Growing with purpose

How Airlabs found success with social impact funding

We talk to Marc Ottolini, CEO of Airlabs, about our new fleet of air cabs and the power of impact investing.


We’ve partnered with Airlabs to put a fleet of new, clean Air cabs on the streets and help tackle exposure to London’s air pollution.

These cabs are on London’s streets until December, to show how this new technology can dramatically reduce pollution exposure for both passengers and drivers.

We took a journey with CEO Marc Ottolini to understand more about impact investing.

A business with social impact

These days, chasing profit alone isn’t enough – having a societal purpose and impact can hugely influence your company’s success, and can present a big market opportunity.

Airlabs likes to take a ‘blended value’ approach. This means looking for a mix of financial, social and environmental returns.

Marc believes ‘performance indicators and well-defined business objectives help you to stay on course. We’re very keen on developing something that will tell us, and all the stakeholders and shareholders, “look, this is what we’ve done.” This is the impact we’re having.’

Pollution is the greatest health problem facing cities today – 90% of the world’s population is exposed to unsafe levels1.

Airlabs wants to be a global leader in delivering clean air solutions. The company aims to create clean air zones in cities, buildings and transport, to help reduce the risk to people’s health from air pollution.

In 2018, Airlabs launched its first product – the Airbubbl. It’s a sophisticated in-car filtration device that cleans the air while you’re driving – it’s the same one we use in our Air cabs.

Marc says ‘the pivotal moment for Airlabs’ business was when we launched the Airbubbl. It changed the company from an R&D company into a real product company, with real customers and real revenue.’

How we helped Airlabs grow

Airlabs was a member of the 2017 cohort of our Unreasonable Impact programme.

We run this programme with Unreasonable Group to support entrepreneurs who have the potential to employ thousands worldwide, and solve societal and environmental challenges at the same time.

It gave Airlabs access to a network of support that helped the company grow, including a global community of world class mentors and specialists, as well as our own experts.

Marc says ‘Barclays is supporting our journey in a multitude of different ways. On the one hand, they provide us with the usual banking services, but in addition to that, they have introduced us to the unreasonable network, where we have access to the global network of like-minded entrepreneurs, as well as investors.’

Juliet Rogan, our National Head of High Growth & Entrepreneurs says ‘this initiative with Airlabs is a great example of how we can support HG&E companies through programmes like the Unreasonable Impact accelerator. We really accelerate the profile of SMEs that are looking to combat societal challenges.’

Staying true to your purpose

‘There’s always an interesting challenge here – how do you combine that mission with your business objectives?’ Marc asks. ‘Businesses cannot succeed, and certainly can’t have a global impact, if they’re not financially sustainable. It’s a matter of finding that balance – of staying true to our mission, but at the same time not forgetting that we are a for-profit business.’

As your company grows, it becomes more and more important to stay true to your purpose and your mission. You need to make sure you balance your fast growth with continuing to have a positive impact on society.

77% of companies around the world said they think citizenship and social impact are important2. People are also 40% more likely to buy from a company if they’ve seen the CEO take a positive position on a social issue, than buy from one that didn’t, research shows2.

How social impact funding could help your business

What is social impact funding?

It’s an investment into your company, to create and measure your social and financial return. 

Equally, it’s a great way to make sure your social goals stay as important as your financial goals, and that your growth doesn’t distract you from making a difference.

Marc believes ‘in order to have the biggest impact around the world and to scale, you need investors.’

That’s why in 2018 Airlabs made $4 million in investments from angel investors and impact investors, ahead of their product launch3. Since then, they’ve been able to successfully grow their business and tackle environmental issues at the same time.

How we can help your business

We’re passionate about helping other entrepreneurs do the same. ‘We don’t see investors as competition,’ says Juliet, ‘we’re clear that our support lies in connectivity.’

Our specialist high growth and entrepreneurs team can give you access to a wide network of social venture capitalists and programmes, like Unreasonable Impact.

We aim to ‘leverage the connectivity between corporate partners and group initiatives, to provide a foundation for growth for our clients,’ says Juliet.

We also offer up to £5 million to promising, high growth, innovative companies, through our Innovation Finance scheme.

Find out more about our finance options.

You may also be interested in

A wheelchair user points to a map in the middle of a busy city

Travelling without boundaries

Hassle-free, accessible travel

CEO and founder Angus Drummond talks about his inspiration for forming Limitless Travel, the challenges he faced and how winning our Social Entrepreneur Award helped him on his journey to success.

 A colourful gallery wall including relaxed photos of people and the Perkbox logo

The path to Perkbox

An insight into Perkbox’s past and future pursuits

Innovative co-founder and CMO of Perkbox, Chieu Cao, talks about his company’s ideas, the challenges it faces and what the future holds.

A locked padlock.

The funding ecosystem explained

How to use private capital, such as angel investments, venture capital and venture debt to scale up your business.

A calculator, documents and a pen.

Seven things to know about cashflow

Learn more about this important aspect of business success

Cashflow is something you often hear people talk about in relation to growing their business, but what does it really mean? From how it’s calculated to why it’s important, here’s a rundown of what you need to know in order to understand, and master, all things cashflow