The following comes from a Dec. 18 story on the Bloomberg Technology site.
It’s quite a cocktail: throw in some profit-seeking techies, mix in the age-old Roman Catholic Church and add a twist of anti-globalism. What you get is a startup hub.
A year ago, venture capitalists Stephen Forte of Fresco Capital Fund and Eric Harr of Imagine Ventures — both based in California — asked the Vatican to back a technology competition among startups addressing climate change, energy and managing resources.
Surprisingly for a Church that can trace its history back some 2,000 years, and that only four years ago decided to ditch Latin as the official language for the major meetings of its bishops, the Vatican was keen.
The result — where nine startups out of about 300 entrants have each received $100,000 in equity investments — marks another shift in the Vatican reaching out to the tech sector. Investors include Ibrahim AlHusseini, founder and managing partner of the FullCycle Energy Fund, which funds companies focusing on turning waste into clean energy, Emirati social entrepreneur Badr Jafar, and early Google engineer Chade-Meng Tan.
Although the Vatican will not offer any funding, instead putting up a venue and offering mentoring and the influence of Cardinal Peter Turkson, Pope Francis’s top adviser on environmental issues. The program is called Laudato Si, echoing the Pope’s 2015 encyclical — one of the major forms of papal writings — which urged nations to pull “Mother Earth” out of a “spiral of self-destruction.”
In December, nine startups made it through to the final stage of a challenge aimed to apply Francis’s vision on climate change to hi-tech ideas. The demo was hosted in one of the many Vatican owned territories scattered across Rome, while a gala dinner the following day was set in one of the city’s luxury hotels.
The pull of the Vatican has helped attract tech founders and celebrities. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone shared advice in a talk to the entrepreneurs on the program. Turkson met the investors and startup founders, and hosted a demo-event on Vatican territory on 4 December, featuring U.S. actor Danny De Vito who gave the cardinal a bear-hug.
“The Vatican is coming of age. Why keep the Catholic church and its leaders in the dark age?” joked Giovanni Tomaselli, founder of imaging platform ION360, and a sponsor of Laudato Si. “The Vatican gives balance to Silicon Valley, which is all about killing it.”