Amy Carter-James didn’t set out to work with startups, but she did want to find a way to have a positive impact. At the start of her career she recognised that tourism had huge potential to boost both sustainable development and marine conservation.
By 22 she had a degree in marine biology, so she headed off to Mozambique to start an eco-resort that would introduce travellers to the local community, while also conserving the coastline.
After more than a decade of success, her project was brought to a screeching halt as twin crises struck Northern Mozambique: first, discoveries of natural gas led to violent gangs attacking villages, and second, the biggest cyclone ever to hit East Africa flattened the resort and ravaged the local community.
It was a profound experience for Amy, and it showed her the life-saving importance of tackling climate change.
“If you don’t address climate, you can’t tackle sustainable development in any meaningful way,” Amy says.
From there, she would collaborate with an experienced team to build Raaise, a platform and service provider that helps climate-tech startups get investment ready, while also introducing them to investors.
OnImpact spoke to Amy about building the business, the huge need that startups have for early stage support and the challenges of impact management.
Amy’s stories from Mozambique are evocative and exciting, but you come back to earth as she talks about the reality of dealing with a natural disaster that raised an entire coastline, imperilling the communities that live there.
“We built this small boutique resort lodge on the most beautiful beach you can imagine. It was all white sand and elephants stealing our mangoes, but the heart of the place was the community. The people were very, very poor, but they had big open hearts. And, so, when people would come and stay with us, they might have come for the diving, but they would connect with and be inspired by the communities and the work that we were doing there,” Amy says.
“Then, cyclone Kenneth literally arrived on our beach. It was the strongest cyclone to ever reach landfall on the east coast of Africa.”
They had always understood that challenge of climate change, and the imperative to find solutions, but suddenly it became clear that time had run out. Dealing with climate change was inextricably linked to their social development work.
“Of course building resilience is important, but what we saw was all these people with exciting solutions that were not getting support or funding, and that weren’t scaling even remotely quick enough. So we asked, what role can we play in that?” Amy says.
“We spent six months just talking to hundreds of founders, from the UK, Australia, and the US, just talking, talking, talking and really understanding the challenges. And what came through loud and clear, was the issue of funding.”
“But not just access to capital, also the time it takes, and the question of: How do you actually go about it?”
Raaise was Born
It’s not enough to have a great idea, or even to have created a product—to commercialise a climate business you need a complete ecosystem around you, especially if you want to scale it to a point where it can have a material impact on the global challenge.
“So we wondered, how can we help and support the ecosystem, to empower founders with the knowledge and tools they need to get funded, and to do so in a way where they get to keep as much equity and optionality as possible?” Amy asks.
“The whole mission of Raaise is to be able to get as many climate startups, not just funded, but growing, with strong foundations, to be able to scale responsibly.”
But of course the startups are only half of the equation. Raaise also works with a network of investors whom they introduce to their roster of startups.
“It’s a huge benefit to investors, because it enables them to cut down the time it takes to filter through the hordes of deal flow that passes across their desk. We also help significantly reduce the period of time from when a deck lands in front of them to actually deploying the capital, by making sure the startup is ready,” Amy says.
Raaise has built trust with investors, who know Raaise is identifying some of the most exciting climate startups, and helping them take the next steps.
“We have good relationships because we offer quality deal flow, which means well prepared startups. So that’s how we build that trust. It’s the quality of the startups coming through,” Amy says.
Scaling the Cohort
Raaise has worked with a small but growing list of businesses—everything from carbon capture utilisation, food-tech, ed-tech and biodegradable tights, to the circular economy and the borrowing economy (with Library of Things in the UK).
So far they cover the UK, Australia, a couple of startups from the States, and one in New Zealand. But with only a handful of businesses, it’s a drop in the ocean, so they’re looking for ways to scale their own impact.
“We’re working to launch, in probably about two or three months, the next phase of our service, which is a SaaS model. For a tiny subscription amount, startups can access a multitude of workflows to help them get investment ready, as well as bots to be able to generate legal documents, whether that’s a founder’s employment agreement, term sheet, a shareholders agreement, NDA, and so on,.” Amy says.
“We’re also developing a matching tool to help startups identify the right type of investors for their business.”
On the surface, climate startups are high-impact by their very nature. But as we know, impact operates on a spectrum.
The team at Raaise have always tried to help founders understand the importance of identifying some key impact metrics, as both a baseline and a guide to performance.
“It’s something we’ve struggled with, I’m not gonna lie,” Amy says.
“We try to focus on a few key metrics for each individual startup, whether that’s tonnes of carbon sequestered, plastics diverted, or the volume of seaweed used, each startup has got their own key metrics. We’re also helping them clarify and refine who the beneficiaries and stakeholders are, and to think about the best metrics for measuring the benefits to those parties.”
“Raising capital and measuring impact can be an enormous burden for startups. It’s all about finding that sweet spot, identifying where you’re going to create the most impact, and making sure your house is in order at the same time.”