Tharald Nustad, the founder of Katapult Group and Nordic Impact, outlines his strategy for identifying and nurturing impact tech startups offering solutions to challenges in three key areas: climate, oceans and Africa.
- Founder and majority owner Katapult Group, including Katapult´s VC arm and Katapult Foundation, 2016- present
- Co-chair, Nexus, Impact Investing working group 2017 – present
- Founder, Nordic Impact, 2013 – present
- Chairman, Mallin, 2010 – 2019
Tharald Nustad is a Norwegian serial entrepreneur and investor in the tech sector. He is the founder of Nordic Impact, a company that incubates and invests in social and environmental impact tech startups, and he is also the founder and majority owner of the Katapult Group.
Nustad’s interest in impact investing comes from his family background. “My family very much wants to make a change in the world. And I want to commit my capital and my life to impact investing.”
He used to chair Mallin, the family office which emerged from his grandfather Olav Selvaag’s successful real estate company in Norway, well known for his innovative approach to designing and building affordable housing.
Even before that, Nustad recalls, his mother got involved in what “we would now term impact investing in the 1990s and I learned a lot from that and from her involvement in clean tech venture capital”.
He made his first impact investment in 2011. The more he met interesting entrepreneurs, the more the idea of impact investing gripped him and he decided to group together any further investments in Nordic Impact, the impact investing vehicle he created in 2013.
An evolving impact business
In 2016, he initiated the Katapult Future Fest, a convening festival for like-minded entrepreneurs in the impact sector. That was the start of Katapult.
He says: “Our core mission is very much the same as it has always been. A focus on finding business founders who have a desire and an ability to make impact. We want to be an accelerator for world class impact startups.”
Nustad’s impact business is constantly evolving. Originally, all Katapult’s venture capital activities were grouped together in what was called the Katapult Accelerator, where some €100m of investments have been made across 150 different companies.
Now, Katapult’s venture capital activities are divided into three specific themes – climate, ocean and Africa – with seed funds currently open for investments in each of those areas. The seed funds look to make around 30 investments per year, and typical investments are between €150,000 and €500,000.
Nustad chooses from a broad range of potential candidates. “Each of the three areas receives around 1,000 different potential candidates each year which we then whittle down to a hundred from which ten successful candidates are chosen.”
Originally, all the deal flow came from Nustad’s network, but now the firm has a dedicated team of researchers or as he calls them “scouts”. He says: “Deal flow often also comes from outside investors, mentors and from previous alumni in addition to companies approaching us. The three sources are almost equal.”
In selecting which companies to invest in, Nustad explains the first thing they look at is what the impact will be and whether impact is really embedded in the business model.
“Secondly, we look for amazing founders. We want to make sure we’re investing in high calibre individuals. Thirdly, we seek to assess the quality of the technology and, finally, we look at the business opportunity,” he notes.
Katapult does look at pre-seed funding but they are interested in teams which are already functioning and have traction in their markets. “We’re not interested in just a couple of guys with an idea. We have a spread of businesses from pre-seed, to seed, and beyond.”
Nustad picks out two investments he’s particularly proud of. “The Chilean company Betterfly helps people live a healthy lifestyle and is Latin America’s first impact unicorn,” he says, adding that the company’s technology integrates with the best wellness and fitness apps and turns “good habits into extraordinary benefits”.
“The second investment is a US startup called Esusu which helps disadvantaged people gain access to finance.” Both of these have gone all the way from pre-seed through to emerging as unicorns.
Challenges and future plans
“The biggest challenge right now in the areas we are involved in is the deflation that is taking place in the tech market generally. We are looking at how we can help our portfolio get through these tough times and ensure that they are not looking to raise funds during this sell off.”
Another major challenge, has been the “tremendous amount of greenwashing and impact washing” taking over the market as sustainability has become mainstream. “There are a lot of investors and startups that claim they are doing impact that are not the real deal,” he says.
Katapult launched its first ocean fund four years ago, reflecting their “Norwegian roots and love of the ocean”. Nustad expects further funds to follow on in that area but also in Africa which is even more important now due to the war in Ukraine and the looming food crisis.
“We have some 25 startups in Africa and 10 of them are currently focused on food. These aim to both raise crop yields and encourage regenerative farming practises, to help people have a livelihood and get good nutrition.”
Katapult does this through startups working in education, soil health and precision farming, as well as improving access to finance, and ensuring producers have access to markets. Their ambition is to replicate the model they are using in Africa in Southeast Asia.
He adds: “We want to get more and more outside investors involved in the funds we create and ideally, we would like to put just 5% of our capital into a fund and have the rest coming from a mixture of family offices, HNWI and institutional investors.”
Originally, those external investors were mainly from the Nordics but now include investors from across Europe and the US.
Nustad concludes: “My most important message for the future is that impact investing is no longer an ‘either/or’. It is not about choosing between having impact or having financial success. It’s about finding businesses that are led by founders who solve problems and ensuring that business is part of the sustainable future that is vital for all of us. Making profit from doing good.”