Sustainability/Opinion/

Why your fund should hire a head of research

Hampus Jakobsson, general partner at Pale Blue Dot, a climate-focused VC firm headquartered in Malmö, Sweden, explains why the firm made the choice to hire a head of research

By Freya Pratty

Hampus Jakobsson, general partner at Pale Blue Dot

Hampus Jakobsson is a general partner at Pale Blue Dot, a climate-focused VC firm headquartered in Malmö, Sweden. Here Jakobssen explains why the firm made the choice to hire a head of research. This oped first appeared in the Sustain newsletter, our weekly roundup of the biggest news in climate tech — subscribe here.

Determining the impact of climate interventions isn’t as straightforward as simply measuring the tonnes of carbon saved, especially when you’re talking about very early-stage startups. How do you put a number on an idea that could help us prepare for the new world that’s coming for us? 

Rather than trying to measure tonnes of carbon or put a value on the impact, we want to truly understand the science behind climate tech innovations. So we invested in research.

Our research focuses on two key areas. The first is “live-deal” projects. That’s when we’ve found a startup, we want to know more, and we need this information quickly. We want to know what the potential for impact is, both positive and negative. This typically involves looking into the science behind the innovation to determine if this is really the best approach to the problem. 

The second is “thesis projects”: larger projects that take a broad look at a particular area. It’s not always that we’re looking for investments in that space: it might be a topic that we feel we need to understand better in order to make more informed decisions in general. 

In searching for someone to lead the charge on our research efforts, we set out to find someone who was a “written communicator” at heart. An expert on the science of climate change, and in taking that information and presenting it with both brevity and depth so that we as investors can make confident and informed decisions. It was equally important to find someone who truly cared about the issues at hand, and saw hope for a better future. 

We found that in Lindsey Higgins, who joined the team in August last year. Lindsey certainly has the academic know-how; she has a PhD in physical geography from Stockholm University, where her research focused on climate change and freshwater issues.

So, if you decide to make your own investment in this kind of research, where should you start? Lindsey says: “I think geographers like myself are really well-positioned to deliver the kind of insights that can help drive decision-making. We’re trained to look for connections between people and the environment and have a pretty wide range of tools at our disposal. Many geographers also have sub-disciplines in climate change, water science, biology, economics, and more.”

Here are a few more tips to help find the right fit for your head of research:

Make it clear that this is a non-investing role.

Your researcher should ideally have an informing role, not a voting role, so make that clear from the beginning. This position is about saying how possible a solution is or how big the climate problem is, not deciding which founders will win and how markets will develop.

Look for someone who has worked with science communication.

The ideal candidate should be able to take a mess of complicated data and research and translate that into clear and concise insights. This work has no value if the end product is not read and understood.

Familiarity with the startup world is a major plus.

We know that life in this space often moves at the speed of light, and the right candidate will understand that as well. Maybe they worked at a startup themselves, with another VC, or even at an incubator. They should be familiar with the startup ecosystem and know how to interact with (and maybe even find!) founders.

And finally: prioritise curiosity.

Look for someone who loves to learn, and to share those learnings.

Freya Pratty is a reporter at Sifted. She tweets from @FPratty and writes our sustainability-focused newsletter Sustain, which this interview first appeared in — you can sign up here

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