This article is featured in the 2024 FCLTGlobal Blue Book, a collection of real-world examples of how our members are putting long-term strategies into practice today. We hope that these practical illustrations will inspire others to embrace the mission of focusing capital on the long term. Learn more >>

Today’s business environment is characterized by greater uncertainty and volatility, stressed supply chains, and higher interest rates – and we’re experiencing one of the most challenging economic and geopolitical environments for investing in a generation. At the same time, many industries are being challenged by upstart technology companies looking to disrupt traditional industries and processes.  Disruption is happening all around us – just look at the healthcare, energy, and food industries. This trend is only going to accelerate. With so many businesses being impacted by disruption, we consider innovation critical to helping our portfolio companies stay resilient in a rapidly changing world. Those that don’t adapt will be left behind.   

At Ontario Teachers’, we view innovation as a core part of our long-term business philosophy and a key catalyst for growth and value creation. We stood up a new asset class – Teachers’ Venture Growth – roughly five years ago to partner with cutting-edge technology companies that are aiming to become the leaders in their markets. We also launched a venture studio – Koru – that works exclusively with our portfolio companies. When we think about investing for the long term, we need to help our businesses maintain their resilience in the face of unprecedented and rapid disruption. Backed by a team of successful innovators and creators within the start-up world, Koru marries the knowledge, expertise, and advantages of our portfolio companies with a start-up methodology and approach to build new opportunities and businesses.  

The tools to unlock growth  

The Koru team provides our portfolio companies with the tools to uncover, test, and build new technology-enabled products and capabilities to drive financial growth and keep pace with the innovation curve. To uncover new opportunities, Koru hosts hack-a-future sessions together with participating portfolio companies to workshop ideas and then turns them into tangible business concepts. With a focus on speed to market, the concept is incubated, and the team works to build the minimum viable product. Once finalized, the Koru team holds immersion sessions to ensure the product, tool, or service is integrated within the portfolio company. Koru provides continued support as the capability is embedded in the business.  

Creating value 

Koru has helped our companies solve business pain points and leverage opportunities in our global portfolio to build long-term value. One of Koru’s success stories is FYLD, which was born out of a partnership with our portfolio company SGN, a gas distribution company in the UK. The idea behind FYLD is that technology can help field workers be safer and more productive. Utility and construction crews do essential work, but field workers were filling out repetitive, paper-based forms by hand, causing decision makers to react late. Managers were unable to address safety and operational challenges efficiently.  

FYLD reimagined remote field operations by replacing paper-based risk assessments with a digital solution. Taking a data-driven approach, the solution delivers risk assessments via video and voice analytics, flags potentially dangerous working conditions, and prompts control measures.   

While FYLD was launched as a standalone business, it was built for, and created in partnership with, SGN. FYLD has helped the natural gas distribution company reduce worker injuries and incidents by 20 percent and has cut time spent on risk assessments by 75 percent. In the time since, FYLD has onboarded more than 100 companies globally in hazardous sectors ranging from gas, electricity, and water to highways and construction. It has also won a host of awards, including the U.K. Energy Innovation Centre’s Innovator of the Year award. 

Koru also partnered with Fairstone – a Canadian lender – to help expand its product offering. Together, the lender and Koru created Fig, which is a fully digital lending experience. Fig simplifies the borrowing process for consumers, allowing them to apply for personal installment loans in a few clicks. This seamless process frees up Fig’s team to support customers. 

Koru, with the long-term focus of Ontario Teachers’, is continuing to partner with portfolio companies to unlock value within their businesses – whether that is new growth opportunities or finding efficiencies. Innovation and self-disruption can be untapped resources for businesses searching for growth. For a long-term investor, we see that continued innovation will help create more resilient and more valuable businesses.  

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