Paying it forward: Ken Ngetha’s journey to enhancing climate resilience as a Venture Builder for the Catalyst Fund

From an early age, Ken has always been a builder. He would take apart his mom's radio and other appliances around their home to understand how they worked and then put them back together again. These days, Ken practices his instinct to build by implementing regenerative farming on his farm near Mt Kenya. He says the farm is part of his ongoing journey to explore self-sufficiency and sustainability. "I'm working with nature to build a self-sustaining, nutrient-dense food farm that is climate resilient. So that it can provide for me for the rest of my life," elaborates Ken. 

Ken's passion for sustainability also motivates his work as a venture builder and tech specialist at the Catalyst Fund. He leverages his background in computer science to support startups in Africa that are building solutions for climate resilience on the continent. For Ken, technology is yet another tool to foster the self-sufficiency and curiosity he aspired to since those early days. "I see my work as an extension of my interest in gadgets and my passion for saving our planet from the negative effects of climate change." 

As a Lead Venture Builder for the Catalyst Fund, Ken is entrusted with delivering strategic and operational solutions to help startups in the portfolio to scale. Asked about his most memorable venture-building experience, Ken quickly cites his experience with Sand to Green Africa, a startup greening the desert in Morocco. To contribute to the startup's success, he designed software to automate the plantation performance predictions.

"Having the opportunity to design software for such an ambitious project was a delight. I'm happy the founders find it useful. Currently, the software is being built according to my design, and it's very satisfying to see the design move from paper to something one can interact with."

Given Ken's passion for building and his deep background as a product manager and software engineer, it is no surprise that much of his venture-building work centers on designing and developing software. He brings experience and expertise that many early-stage startups struggle to attract and afford. He holds a Bachelor of Business Information Technology from Strathmore University in Nairobi, where he graduated with first-class honors. He has also spent seven years building software products for African consumers at leading banking and telecommunication companies. The products he contributed to are now enjoyed daily by over 150 million daily active users across the continent through companies such as MTN Group, Airtel Group, and Equity Bank Group.

Furthermore, founders know to trust Ken's instincts and guidance because he is a founder himself of Saida, a high-growth fintech startup. Saida made history as the first African startup to be accepted into the prestigious Y-Combinator program in Silicon Valley. At Saida, Ken successfully led the product portfolio, taking it from a single prototype to eight mature products, each boasting thousands of active users each month.

As a former founder, Ken understands that successful ventures require not only designing and building products that resonate with users but also demonstrating essential business acumen and finding the difficult balance between conviction and flexibility.

"Humility is vital for startup founders," he says. "People who create things can become so attached to their creations that they miss blind spots." Therefore, Ken encourages founders to remain open and receptive to feedback to improve user adoption and investor backing.

Additionally, he emphasizes that every startup should continually consider public relations and optics, ensuring they are marketing themselves along with their businesses, particularly on social media. "This is one thing I didn't implement well when I was running my company, as I hadn't realized its importance. I know now that optics shape how people perceive your company." For the companies that focus heavily on product but have weak public engagement, Ken says it's wise to balance robust offerings with deliberate, savvy marketing. "Optics matter hugely. Telling one's startup's story to potential customers is just as important as having top engineers. Companies need to invest in public engagement if they want to succeed," elaborates Ken.  

This work is so personal for Ken because he sees it as an opportunity to pay forward what he learned from his past. Having gone through the process of building a company, fundraising, and recruiting employees, he says he wishes he had venture-building support at the time.

"I would have made very different decisions if I had been aware of certain strategies back then. This is why I feel indebted to work in this space, to help other founders avoid the pitfalls I once faced," elaborates Ken. "It's one of the main reasons I joined the Catalyst Fund team." 

The inspirational team culture at the Catalyst Fund is another reason Ken enjoys being part of our team. "I love the way people in our team view the world. How they embrace freedom and are mission-driven," he says. "Here, I'm free to bring my bold ideas and try them out with the team's support." This environment and the meaning behind the work align with Ken's passions. "We are so lucky to be supporting companies with disruptive ideas and who take climate resilience seriously."

Ken embodies the remarkable blend of passion, technological expertise, and personal generosity that is the hallmark of the Catalyst Fund team. His multifaceted experiences, together with his desire to share, make him an incredibly valuable resource for the startups we support, enabling Catalyst Fund to deliver on its mission to create a climate-resilient future for all. 

Learn more about our team and portfolio companies. And follow Ken on Linkedlin to stay updated on our latest venture-building insights from the Catalyst Fund!

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