Impact Innovators in the Zinc Ecosystem: Carmel Rafaeli, Zinc Fellow
Carmel Rafaeli is an entrepreneur, advisor and angel investor dedicated to embedding sustainability at the heart of all business. She has been bringing innovation to life in a variety of sectors, products and platforms for 15+ years. Carmel is a Visiting Fellow mentoring founders in Zinc’s Venture Builder and portfolio.
Can you share a bit about your professional background?
I have been Jack of All Trades through my career so far. I started out as a radio news producer during my Army service, and from there moved into diplomacy work in public affairs and media. I did my undergrad degree in political science, then shifted into business with an MBA.
I have worked in various roles in the telecoms, fashion, retail and hospitality sectors. After selling my last business, a guest experience platform for boutique hotels, I worked on tackling the challenge of collaboration around innovation. There just isn’t enough collaboration happening, and if open source software has taught us anything, all exponential growth comes through collaboration. I spent a couple of years developing a platform to help create collaboration around IP between innovators, universities and businesses. It’s a tough, but critical, problem to crack. In the last couple of years I have shifted to climate and sustainability, which is how I connected with Zinc. And I now work for a company that connects startups, corporates and investors in the smart mobility space.
What motivated you to join the Zinc Fellows network?
I initially connected with Zinc as a founder and had been offered a place on the first climate focussed mission. The timing wasn’t quite right for me in the end, but I was invited to join the network of Fellows and support founders in the Venture Builder as a mentor. I loved it. I discovered how much I like working with a broad range of climate ventures and making new connections. Mission-wise it was a perfect fit for me as I had been focused on sustainability for the previous three years.
Could you share a bit about your approach to supporting founders?
There have been two distinct phases, the six month Venture Builder followed by the Accelerate programme. In the Venture Builder, my role initially was much like that of a coach, talking through some fundamental questions and sharing some of my own experiences; Where do the heart and mind align? How do you know if a co-founder is a good fit? How do you know if a problem is the right one to tackle? I also support founders through their ideation processes, helping them to shape ideas as they move forward with them and bring them to life. In the Accelerate programme, I work with fewer teams in a much more structured, in-depth way around topics like business model refinement, product strategy, investment readiness and pitching.
What have been some of your personal highlights of being part of the Zinc network to date?
I love seeing ideas come to fruition. Whether that’s ideas that go on to get investment from Zinc, or those that weren’t quite the right fit for the Zinc portfolio but end up continuing building and getting investment or grant funding elsewhere. It’s a real highlight seeing some of those early ideas now maturing and taking on a life of their own. The Venture Builder is just step one on a long journey and it’s a real privilege for me to be able to help the founders and teams as much as I can.
What are you excited about right now?
On a personal level, I’m really excited for our family to be relocating to London. It feels like a whole world of new beginnings and possibilities. On a professional level, I’m excited to see the path ahead for the teams I’ve worked with on their Zinc journey, as they continue to take their ideas to market and raise investment to build and grow. I’m also really excited to see what new innovations will come with the next Zinc cohort that will be tackling big problems at the intersection of health and the environment. On a global level, there is a lot of really exciting collaboration happening around climate, and I’m eager to see what can be achieved collectively. I’m a big believer that collaboration and integration are the key to progress at pace. Not just thinking about what new things we can build, but understanding how we can do a better job at using and integrating what is already out there.
Who inspires you on your journey?
Every founder I’ve met inspires me – people who have made big sacrifices and are living the struggle every day to make their vision a reality. I’m also really inspired by the women’s communities I’ve met over the past couple of years in Tel Aviv, at MIT and more recently in London. It’s really uplifting to be around women supporting other women. This also relates to my point about collaboration being the key to unlocking innovation.
What advice would you give to someone considering joining the next Zinc mission as a founder?
Think hard about your personal journey and be honest with yourself about whether being a founder is the right path for you. If you’re not sure, speak to other founders about their experiences. It seems like a very sexy career path, but it’s a very demanding, uncertain journey with many big hurdles on the way. Be honest with yourself about what support you need as you go through the process, and remember to prioritise self care. Ask for help when you need it. Lastly, remember that everything is fluid and be open to that. Ideas change, companies pivot and founders break up. This is all part of the journey!
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Impact Report 2023
We started Zinc with the hypothesis that missions are an effective way to attract highly ambitious, talented and experienced groups of innovators, who might not recognise themselves as “classic entrepreneurs” but are ready and able to start a new commercial and successful venture to tackle some of our most pressing societal issues.
The world has overcome the sorts of challenges we face today when it has adopted a mission-based approach to the biggest problems and brought together world-class talent to invent and innovate, e.g: NASA and landing a man on the moon, the LSE blueprinting the British welfare state, or the Gates Foundation aiming to eradicate diseases.
On this basis and assumption, we designed Zinc as a new mission-based Venture Builder — a place where global talent, ‘impact makers’, can join to experiment and develop new solutions to our most pressing societal issues.
To Eliminate Environmental Threats to Our Health
Environmental health threats pose a grave danger to human health and well-being, causing suffering to individuals and communities worldwide. These threats, which include chemical pollution, climate change, and biological hazards, cause acute and chronic diseases and exacerbate existing health conditions.
To protect those we care about, we must tackle the causes of environmental degradation, shield people from the consequences of environmental harm, and, where protection fails, we must mitigate the health impacts they suffer.
This demands action to improve all aspects of our environment: soil, food, air, water, and the built environment. It requires us to focus on every aspect of human health to reduce suffering.
Entrepreneurship and technology are powerful means to tackle these challenges. That’s why we are backing 70 founders to build innovative companies addressing this mission.