An Annual Showcase of Impact Investment Fund Managers


An Annual Showcase of Impact Investment Fund Managers

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ImpactAssets 50: A Global Landscape of Impact Investment Fund Managers
The ImpactAssets 50 (IA 50) is the first open-source, publicly published database of experienced private debt and equity impact investment fund managers.

ImpactAssets 50

An Annual Showcase of Impact Investment Fund Managers

IA 50 2023 PROFILE

Catalyst Fund

Total Assets Under Management: Less than $25M
Asset Class: Private Equity
Primary UN Sustainable Development Goal: 13 – Climate Action
Clean Technology, Alternative Energy & Climate Change
Sustainable Agriculture
Microfinance, low-income financial services & micro-insurance

Firm Overview

Category: Venture Capital - Early Stage (Pre-seed/seed, Accelerator, Angel) - Emerging Markets

Catalyst Fund is a pre-seed impact fund backing tech startups that seek to improve the resilience of climate-vulnerable communities in Africa. We will invest in 40 pre-seed companies pan-Africa, with the potential for follow-on investments up to Series A. We invest $200K at pre-seed via SAFEs, of which $100K in cash and $100K in venture-building support, and we follow on with tickets of $500K at Seed and up to $2.2M at Series A. We take an active, hands-on venture-building approach that leverages our experience as founders and operators in emerging markets, supporting founders on tech, product, data challenges, and more. Over the past 7 years, we have backed 61 startups across 15 emerging markets via our predecessor Catalyst Fund Accelerator, a philanthropically-backed program managed by BFA Global and backed by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), JPMorgan Chase, and PayPal, which deployed grants and recoverable grants. To date, our approach led to >650M follow-on funding raised, an 88% portfolio survival rate, and an estimated 25% IRR. 

Firm Headquarters: US & Canada
Years of Operation: Less than 3 years
Total Assets Under Management:
Less than $25M
Total Number of Investors: Less than 5
% of Capital from Top 3 Investors: Less than 25%
Investment Thesis:

We back mission-driven founders (local and women founders) offering climate resilience solutions, enabled by fintech. We invest across three verticals: climate-smart financial services, sustainable livelihoods, and climate-smart essential services. Across these verticals, we look for embedded finance opportunities to drive greater affordability and accessibility of the products for underserved communities.

Investment Overview:

Catalyst Fund will seek to build a portfolio of startups at the nexus of the fintech and climate resilience sectors that gives communities tools to thrive in the face of climate change, helping households and small businesses protect from risks, adapt their livelihoods, and build long term resilience. Existing opportunities include insurtech models (e.g. assets disaster insurance, weather-index crop insurance), sustainable livelihoods (e.g. subscription-based cold chain facilities for fishers; pay-as-you-go cooling for urban slum residents, agritech marketplaces enabling the transition to regenerative agriculture), carbon finance (e.g. carbon credit marketplaces for smallholders), and sustainable utilities (water management and waste management solutions), which captures climate opportunities for vulnerable communities. Fintech can enable greater accessibility and affordability of products for underserved, last-mile populations, leveraging digital payments, satellite data, online marketplaces, and embedded finance infrastructure to bring down costs, deliver access for low-income populations, and drive scalability of business models.

Company Differentiator:

Catalyst Fund is unique compared to other funds in its peer group because: 1)  Its venture-building approach is deeper and more hands-on compared to other early-stage funds or accelerators that typically offer lighter-touch mentorship. We offer genuinely bespoke support by a team of dedicated sector and emerging market experts in areas such as user research, UX/UI design, product, software development, tech, data analytics, business modeling, marketing and growth, investment readiness, corporate partnerships, and talent recruiting. 2) Catalyst Fund is one of the first funds to focus on climate resilience and adaptation in Africa at the pre-seed stage and explore the role of financial technology in making climate resilience solutions accessible and affordable.  3) The global and local experience and deep networks of the Catalyst Fund across emerging markets set it apart, enabling connections across markets. The vehicle complements other funds in the market that are later stage.

Investment Example

AquaRech is a Kenyan mobile app that allows smallholder fish farmers to improve their livelihoods by sourcing quality feed, transitioning to tech-enabled precision fish farming, finding new routes to market, and accessing credit to fuel growth. The venture provides a range of solutions to farmers including field support, IoT sensors, a mobile app, and financing.  Aquarech offers fish farmers the opportunity to source high-quality floating fish feed through its app, with potential to apply for buy now-pay later financing. Aquarech also installs remote sensors in the water to monitor the temperature and other vital variables on the farm. These inputs trigger notifications on the app, which also includes educational materials about improved fish farming practice. Aquarech also helps farmers get their product to market and sell it. The app connects farmers to off-takers, thus ensuring they have access to customers and fish traders.

Leadership and Team

Cumulative Leadership Experience in Impact Investing:
10 – 19 years
Cumulative Impact Experience of Top Three Firm Leaders:
10 – 19 years
Maelis Carraro – Managing Director, Catalyst Fund More Info

Maelis Carraro is the Managing Partner of Catalyst Fund. She has over 15 years of experience working alongside fintech startups, DFIs, and impact investors to pioneer tech and data-enabled solutions that benefit underserved communities in emerging markets. As the co-founder and leader of Catalyst Fund Inclusive Tech Accelerator for the past 7 years, she selected and supported over 60 ventures across 15 emerging markets, working with a team of 15 venture builders to enable their success. Previously, Maelis worked at the IFC, investing in and advising financial institutions in Africa and other emerging markets on digital innovation and responsible financial inclusion, as well as the OECD, Grameen Bank, and impact investor-Global Partnerships. She also co-founded RemitMas, a savings-focused digital remittances startup for Latino immigrants in the US. Maelis holds a dual MBA and Master in International Affairs from Columbia Business School and the School of International and Public Affairs.

Aaron Fu – Partner, Catalyst Fund More Info

Aaron is a Partner at Catalyst Fund. He is an early-stage investor, entrepreneur and strategic advisor, both to startups as they scale and corporates as they transform to gain agility for game-changing innovation. He has a passion for emerging markets, and in the last five years, he has specifically focused on innovation in Africa, working with global brands and local entrepreneurs across diverse industries, from financial services to health to mobile to agriculture, to create value, opportunities and stronger economies.

Karen Serem Waithaka – Investment Principal, Catalyst Fund More Info

Karen Serem Waithaka is the Investment Principal at Catalyst Fund. She leads the end-to-end investment processes and contributes to the hands-on post-investment support of the portfolio. Before this, Karen worked as an Investment Director for an impact-first fund, Global Partnerships Social Venture Fund and as Investment Manager for Safaricom's pilot corporate Venture Fund, Spark Fund. She has also worked in the Private Equity space for TBL Mirror Fund. She brings over 15 years of experience in the financial services sector spanning Venture Capital, Private Equity and Corporate Finance. She is passionate about intentional, tangible and sustainable impact investing and working with early-stage founders in the tech-enabled space within the continent.She holds a Master's Degree in Finance, specialising in Funds Management and a BSc in Actuarial Science.

Maxime Bayen – Head of Venture Building & Lead Venture Partner, Catalyst Fund More Info

Maxime is the Head of Venture Building & Lead Venture Partner at Catalyst Fund. Maxime leads the venture building support to Catalyst Fund early-stage startups as well as supports the portfolio startups when it comes to investment readiness. Prior to joining Catalyst Fund, Maxime was a Senior Venture Builder with Greentec Capital where he supported 7 African startups in various sectors ( e.g. e-Commerce, Retail, SaaS, Logistics, Agriculture, and Waste management) for nearly 2 years. Before Greentec, Maxime co-led the deployment and running of the GSMA Mobile For Development Ecosystem Accelerator Programme, aimed at building synergies between startups and mobile operators to scale innovative and sustainable mobile services in emerging markets (Africa and Asia Pacific). 35 startups across 3 continents were supported by this programme during his time at GSMA. Most of his previous experience was gained as a consultant within the telecom and tech space in emerging markets including Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Maxime holds an MBA from the ESSEC Business School.

Percentage of Investment Professionals who identify as women:
50% or more
Percentage of Investment Professionals who identify as people of color:*
50% or more
Percentage of Senior Management Team who identify as women:
50% or more
Percentage of Senior Management Team who identify as people of color:*
50% or more
*People of color include: Black, Latinx, Asian, Native American/Alaskan Native, Pacific Islander, Middle Easterm and multi-racial Americans

Financial Performance

Target Financial Returns Relative to Benchmark:
Near-market Rates
Actual Performance of Impact Products/Funds Relative to Target Financial Returns in the Past Three Years:
Over-delivered compared to initial target returns
Financial Reporting Frequency to Investors or Donors

Impact Performance

Percentage of Total Assets Under
Management that are Impact Investments:
Primary Impact Outcomes:
Addressing climate change and environmental issues
Secondary Impact Outcomes:
Alleviating poverty
Value-added Services Offered:
Access to markets
Business and legal training
Technology training
Human Resources, recruiting and professional development services

Investments systematically target companies where social and/or environmental impact is integral to the product/service being created:

Our fund only targets companies with meaningful social and environmental impact. We select companies that a) target low-income, underserved and vulnerable communities, b) increase their resilience to climate change impacts by providing tools to protect from risks and adapt their livelihoods, and build long-term resilience. We screen companies for impact from the very first steps of the sourcing process (our sourcing criteria), we then do a deeper review against our impact goals during the screening phase, and a deep impact assessment during full due diligence. At that stage, we also describe what metrics the company could be collecting and start having conversations with the company.

Impact Tracking and Monitoring

Impact is Tracked:
Impact Verified by an Independent Third-Party:
Social and/or Environmental Impact is Reported to Investors and Donors:
Yes – to investors and donors
Third Party Validations:
Member of Impact Capital Managers
Impact Frontiers Cohort Participant
Implement recommendations from Task Force on Climate Related-Financial Disclosure
Net Zero Assets Managers Initiative
Utilizes standardized impact metrics (e.g. IRIS+, GIIRS, etc.)
Participant on steering committees or leadership roles within impact industry associations
Publisher or contributor to industry white paper or other research in impact investing

Learn More

Key Contact Name: Maelis Carraro
Phone: +33782115283
Mailing Address:

625 Massachussets Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139 USA

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