my life have shaped my choices, tenacity, and desire for positive change and there’s always more to learn.
Q: Do you see this as UK centric or will you conquer the world by going global?
A: Climate risk is a global issue and cannot be solved just by the actions of one country. Our goal is to give businesses, organisations and everyone in between the freedom and access to data that will categorically alter the way we all approach climate change. Pushing this up the global agenda will only increase the chances of widespread changes being made. At present, our platform covers every hectare of Europe, the end goal will be to cover every hectare of the globe and turn the tide on climate risk.