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Maurits Schouten

"Sometimes an investor’s part in success is not as straightforward, but it should still be celebrated because, in the end, it is about growth"

Maurits is a philanthropist and social impact investor, who left a long career in banking to focus on impact. In 2017 he founded Blue Parasol Investments with his wife, to build their social impact investment portfolio. Maurits is a very involved investor and highly engaged in the Dutch impact arena. He is also the new Board member and treasurer of PYM.

You started as a banker in a big finance capital… What led you to impact? 
I worked as an investment banker in London for multiple decades. Later in my banking career, I ended up getting involved with a project at the bank that matched bankers with small charities, offering them our financial skills. Looking back, I think this was the beginning of my impact journey because it opened my eyes to how much one person can actually contribute to change. My interest was piqued and pretty soon I was introduced to Ashoka, where I met some incredible social entrepreneurs. I started by applying my financial background and know-how to help them with fund-raising etc but then increasingly began investing myself… 

What happened to those investments?
I invested in about 12 enterprises through Ashoka, some investments transformed into ‘gifts’ and others became successful independent businesses. For example, I invested in a company preceding The Valuable 500. Their mission was to increase the hiring of disabled people at big companies. I invested in the founder's first company, which did not make it, but her work on that company later led her to start a subsequent company that did become very successful. Sometimes an investor’s part in success is not as straightforward, but it should still be celebrated because, in the end, it is about growth. Another example is the ‘Sea Ranger Service’, started by a Dutch Ashoka fellow to protect the oceans. All over the world are 'marine protected areas', but few are actually protected. The Sea Ranger Service seeks to restore 1 million hectares of ocean biodiversity, whilst training 20.000 young people towards a maritime career.

Do you only invest directly or also in funds? 
I do both. One of the companies we invested in later through a fund is actually similar to the Sea Ranger initiative, but then for forests. Through 4Impact VC, we invested in Satelligence, which uses real-time satellite monitoring with ownership supply chain data to pinpoint areas of environmental risk and achieve end-to-end visibility, in order to combat deforestation, protect biodiversity, decrease carbon losses, and prevent land degradation. In the end, I was so excited about this project that I also invested in them directly! I recommend people to try both. Of course there is a lot less risk involved in investing through funds, but you also gain a lot of experience by investing directly. A great alternative is perhaps to invest with a group (like a co-investment) with smaller amounts, so you get the benefits of being directly involved without it being too risky. Of course it helps to have a financial background, but in the end it’s a learning process for everyone! 

Is impact investing a family business?
I started off alone at first, but then after we moved back to the Netherlands from London, my wife and I decided to build a company to do this together and in a more structured way. We are both very passionate about impact. At the moment our children are not yet involved. 

Do you have a focus area? 
We started without focussing on a specific topic, but with a focus on the type of enterprise instead. For us it was important that the impact we invested in could be brought to scale. This led us quite naturally to companies where tech plays an important role. Recently however, coinciding with Pymwymic (whom we also invested with), we have become very interested in food systems. I am particularly involved in promoting the transition to plant-based food. One of the charities I like in this space is ProVeg, a food awareness organization with the mission to reduce global consumption of animals by 50% by 2040.  I appreciate how they are seeking to make plant-based food as attractive as possible on a larger scale, collaborating with governments, supermarkets, corporates, and start-ups to make this transition happen. In this case, we invested more in funds than directly, because we think it will make a further and quicker impact. 

What was your most important ‘lesson learned’ in this journey? 
To invest in a team rather than a founder. I believe there is more success in companies that are led by multiple founders -  a leadership team -, rather than one founder with people underneath them. Starting and running a company is hard. I think you have a better chance at long-term success with shared leadership and responsibility.

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