Maëlis Carraro has three things on her mind: finding the best entrepreneurs to tackle the climate crisis across Africa, raising the Catalyst Fund's $40M climate fund, and ensuring climate solutions are meeting the needs of climate-vulnerable communities today. All three things point to Maelis' conviction that Africa is positioned to play a central role in innovating for climate resilience despite its meager contribution to the causes of climate change.
"We often think Africa needs to receive guidance from other countries on how to deal with the climate change crisis. But Africa can be a leader in climate action. It has vast arable land, incredible biodiversity, and natural resources for renewable energy. It also has a growing young population keen to tackle big challenges via tech innovation. We know that by 2030, young Africans are expected to make up 42 percent of the world's youth," says Maëlis.
Maëlis' belief in the power of innovation originally inspired her to co-found the Catalyst Fund over seven years ago and contribute toward creating a startup ecosystem for African innovators. The Catalyst Fund was created to support tech entrepreneurs tackling some of the biggest challenges of our time by providing early-stage capital and tailored support that accelerates ventures' path to scale. While she has seen the fintech ecosystem explode in the years since theCatalyst Fund was founded, the climate tech ecosystem in Africa is still much more nascent. Africa needs $2.8 trillion between 2020 and 2030 to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement to limit warming to 1.5°C and address the biggest impacts of climate change. But, it's only receiving $30 billion annually in climate finance, meaning a significant climate resilience financing gap exists.
Recognizing this immense gap, Maëlis wanted to combine her past life as an investor, an entrepreneur, and a climate adaptation policy specialist as part of the solution. This is why the Catalyst Fund is now raising a $40 million fund to back African innovators providing climate resilience solutions to vulnerable communities.
"The Catalyst Fund is well positioned to fill part of the early-stage financing gap for climate tech innovation by supporting early-stage African tech startups to build a range of solutions led by Africans for Africa that improve resilience in the face of climate change impacts. This is what inspired me to launch our latest climate VC fund," elaborates Maëlis. "I want to be part of scaling the solutions to confront the climate crisis led by African innovators."
Maëlis is particularly passionate about supporting innovators because, as a former founder herself, she understands firsthand the challenges that entrepreneurs face, particularly in raising funding but also building the product and business operations to get to the early proof points investors want to see:
"When I was running my startup, I directly felt the pain points and rewards of trying to build a company from the ground up. This experience played a significant role in designing how we operate at Catalyst Fund. We offer both capital and bespoke venture-building expertise to startups to work hand in hand with them and overcome the early challenges of finding product-market fit. The team is composed of many ex-startup founders and operators, which makes it easy for us to empathize with our portfolio founders because we experienced the grind ourselves," says Maëlis.
In particular, Maëlis remembers how hard it was as a woman founder to raise capital. Now, she has the chance to correct that imbalance as an investor. The Catalyst Fund is committed to backing 40% women founders. Still, her journey as a woman fund manager echoes many of her past experiences.
"Even as the head of the Catalyst Fund, I have had experiences similar to many female startup founders. I get asked more questions by potential investors than my male counterparts, but this has never discouraged me. I strive to demonstrate our team's strength, uniqueness, and competency. I am doing this work to enable a better future for the coming generations, especially now that I am a mom-entrepreneur with a two-year-old son. They will hold us accountable if we do nothing but sit by the sidelines as climate change unravels our planet and communities."