Caterina Lurani
IMPACT INVESTING

Caterina Lurani

#162

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Investor, Entrepreneur and Coach

Transition to VC and impact investing – Caterina Lurani

ABOUT

Caterina works with founders and entrepreneurs in the impact space in Europe and in the US.

She guides entrepreneurs in navigating complexity, taking difficult decisions with conviction, bringing integrity and bold transparency in their companies.

She has been an academic researcher, with a passion for mathematical models, a startup operator and a VC investor.

Intellectual challenges, unconventional strategies, operational and human complexity characterised this journey.Her ambition is asking tough questions to unveil unconscious assumptions and beliefs that are holding back entrepreneurs.

She is a rock-climbing guide and a skiff-sailing instructor. Guiding people in extreme environments led her to investigate risks, adrenaline and responsibility. Both in the outdoors, and in entrepreneurship.

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THE FULL INTERVIEW

Caterina Lurani

The full #OPNAskAnAngel talk

Jeffery: Welcome to Impact Investing, brought to you by the Supporters Fund from the city with 10 million trees. Toronto, Canada. I’m your host, Jeffrey JP Potvin. Let’s please welcome from the greenest city in Europe, Berlin, Germany. Katarina. Lori. Any sustainable leaders, program and coaching. Welcome, Katarina. It’s a pleasure having you join us today.

Caterina: Thank you so much. I was really looking forward to this, and especially to be the one that answers questions other than the way around, which is what I generally do.

Jeffery: I love it. Also very excited because we’re taking a completely different angle on how we’re going to drive out some of this information and around the great things that you’re doing in the ecosystem. So I’m excited to dive in and explore. But before we start, the way we like to learn more about you is we’d love to learn a bit about your background all the way from your uni days, research days, all the great things that you’ve done, and then one thing about you that nobody would know.

Caterina: Okay. I love the background question and whenever people ask me, what do I do? I always have the temptation of answers. Some of my South African friends would say, what do you mean what I do, I do live. And so to start, as you just said, is the best way possible to actually go all the way through. I mean, you know, I grew up in Italy, in the outdoor between mountains, seas, forests. And when I was in high school, I had a passion for, humanistic subjects. And so I went deep into philosophy. Literature. History. And then at some point, first turn around in my career, I was like, what is it that I really don’t know nothing about? Everything. Probably just as of today. But it turned out mathematics and economics was my next big thing. So that’s when I started studying that at the university, and I completely fell in love with the theoretical part of mathematics. That was the next big challenge. I think I needed to prove myself somehow with that new era, and I started to do research in the academia in that field, and I was just about to start my PhD in Berkeley. Big accomplishment of my life, where another turning point of my career came in. And I started to think, you know, I was working as a researcher for people that were at MIT and Stanford, and the level and the speed of their brain was just something else. And to keep up with that level was really, really hard job for me. I realized I was not really bringing value to the table. I was not having the impact that I expected. And so for how much I loved the image of myself as the small genius at Berkeley inventing new theorems, I was like, maybe that’s not my way. Let’s see. Right. It it was painful somehow to let go of that image of myself. That was a beautiful journey, as always. And I had one specific, pivotal conversation in that time, which was with the CEO of a health startup, and he himself dropped a PhD in physics in an Ivy League to become a social entrepreneur. And he was like, yeah, just say no to Berkeley and join my company and let’s build this startup. and that’s what I did in the following years and was a huge playground. And basically I spent years experimenting things that I would see in Silicon Valley companies, you know, a super small ecosystem. So we played around from operations to strategy to relationship with investors, building data infrastructures, developing in I.T interoperability. Everything was like, let’s just trial and error, trial and error and see what comes out. And that gave me the chance, I think, to really learn almost all I know about strategy as of today, because of the playfulness that was behind that and really the chance to take responsibility for things so early allowed me to, you know, being full agency about what I was doing. And then, Covid hit and with my main job, I also started on a side to be part of the core team, developing the early stages of the Covid tracing app. And also I ended up publishing a paper around the data for that, and it was a crazy experience. You remember those signs? Everything was in the in an emergency, like the speed at which people were going was just different. It was so stimulating, so inspiring, a lot of adrenaline and by the end of that period, I realized I loved early stage. I love when you’re really crafting the first elements of a company and you’re bringing together, you know, the tech, the resources, the stakeholders. In that case, also the government. I was exposed to work with incredible tech CEOs, and it was just something that gave me all these energy. And that’s where I transitioned into VC. I wanted to go more early stage with respect to the company that I was into, and I joined early stage VC investing across Europe. we were a traditional fund investing across all sectors, and my passion was absolutely impact investing. But I was also, you know, really trying to question what that really meant, especially in Europe, with respect to, for example, developing countries. I, I have a very mathematical background, obviously, and so I need to measure things. And I ended up going more toward the climate direction, because the scientific background allowed me to really measure the impact. And that’s how we landed in zero carbon, which is a very early stage fund investing in hard science companies with a strong decarbonization potential in Europe. And let’s say that was absolutely the cherry on top of my role as an investor, in my opinion, to the extent that I was working with incredibly valuable investors, with the incredible background in what they did before building the fund, I was launching it in Europe and it was, you know, just this big thing in working finally in climate space. But life always takes its own ways, in its own terms. And in the past years, I’ve been always working with entrepreneurs. Also outside of my investor role. And, you know, on the one hand, we were working on building strategy, relationships with investors, building a team, scaling the company. And the more I did that, the more I was realizing that the human factor component of resilience, their ability to see outside of schemes, was taking so much more space and was such a relevant element, was actually like one of the pivotal elements for success. And so that part of my job in that way of interacting with founders started to take over for as founders started to ask me, working with them from that perspective rather than from my investor role. And that kind of snowballed, and it was people introducing me to their co-founders, to their romantic pa