“We invest in business model innovation”

Marie Cheong, Wavemaker Impact, on venture building and climate tech in Southeast Asia.

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Early-stage VC firm Wavemaker Partners launched Wavemaker Impact – a dedicated venture builder fund for climate tech – at the end of last year.

Venture builders work with entrepreneurs to develop startups and business ideas from the ground up.

Wavemaker Impact aims to build a portfolio of high-growth companies with the potential to abate 10% of the global carbon budget. 

The company is currently working on its first venture build. Its first investment is in Agros, a Singapore-based sustainable farming specialist.

Relevant Sustainable Development Goals

How are you different from a typical VC?

We don’t deal source for companies to invest in. Instead, we look for experienced entrepreneurs and operators who know how to build and scale venture businesses, and are interested in starting their next company in the climate tech space. 

We then work closely with these entrepreneurs over three to six months to find the business model that has the potential to be high growth and abate a significant amount of carbon at scale. 

We chose to build because there aren’t enough founders looking at the biggest drivers of carbon emissions in our region.

Over 60% of climate tech funding goes into EVs, which is less than 13% of carbon emissions in Southeast Asia.

By venture building, the goal is to catalyze the climate tech ecosystem in the region.


What kind of companies do you support?

We build and invest in what we call ‘100 x 100’ companies – companies with the potential to achieve US$100 million in annual revenue and abate 100 million metric tonnes of carbon. 

We developed a carbon map for Southeast Asia and identified over 50 opportunity spaces where we believe it’s possible to launch a ‘100 x 100’ company. 

We work with founders to ideate, validate and launch high-growth companies in these opportunity spaces. 

An important part of our thesis is that we invest in business model innovation rather than climate tech solutions that require research and development. 

A lot of climate tech solutions that we hear about today, like hydrogen or direct air carbon capture, will take at least a decade to become commercial. 

On the other hand, it’s possible to halve the global carbon budget with the technology that we have today. 

We also want to build and invest in companies that solve real problems. We talk to over 80 customers and stakeholders as we develop our ventures, with the goal of uncovering opportunities to create value for customers and decarbonize at the same time. 

By the time we get to investment committee, we’re looking for one to two customers who are so excited by our venture that they’re willing to be the first customers.


What do you look for in founders?

We look for proven founders and operators who understand the venture model and are motivated to make a real impact on climate change. 

There’s no need for founders to have a background in climate tech or be expert in a particular area – just a passion for sustainability and building high-growth businesses. 

We genuinely see ourselves as co-founders and work with the founder to discover opportunities together.


How do you assess impact and sustainability? 

Our north star is our ‘100 x 100’ criteria. We only invest when we have strong conviction that there is a real pathway for our companies to achieve 100MT of carbon abatement. 

In order to achieve this, companies need to solve a real problem for customers, and be commercial and scalable.

In all of our companies, carbon impact is intrinsically linked to revenue. 

We’ve also partnered with the UNDP to help us monitor and measure the impact of our startups in a stage appropriate way.


If you could say one thing to every climate tech startup, what would it be?

Link your carbon impact as closely as you can to revenue.

The most exciting climate tech startups are ones where the amount of money you make is tied to the amount of carbon you reduce or avoid. 

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Marie Cheong

Founding Partner, Wavemaker Impact

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