Pitfalls in ESG/Startup Investing During the Pandemic

Desmond Marshall FUTURE engine

Desmond Marshall, MD, of FUTURE engine, Rouge International, Rouge Ventures, EcosystemX.net tells us about ESG investing.

First of all, how are you and your family doing?  

Desmond Marshall: We’re doing good, healthy, and not infected. We’re very cautious. I work from home, actually from the very beginning. I hope everyone from everywhere is doing well.

Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded FUTURE engine.

Desmond Marshall: I started working for the likes of IBM, Microsoft, and other listed companies in developing strategies, starting from scratch, setting regional hubs from zero, etc. Then I started working with fellow venture capitalists, saving and fixing investment portfolios, enhancing organic growth, or packaging for new funding. I started my Rouge International, advising luxury or finance large companies penetrating specific tier 2-3 cities in China (where the rich people live). From there on, I started dwelling into VC investments, being one of the first in blockchain investing and other innovative startups. And our natural growth is to offer investor-specific professional services as well as we go along.  

How does FUTURE engine market its product/services online? 

Desmond Marshall: Our FUTURE engine is a SaaS service, an AI analytics tool for ESG investing. Our Ecosystem-X.net is a sustainability academy for financial professionals. FUTURE is an AI for deep due diligence, going beyond standard bank statements but the online presence people put on. It’s more real than what the companies say themselves. Ecosystem-X provides specialized workshops on different sustainability-related topics for financial analysts. We leverage heavily on LinkedIn to connect to the correct people. Financial people and investors are a very different bunch. They won’t fall for simple email spam or tactics. It has to be genuine.  

How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how did you get through it?

Desmond Marshall: Everyone has been affected by Covid for quite some time now. We’ve got markets closed, companies closing down, investors rethinking their strategies, and travel lockdowns make it difficult for due diligence and tons of issues beyond your control. My principle is simple “don’t control what you cannot manage instead.” Our FUTURE engine is specifically designed for remote AI due diligence when investors cannot travel. Ecosystem-X solves the issues of young analysts not having the knowledge or background to gauge such topics for investments correctly. So there’s always a method, a crack where you can focus and expand. I don’t like moping and complaining like some older people in a park. I just move on and find methods to fix things because I’m good at that. That’s how I’ve been advising other company founders, too, throughout my career.  

What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to manage your online marketing?

Desmond Marshall: We use various tools. The tools are so much more advanced now, and lots of choices. Traditional strong players are getting hammered by newcomers. We leverage bubble.io and Linkedin. We have Chinese business aspects, so Weibo and WeChat are strong components. But we’re also constantly testing out new online tools, from social listening to AI machine programming. We also have specific staff looking at social media algorithms just to gain that edge.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Desmond Marshall: Our main competitors are players like Crunchbase, Moonfare, or similar database platforms. We focus on a niche called sustainability innovations startups designed for ESG investing. So the larger databases may be historically large, but it doesn’t really help from an investor’s point of view. I know because I’m an investor myself, and that’s why I saw the gap and developed the FUTURE. The same goes for Ecosystem-X, where many people may provide the so-called “training,” but none are actual practitioners. Everyone is only an academic or theorist. This doesn’t add any value to any investment analyst to know deep insider insights. Our trainers are all practicing C-levels in the particular sustainability innovation area, meaning they understand what the market needs and, most importantly, how you weed out fakers from real ones.

Your final thoughts?

Desmond Marshall: There’s actually a serious slowdown in investing during these years. Let’s face it, an investor will not fund millions just over ZOOM. In particular, ESG or sustainability innovations investing has also been affected by people looking at NFTs, metaverse, etc., trying to make a quick buck, and eventually losing it all in scams and hacks. ESG stood the test of time, and the future is definitely related to innovations. A new day means a new method of approaching such potential portfolios; hence that’s where our services come by as valuable. We don’t expect everyone to conduct ESG investing, but for those who do, there are ways of making it much more profitable by avoiding the pitfalls I mentioned above. 

Your website?

FUTURE engine: sustainthefuture.net

Ecosystem-X: http://ecosystemx.net/ 

Kokou Adzo


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