We are excited to introduce our Chief Investment Officer, Karen Serem Waithaka, who joined Catalyst Fund in February. Karen leads the end-to-end investment process and contributes to the hands-on post-investment support of the portfolio. Karen brings over 15 years of experience in the financial services sector spanning Venture Capital, Private Equity, and Corporate Finance. She holds a Master's Degree in Finance, specializing in funds management, and a BSc in Actuarial Science. We could not be more excited to have the privilege of working alongside her.
Originally from Kenya, Karen hails from a multigenerational farming family, alongside whom she has personally witnessed the profound shifts brought about by climate instability, from erratic rain patterns to extreme weather events that lead to unpredictable harvests. This experience underlies her commitment to Catalyst Fund's mission to build resilience to climate change shocks and impacts in Africa and inspired her to join our team.
“From my childhood to now, I’ve witnessed so many changes in the farming space caused by climate change,” said Karen. “We are predominantly farmers in my culture, and we used to have very clear and predictable harvests and planting seasons and yield estimations. Looking at things now, we never know what will happen.”
Karen’s long career in VC and PE on the continent has exposed her to solutions in agriculture, energy, and food supply chains, all key sectors that will be deeply impacted by climate change. But it also showed her the gaps in funding and growth continuum. Now, with Catalyst Fund, Karen sees the opportunity to take things to the next level and enable innovators to build resilience solutions that can help vulnerable communities to cope with uncertainties, adapt their means of living, and bolster their capacity to withstand the enduring impacts of climate change.
“My grandfather is still an active farmer. Every Christmas holiday as children, we would go upcountry into the rural areas, and I've seen how much the sector has changed in such a short period of time. The dry season is lasting longer than it used to. The rains are either coming in later, aren’t enough, or are too much, so harvest is ruined,” Karen elaborated. “We need urgent solutions to the impacts of climate change now.”
Karen is electrified daily by the opportunity to invest in this space and is encouraged by the pipeline that Catalyst Fund assesses. She notes that the companies reaching out to Catalyst Fund are wonderfully diverse, ranging from insurance products, agtechs, water management companies, carbon finance marketplaces, aquaculture, and climate data businesses, to ground-breaking solutions in robotics and artificial intelligence. This broad spectrum of potential investments and how the team evaluates them is a definite highlight for Karen, so too is the opportunity to contribute directly to their success with both early-stage investment and hands-on venture-building services.
“Catalyst Fund’s venture building is so unique. It’s intense, targeted, structured, and at an incredible level of quality that I haven’t seen anywhere,” said Karen. “I think that demonstrates viability in this space because we’re actually able to directly take businesses with enormous potential and make them viable.”
A level of cautious observation from the broader investment community is raising questions about the future growth of the climate tech sector. But Karen is confident that the successes Catalyst Fund has had so far, particularly with companies raising additional funds and generating revenues post-investment, will demonstrate the commercial viability of the climate tech space in Africa.
“The impact on people who rely on agriculture is enormous; their livelihoods are completely affected by this,” said Karen. “Those of us in venture capital investing need to focus on impact and create a ripple effect to build this resilience and affect other livelihoods. The problem is huge, but whatever we can do to make an impact really matters.”
With Karen joining Catalyst Fund, we look forward to driving impactful change and fostering a resilient climate tech landscape in Africa. By leveraging her VC expertise and collaborating with our diverse team, Karen will play a pivotal role in building a resilient future on the continent. Here's to the exciting journey ahead with Karen, a testament to Catalyst Fund's continued commitment to progress and innovation!