New nonprofit promotes \’responsible\’ startup innovation

A new nonprofit aims to help fast-growth companies build their businesses by considering societal and environmental impacts from the outset. Responsible Innovation Labs, founded by Hemant Taneja, managing partner at venture firm General Catalyst, and former Stripe executives Jon Zieger and Diede van Lamoen, will help founders innovate with economic inclusion, environmental sustainability, workforce diversity, privacy, and “intentionality and impact.”

“I’ve been investing for 20 years now and when you think about the role of technology … it’s become one of the most powerful forces, if not the most powerful force for shaping change in society,” Taneja says. Adds Zieger: “We think about this as turning good intentions into practical action and rigorous standards.”

In recent years, large corporations have embraced stakeholder capitalism—the notion the purpose of a corporation is to serve employees, customers, suppliers, and communities, in addition to shareholders—and some large public stock holders are factoring environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics into investing decisions. But Taneja maintains that companies need to consider social responsibility in the earliest stages of their development. “Our strong belief is that the ESG movement is not sufficient for the world,” he says. “If you are sitting in a boardroom, thinking about your ESG strategy, it is probably too late.”

Zieger says Responsible Innovation Labs hopes to provide startups with tools similar to the decision-making frameworks he experienced at digital payments giant Stripe, where he worked as general counsel from 2012 to 2020. “When the company would deal with complex ethical issues…[founder Patrick Collison] and the management team would engage in a process of inquisition, and talk to many leaders on these topics, doing a version of what we’re proposing to do at scale at Responsible Innovation Labs.” (General Catalyst led Stripe’s series B fundraising round; earlier this year the company raised a series H round that valued it at $95 billion.)

The nonprofit announced a high-powered advisory board to help develop its charter. Board members include Toyin Ajayi, cofounder and president, Cityblock; Neil Blumenthal, cofounder and co-CEO, Warby Parker; Jim Breyer, founder and CEO, Breyer Capital; Rachel Carlson, cofounder and CEO, Guild Education; Ken Chenault, chairman and managing director, General Catalyst; Ken Frazier, former CEO, Merck; Jon Iwata, executive fellow, Yale School of Management; Maurice Jones, CEO, OneTen; Youngme Moon, a professor of business at Harvard Business School; Sam Palmisano,  former chairman and CEO, IBM; Josh Reeves, cofounder and CEO, Gusto; and Glen Tullman, CEO, Transcarent.