TechFounders’ Miki Yokoyama on integrating Justice, Equality and Sustainability in her work

in Capitalism in Impact in Social

1. Who are you and what are you doing?

My name is Miki (LinkedIn) and I am Managing Partner of TechFounders. TechFounders is part of “UnternehmerTUM”, Europe’s largest innovation and entrepreneurship center, based in Munich, and runs various startup accelerator programs. Besides our own program, we also run the RESPOND Accelerator for the BMW Foundation and the SAP.iO Foundry in Munich. I am also a huge sustainability enthusiast and try to drive sustainability topics wherever and whenever I can.

2. What drives you personally and how did you get there over time?

Over the years, it has always come down to three things – 1. equal opportunity, 2. driving sustainable (economic) development and 3. unlocking potential. I’ve always had a pronounced sense of justice, on a small and grand scale. In my quest on how to contribute to a more just system, I first worked as an editor and wrote about climate change and social justice topics and became intrigued with the concept of corporate sustainability. So I joined the BMW Group’s strategy division to drive sustainability from within. I realized, though, that while many of my colleagues worked on their topics with passion, there was often a lack of understanding between management and “idealists”. After another few years at BCG, learning to understand how decision makers think, I can now put all my learnings into play: Giving young founders an opportunity, unlocking their potential, and integrating sustainability into a company’s DNA early on. 

3. Please give me the elevator pitch for TechFounders

TechFounders is an early-stage B2B startup accelerator program. We connect corporates with startups for pilot projects, and support these startups with individual coaching and access to mentors, investors, and customers. We prep the teams holistically for long-term growth: Not only on a business level, but also on a personal and leadership level, and on a sustainability level. We have completed 13 batches and have 127 alumni startups (as of May 2021), 85% of which are still active and have raised a total of more than €420 million.

4. Where do you see yourself by 2030?

I hope that in ten years from now I will still have the privilege to put all my skills, knowledge, experiences, and network into play to contribute to a more sustainable economic system, to create opportunities, and to help unlock people’s full potential – ideally working with startups and founders as I love their energy, drive, and spirit to change the world!

5. How do you make an impact?

In a variety of ways: at TechFounders, we have included various sustainability modules in the startup curriculum, and we have recently published two Sustainability Playbooks on how startups and venture capitalists can start their sustainability journey. In 2019/2020, I have conceptualized, developed, and launched the RESPOND Accelerator for the BMW Foundation – an impact accelerator to bridge the tech and impact entrepreneurship worlds. And last, as a mentor for a few organizations that support mission-driven startups, I help talents and young founders to develop their pitch and business model.

6. What are your methods for coping with challenges and stress?

For challenges, generally sports, preferably in the mountains – on skis, on a bike or on foot. Challenges seem smaller when standing on top of a mountain!
For stress, I try to break it down into pieces and tackle the issues that stress me one by one. And then hit the mountains 🙂

7. What is the best advice you ever got and from whom?

My supervisor at BMW, Dr. Verena Schuler, told me to always reflect: when you are getting advice, who is it from? Mostly, people give advice based on what they think is best for them, not for you. Really stepping into another person’s shoes is difficult. I remember when I was thinking about leaving BMW and joining BCG, many people told me “I wouldn’t do that! Do you know how much you will have to work there? I would never give up all the corporate benefits here.” Only a few people really tried to understand what drove me to make that step and reflect whether it was the right decision for me, not for them.

8. What is the best book you ever read and why?

There are so many good books, but one non-fiction book that stuck in my head is “The End of Poverty” by Jeffrey Sachs. The book was a key driver for me pursuing a career start in corporate responsibility, as he laid out the geographic, historic, and cultural reasons for today‘s (ok, in the year 2006) state of social injustice and how human-centered, responsible capitalism can significantly drive healthy, sustainable societies with fair and equal opportunities.

9. Which technology trends are you excited about?

AI for good – whether it is to improve agricultural practices, removing bias & discrimination, or improved healthcare & treatments. There are so many applications where AI an really become a game changer for the better.

10. What makes you optimistic about the future of our planet & society?

Right now, I am seeing so much activism and changes being triggered on every level – on an individual consumer level, on corporate levels, in the financing sector, and on government level. When I started to work on sustainability issues 14 years ago, there were first signs that it would be inevitable to change the way we do business, but most people didn’t care. Today, no one can afford to ignore it, and I finally have reason to believe that climate protection will be on everyone’s agenda in the next decades and sustainability will finally become mainstream.