Think Long-Term, Act Sustainably: The Transformative Power of Patient Capital

14 min readJun 26, 2024


Imagine living in a world where the biggest challenges of our time — such as the climate crisis, diseases, and social inequality — are solved. This vision could become a reality through the use of patient capital. But what exactly is patient capital? Patient capital is a form of long-term investment that aims to achieve both financial returns and social and environmental impact. Unlike traditional capital, which seeks quick profits, patient capital is characterized by patience and the understanding that profound changes take time.

Technological progress is key to addressing the major challenges of our time. Innovations in areas such as renewable energy, healthcare, education, and communication have the potential to improve the lives of billions of people, protect the environment, and sustainably strengthen the economy. Advanced technologies can create jobs, increase efficiency, and enhance quality of life worldwide.

Credits: Deniz Altindas via Unsplash

Patient capital plays a crucial role in promoting this technological progress. By providing long-term, patient financing, it enables companies to pursue ambitious and often risky projects that lead to profound innovations. Investors providing patient capital are willing to invest in the future and support technologies that may take years or even decades to fully develop. This form of financing not only offers the necessary resources but also the stability and trust that companies need to develop groundbreaking technologies and implement sustainable business models.

What is Patient Capital?

Patient capital is a special form of financing that aims to promote long-term investments that achieve both financial returns and positive social and environmental impacts. It differs from traditional capital in several key aspects:

  • Long-term investment horizon: Unlike traditional capital, which often aims for quick profits, patient capital is geared towards the long term. Investors are willing to tie up their capital for several years or even decades to support deep and sustainable changes.
  • Risk and return profile: Patient capital investors are willing to take on higher risks, especially in the early stages of projects or in innovative sectors such as deep tech and sustainable technologies. The returns from such investments can be significant, but they require patience and an understanding that financial success takes time.
  • Objectives and motivations of investors: The primary motivation behind patient capital is not just financial return but also the creation of social and environmental value. Investors in this field strive to find solutions to global challenges and achieve positive impacts on society and the environment.

The differences between traditional capital and patient capital are evident in several dimensions:

  • Short-term vs. long-term return expectations: Traditional investors focus on quick financial gains and short-term returns. They expect fast results and prefer investments that deliver high returns within a few years. In contrast, patient capital investors are willing to wait longer to realize their returns because they believe in the long-term potential and sustainable impact of their investments.
  • Impact on company strategy and growth: The different approaches to return expectations have far-reaching effects on company strategy and growth. Companies using traditional capital are often under pressure to deliver quick successes, influencing their strategic decisions and innovation processes. They tend to act more risk-averse and short-term, which can impair long-term innovation and sustainability.
    Conversely, companies receiving patient capital can pursue long-term strategies aimed at sustainable growth and deep innovation. These companies can focus on extensive research and development projects, enter new markets, and continuously develop their technologies without the constant pressure to deliver short-term financial results.
  • Support for groundbreaking innovations: Patient capital enables companies to invest in risky but potentially groundbreaking technologies and business models. This long-term and patient financing supports technological progress and the development of innovations that can bring significant social and environmental benefits. Traditional capital is often less willing to take such risks, which can hinder innovation and progress in many industries.

Patient capital thus offers a unique form of financing that enables technology companies to pursue long-term and sustainable innovations. It provides the necessary stability and planning security to develop groundbreaking technologies and build long-term competitive advantages. In the next chapter, we will look more closely at how patient capital promotes technological progress and provide concrete examples of this.

The Role of Patient Capital in Technological Progress

One of the most important roles of patient capital lies in financing research and development (R&D). Long-term investments enable companies to initiate extensive R&D projects that often require high initial investments and long development periods. These projects are the backbone of technological innovation and offer the potential for breakthroughs that can open up new markets and transform existing industries.

Examples include:

  • Biotechnology: In biotechnology, extensive research projects are required to develop new drugs and therapies. Patient capital investments in biotech companies enable the lengthy and costly clinical research necessary to bring innovative healthcare solutions to market.
  • Renewable energy: Companies in the renewable energy sector need significant investments in R&D to develop more efficient and cost-effective technologies. Long-term financing through patient capital supports the continuous improvement of solar, wind, and other renewable energy technologies.

Patient capital also plays a central role in promoting innovations and groundbreaking technologies, especially in deep tech startups. Deep tech encompasses advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, robotics, and nanotechnology, which can have profound impacts on numerous industries.

Deep tech startups often require considerable time and resources to develop their technologies and bring them to market. These companies can invest in research, prototyping, and scaling their technologies thanks to patient capital without the pressure of short-term returns.

This affects technologies such as:

  • Quantum computing: Startups in quantum computing are working on developing computers that are exponentially more powerful than today’s systems. Research and development in this field are complex and time-consuming, but potential applications range from cryptography to materials science.
  • Robotics: Companies developing advanced robots benefit from patient capital, as developing hardware and software for autonomous systems requires significant investment and time. These technologies have the potential to revolutionize industrial processes and increase efficiency in numerous sectors.

In addition to promoting research and development and groundbreaking technologies, patient capital also contributes to building and supporting sustainable business models. Companies pursuing long-term and sustainable strategies need stable sources of financing to implement their visions and withstand short-term market fluctuations.

Success stories include:

  • Impossible Foods
    Impossible Foods, a company developing plant-based meat alternatives, has received significant investments from patient capital. This long-term financing enabled the company to conduct extensive research and develop scalable production methods that contribute to reducing the environmental footprint of the food industry.
  • Patagonia
    Patagonia, an outdoor apparel company, has focused on sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. Through long-term investments in sustainable materials and processes, Patagonia has built a strong brand known for its environmental responsibility and remains competitive in the long term.

Let us now turn to the specific benefits of patient capital for technology companies and examine how it provides stability and planning security, increases risk tolerance, and creates sustainable competitive advantages.

Benefits of Patient Capital for Technology Companies

Patient capital offers technology companies a range of benefits that go beyond mere financing. These benefits are crucial for the stability, growth, and innovative capacity of companies that rely on long-term technological developments.
A key advantage of patient capital is the stability and planning security provided by long-term financial commitments. This form of financing allows companies to develop and implement long-term strategies without the constant pressure to deliver short-term financial results.

  • Long-term planning: Companies can focus on long-term goals, including extensive research and development projects that can take several years. This long-term planning promotes sustainable growth and innovation.
  • Resource allocation: With the security of long-term financing, companies can allocate and prioritize their resources more efficiently. They can invest in the best talent, cutting-edge technologies, and sustainable business models, leading to stable and robust business growth.

Patient capital investors are willing to take higher risks to support innovative and potentially transformative projects. This risk tolerance is particularly important for promoting innovations and groundbreaking technologies.

Examples of risky but successful projects include:

  • d.light
    A successful project supported by Acumen is d.light, a company that produces affordable solar lights for communities without reliable electricity access. Long-term financing enabled d.light to conduct extensive R&D and develop scalable solutions that have improved the lives of millions of people.
  • WaterHealth International
    Another example is WaterHealth International, a company providing clean and affordable drinking water in rural and urban slum areas. Thanks to long-term support from patient capital, WaterHealth International developed and operates innovative water purification technologies that provide millions of people with access to clean drinking water.

In addition to financial resources, patient capital also offers valuable support in the form of mentoring, strategic partnerships, and access to resources and networks. This support is crucial for the long-term success and scalability of technology companies.

  • Mentoring: Patient capital investors often bring extensive experience and expertise that they can share with companies. This mentoring helps companies make strategic decisions and successfully overcome challenges.
  • Strategic partnerships: Through patient capital, companies gain access to a network of partners who can help develop and scale their technologies. These partnerships can include collaborations with other companies, research institutions, or NGOs.
  • Resource access: Companies benefit from the additional resources that patient capital investors can provide, whether in the form of infrastructure, technologies, or market knowledge. These resources are crucial for entering new markets and building sustainable business models.

All these benefits contribute significantly to promoting innovations and creating sustainable competitive advantages. In the next chapter, we will explore the challenges and potential risks of patient capital and discuss strategies to address these challenges.

Challenges and Risks of Patient Capital

While patient capital offers many benefits, it also brings a range of challenges and risks that investors and companies must consider. These challenges require patience, strategic planning, and the ability to think long-term.
The nature of patient capital requires investors to have a high degree of patience and the willingness to wait for long-term returns. This can be particularly difficult in volatile markets or unforeseen economic developments.

  • Long-term capital commitment: Investors need to tie up their capital over a longer period, which means they may have to forgo other short-term investment opportunities. This can be especially challenging when short-term investment opportunities offer attractive returns.
  • Uncertainty and market volatility: Long-term investments are more susceptible to market volatility and economic fluctuations. Investors must be prepared to weather market downturns and remain committed to their investments despite uncertainties.

In addition, evaluating deep tech startups and forecasting their success is particularly challenging. These companies often work on groundbreaking technologies whose market potential and long-term profitability are difficult to assess.

  • Unclear success metrics: Deep tech startups often lack clear metrics to evaluate progress and potential success. This makes it challenging to make informed investment decisions and measure the company’s progress.
  • Technological risk: The technologies that deep tech startups work on are often new and unproven. There is a high technological risk that development may not proceed as planned or that the technology will not achieve the expected breakthrough.

Another challenge of patient capital is the complexity and timing of exit strategies. Since patient capital is designed for long-term investments, the timing and manner of exit can be challenging.

  • Long-term exit strategies: Planning an exit can be complex, as it often needs to be developed over a long period. This requires careful planning and the ability to forecast market conditions and company development in the long term.
  • Market conditions: The success of an exit strategy heavily depends on the market conditions at the time of exit. Investors need to be prepared to wait for the right moment to maximize the value of their investment, which requires additional patience and strategic flexibility.
  • Sale or IPO: Selling a company or going public (IPO) can be particularly challenging. These processes are complex, require significant preparations, and can be influenced by external factors beyond the control of investors and the company.

Strategies for Promoting Patient Capital

To fully leverage the benefits of patient capital, it is important to develop strategies that promote its dissemination and effectiveness. These include public initiatives and incentives, education and awareness-raising, and the promotion of collaboration and networking. Governments can encourage investors to make long-term and sustainable investments through various measures.

  • Tax advantages: Tax incentives such as tax relief or credits for investments in sustainable and innovative companies can motivate investors to commit their capital for the long term. These incentives reduce financial risk and increase the attractiveness of patient capital.
  • Support programs: Government support programs that provide grants or low-interest loans to companies focused on sustainable innovations and research can help bridge financing gaps and facilitate access to patient capital. Programs like the EU’s Horizon 2020 support innovative projects and promote collaboration between various stakeholders.

Additionally, educational initiatives and information campaigns are crucial to increasing understanding and acceptance of patient capital. By educating investors and the general public, demand for and supply of patient capital can be increased.

  • Investor education: Training programs and workshops for investors can help deepen understanding of the long-term benefits and risks of patient capital. These educational measures help investors make informed decisions and better understand the specifics of long-term investments.
  • Information campaigns: Public campaigns and media initiatives can raise awareness of the importance of patient capital and its role in promoting technological progress and sustainability. By sharing success stories and case studies, prejudices can be reduced, and interest in long-term investments can be sparked.

Furthermore, promoting collaboration and networking between various stakeholders is another important approach to strengthening patient capital. Through cooperation, resources can be pooled, knowledge exchanged, and common goals achieved more effectively.

  • Collaborations between investors, companies, and research institutions: Partnerships between various stakeholders, such as investors, companies, and research institutions, can create synergies and accelerate the development of innovative technologies. Such collaborations enable access to additional capital, technological expertise, and market access.
  • Networks and platforms: The creation of networks and platforms that bring together investors, companies, and other stakeholders can promote the exchange of knowledge and best practices. These networks provide a platform for discussing challenges and opportunities and can help build trust in patient capital.

Through these targeted strategies, the potential of patient capital can be better utilized, and its contribution to technological progress and sustainability maximized.

Successful Investments and Their Long-Term Impact

To better understand the impact and success of patient capital, we look at concrete case studies and practical examples from various technology sectors. These examples show how long-term investments in deep tech startups and sustainable technologies can bring not only financial success but also significant social and ecological benefits.

Examples of successful investments in deep tech startups include:

  • QuantumScape: Innovation in battery technology
    QuantumScape, a leading company in solid-state batteries, has received significant investments from patient capital. This long-term support enabled QuantumScape to conduct extensive research and development work and develop a technology that significantly improves the energy efficiency and safety of batteries. This innovation has the potential to advance electromobility and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
  • Blue River Technology: Advances in agricultural technology
    Blue River Technology, acquired by John Deere, developed precision agricultural machinery technology that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to optimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Long-term investments enabled the company to develop its technologies to market maturity, leading to more sustainable and efficient agriculture.
  • Ginkgo Bioworks: Pioneering synthetic biology
    Ginkgo Bioworks, a company in the field of synthetic biology, has received substantial funding from patient capital investors. These investments allowed Ginkgo to develop groundbreaking technologies that revolutionize the production of bio-based products. From sustainable materials to new drugs, Ginkgo Bioworks has significantly expanded the potential applications for synthetic biology.

Startups with long-term impacts on society include:

  • Proterra: Sustainable public transport
    Proterra was a leading company in electromobility, specializing in the development and manufacture of electric buses for public transport. Long-term investments in Proterra enabled research and development of innovative battery technologies and scaling of production. The introduction of emission-free electric buses contributed to reducing air pollution, lowering operating costs for cities, and improving the quality of life in urban areas.
  • Zipline: Medical delivery drones
    Zipline, a company developing drones for medical deliveries, has utilized patient capital to refine and scale its technology. These drones deliver vital medicines and blood supplies to remote and hard-to-reach areas, particularly in developing countries. Long-term investments in Zipline have enabled significant health improvements and better medical care in these regions.
  • Illumina: Advances in genome sequencing
    Illumina is a leading company in the development of genome sequencing technologies. Long-term investments enabled Illumina to develop cost-effective and highly accurate sequencing technologies that have revolutionized medical research. These technologies are used worldwide in personalized medicine, cancer research, and the study of genetic diseases. By improving diagnostics and developing targeted therapies, Illumina has a significant impact on healthcare, contributing to the extension and improvement of millions of lives.

These case studies and practical examples clearly show how patient capital promotes sustainable technological innovations and social progress. These long-term investments are not only financially successful but also have transformative effects on the environment and society.

Future Prospects of Patient Capital

Patient capital has the potential to continue driving profound changes in the global economy and society. By promoting long-term investments in key technologies and sustainable business models, it can significantly contribute to addressing global challenges. Let us first consider trends and future investment areas for patient capital:

  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning: The development and application of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will continue to be a central investment area for patient capital. Long-term investments can help develop AI technologies that can bring significant improvements in areas such as healthcare, education, and climate change.
  • Sustainable energy and environmental technologies: The transition to renewable energies and the development of environmental technologies are crucial for combating climate change. Patient capital can invest in innovative solutions such as energy storage, hydrogen technologies, and sustainable agriculture to promote a greener and more sustainable future.
  • Biotechnology and healthcare: Long-term investments in biotechnology can lead to groundbreaking advances in medicine, including the development of new therapies and vaccines. Patient capital can also strengthen healthcare infrastructure in developing countries and improve access to vital medical services.
  • Circular economy and sustainable materials: Investments in the circular economy and the development of sustainable materials will become increasingly important. Patient capital can support projects that reduce waste, use resources more efficiently, and develop environmentally friendly products.

Now let’s look at the potential for global progress through international cooperation:

  • Promoting global collaboration: International cooperation is essential to tackle the challenges of the 21st century. By collaborating with governments, investors, companies, and NGOs, resources can be pooled, and common goals can be achieved more effectively.
  • Addressing global challenges: Patient capital can play a central role in addressing global challenges such as climate change, poverty, and health crises. Long-term investments in sustainable technologies and social innovations can help address these issues globally and find sustainable solutions.
  • Building global networks: This can promote the exchange of knowledge and best practices. These networks enable investors and companies to learn from each other and develop and scale innovative solutions more quickly and efficiently.

The future of patient capital looks promising as it continues to invest in key areas and sustainable business models that address global challenges. In the concluding chapter, we summarize the key findings and highlight the importance of patient capital for shaping a sustainable and innovative future.

Conclusion: The Transformative Power of Patient Capital

In this article, we have highlighted the significant role of patient capital in promoting technological progress and social innovation. Patient capital is characterized by a long-term investment horizon, enabling investors to invest in transformative technologies and sustainable business models. Unlike traditional capital, which often prioritizes short-term returns, patient capital focuses on long-term societal and environmental benefits.

We have seen how patient capital supports the financing of research and development, drives innovation in deep tech startups, and enables the development of sustainable business models. Through long-term financial commitments, it creates stability and planning security for technology companies, promotes risk-taking and innovation, and facilitates access to resources and networks.

The case studies presented have shown that patient capital can bring not only economic success but also significant social and ecological impacts. Companies like QuantumScape, Zipline, and Ginkgo Bioworks have developed transformative technologies through long-term investments that contribute to a more sustainable future.

For the future, patient capital offers tremendous potential to continue investing in key areas such as artificial intelligence, renewable energy, biotechnology, and the circular economy. These investments are crucial to addressing global challenges like climate change and creating a more just, sustainable world.

Investors and policymakers are called upon to support and promote patient capital. By creating suitable frameworks, such as tax incentives and support programs, investments in transformative technologies and sustainable business models can be facilitated. It is important to strengthen educational initiatives and raise awareness of the long-term benefits of patient capital.

By jointly investing in a future based on innovation, sustainability, and social justice, we can positively change the world and ensure a livable future for future generations.

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