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Fortune’s latest list celebrates the startups tackling society’s big problems

September 28, 2020, 10:16 AM UTC

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Good morning.

This morning, Fortune is launching an exciting new list—the Impact 20—that shows how profit and purpose can be harnessed into a powerful combination. Like our Change the World list, the Impact 20 focuses on companies making measurable progress addressing social issues as part of their core strategy. While Change the World focuses primarily on large companies, the Impact 20 celebrates venture- and private-equity-backed startups tackling some of society’s most vexing problems.

This inspiring list is worth spending some time with, and I don’t want to be the spoiler. But a couple of themes clearly emerge.

First, education and upskilling figure large on the list. The pandemic has both underscored the weakness of many existing online education programs, and also intensified the need for upskilling by accelerating technological and digital change. So it’s good to see some creative startups focused on what’s a rapidly growing problem. A shout out to Tom Davidson, CEO of EverFi and a member of the Fortune CEO Initiative, for making the Impact 20.

AI and robotics are also, not surprisingly, big themes for the socially-focused startup crowd this year. So is the environment. Amp Robotics is training robots to sort through trash and separate recyclables. Another winner, TreeDots, is helping reduce food waste in Southeast Asia by enabling suppliers to unload excess inventory to grocers and consumers at a discount—addressing hunger and reducing methane emissions at the same time.

Kudos to Fortune editor Matt Heimer who oversaw the rigorous vetting that led to this new list. And thanks to TPG for sponsoring. TPG played no role in the selection process, but a few companies backed by its Rise Fund earned places on the list.

At Fortune, we strongly believe that focusing the power of capitalism on social problems has a big payoff—for both investors and society. We are glad to see so many entrepreneurs proving us right!

More news below.

Alan Murray


Trump taxes

The New York Times dropped a bombshell last night with an investigative report about President Trump's taxes. It seems Trump, a billionaire, paid $750 in income tax during the year of his election, and the same amount in his first year in office. In 10 of the previous 15 years, he paid no income tax, apparently because of massive losses racked up by his businesses. He has $300 million in loans coming due within the next several years, and is being audited over a $72.9 million tax refund he claimed and might have to pay back, with interest. Fake news, says the President. New York Times

TikTok ban

The TikTok ban has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge, meaning U.S. downloads and updates of ByteDance's popular video app can continue for now. TiKTok's legal team argued at an unusual Sunday hearing that the ban was irrational, as ByteDance is still trying to strike the divestiture deal that Trump demanded in order not to ban the app. Fortune

Nikola designs

Nikola's wild ride continues; now it's reported that founder Trevor Milton got the company's truck designs from a third party, rather than developing them himself in his basement as previously claimed. The Nikola One truck is at the center of a legal battle between Nikola and Tesla, in which Tesla alleges Nikola can't protect its designs because they did not originate from the company itself. Financial Times

China coal

China will have to phase out coal-fired power by around 2050 if it is to meet its newly-self-imposed goal of carbon neutrality by 2060. Reminder: China is the world's biggest carbon emitter, and is still building new coal-fired power stations. Fortune


One million

The novel coronavirus has claimed its millionth human life, according to official figures (the actual tally is probably higher). AFP has an interesting piece looking at Wuhan, the likely origin of the pandemic, but a place where there have been no new recorded cases since May. "Everyone in Wuhan feels at ease," one media worker told the agency. AFP

School risk

European schools have been going back to in-person learning, and the results have been better than many expected—yes, there are some coronavirus outbreaks, but nothing to suggest schools are a particularly risky environment. That could change in winter, though, as schools are forced to close their windows. Washington Post

Trade war

China is inching towards another trade war, this time with Australia. There has recently been a concerning decline in trade relations between the countries, and now $235 billion in annual trade is at threat. Fortune

Trump hypnotism

President Trump is a master of hypnotism, former Reagan White House deputy general counsel (and elite hypnotist) Ralph Benko writes in an unusual piece for Fortune: "Trump, unique among his political rivals, also grasps that 'imagination rules the world.' That said, believed-in imagination is powerful yet not all-powerful…Could Trump’s superpower, hypnosis, beat Biden’s superpower, empathy?" Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.