Maxime Bayen steps into new role as Operating Partner at the Catalyst Fund

We are delighted that Maxime Bayen is the Catalyst Fund's new Operating Partner. In his new role, Maxime will spearhead startup sourcing, support and manage our portfolio, and foster relationships with fellow venture capital funds. Additionally, he will contribute to fundraising efforts and provide strategic support for effective venture building, ensuring our investments thrive in the dynamic climate resilience ecosystem.

Maxime often describes himself as someone suffering from eco-anxiety. That anxiety underlies his enthusiasm for supporting African tech startups and building the resilience of climate-vulnerable communities in Africa.

"The planet we live on is not infinite, and previous generations, including my generation, have contributed to destroying it. So, my way of dealing with eco-anxiety is to be in the action, making a contribution through my work."  

To make a meaningful impact in the climate resilience space, it was clear to Maxime that he needed to focus his efforts on solutions in Africa. "Despite climate change being a global reality, Africa is the most vulnerable continent to its adverse effects, even though the region contributes a mere 3% to global CO2 emissions. I strongly believe that startups and entrepreneurs, in general, will be a critical part of the solution in making the continent more resilient to the negative effects of climate change," he adds. 

Maxime hasn't always focused his energies on African innovation. A little over a decade ago, Maxime's work was centered on Afghanistan. He worked in the telecom industry, and his goal was to make a positive impact in a nation that was in dire need of digital inclusion to improve people's livelihoods. It was during this time that he made an important discovery.

"Many critical sectors of the country's development were stuck without progress, despite the huge amounts of global aid funding, all deployed within a relatively short period of time. In that context, the telecom industry was a welcome contrast: nearly everyone in Afghanistan had a SIM card. Things were progressing smoothly on the telecom front; even M-Pesa launched locally during that period [2009]."  

The contrast between the telecom industry and those driven by the public sector was instructive for Maxime and pointed him toward the importance of local entrepreneurship and innovation. "I came to realize that this progress was primarily due to private companies being behind the sector. This realization led me to understand that the most effective driver of economic development is the private sector, with entrepreneurs often at its core," says Maxime.

That realization marked a shift in Maxime's career toward working with private sector players and entrepreneurs, first at the GSMA and finally with Catalyst Fund. "I concluded that if I want to create a much-needed impact in the economic development of some markets, for example, Africa, I needed to start working with startups and entrepreneurs." 

Maxime believes that startups can lead to a faster approach to addressing challenges than larger philanthropic organizations. Their streamlined structure, agility, and willingness to take risks enable them to adapt and iterate solutions quickly, unburdened by the layers of bureaucracy that can impede decision-making in more established companies. "This agility grants startups a competitive edge in tackling issues like climate change's negative effects, that's why at Catalyst Fund, we back them and accelerate them," adds Maxime.

As of 2021, Maxime has served as Head of Venture Building and Lead Venture Partner at Catalyst Fund. Since joining our team, he has made a remarkable impact on the organization, our portfolio, and the startup ecosystem. Maxime has successfully coordinated and led sourcing and venture-building support for over 20 startups across eight diverse markets in Africa. He has played a pivotal role in expanding and animating the Catalyst Fund's network of over 200 esteemed VC partners globally, fostering a dynamic environment for startups to thrive.

In his new role as Operating Partner at the Catalyst Fund, Maxime will continue his journey championing African entrepreneurs. The Catalyst Fund has recently transitioned into an equity fund, allowing Maxime and our team to support its portfolio companies over a longer timeframe while benefiting from the advantages of our tailored venture-building approach.

"It's super exciting to be involved in the end-to-end journey of our portfolio companies and get the chance to see them grow. Through the accelerator and VC fund, we will work with these companies for close to a decade. It will be exciting to see them scale in the coming years. I feel like pressing fast forward to see the impact they will have!"

Pictured from left: Maxime Bayen, Operating Partner; Maelis Carraro, Managing Partner; Karen Serem Waithaka, Chief Investment Officer.

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We are actively looking for early-stage startups that improve the resilience of underserved and climate-vulnerable communities in emerging markets.