Jolanda Degen

“My strategy is to focus on the vision, not the sector. I keep my eyes on the greater movement whilst remaining realistic about what we can achieve”

Jolanda is a Dutch entrepreneurial impact investor who, with her business partner Phillippe de Knijff in the late nineties, had the pioneering vision to set up one of the first online travel businesses After taking the company to great success, in 2017 after an exit, she decided to put all that know-how into the impact investing world; seeking out investments where she could make a real difference.

How did you become an impact investor?
My entrepreneurial journey started more than 20 years ago when I converted a traditional travel agency into an international online travel organization. Selling this company led me to a unique situation: I became very privileged at quite a young age. It was a huge shift because whilst I was still very passionate and connected to the old company, I wanted to do something different, and felt a responsibility. A new beginning arrived with Darwin Invest. 

Phillippe and I decided to invest in early-stage tech companies, so we could provide opportunities, use our knowledge and experience, and explore our interest in disruptive markets and scalable businesses. The more meaningful turning point for me personally however, was when I truly began to engage with the big questions in life, like how do we create a more sustainable world? Trying to answer these questions quite naturally led me to the impact investing and philanthropy space. 

What is your investment style? 
Entrepreneurial, intuitive, innovative, and long-term focused.

I love growth and connection and that is perhaps why I like early-stage investing so much; after all, it is the most entrepreneurial part! In the end, I always invest in people and the team, so I look at what’s needed to progress further and scale up. My specific expertise - having gone through different phases of growth with our own company - helps, so I like adding value here as an investor. 

What is your focus/inspiration for your investments?
Taking care of nature should be everyone’s main concern, so that is a focus, as well as education, health, and financial inclusion. But all these include and span many things, which is why I invest very broadly and often in funds, putting my eggs in different baskets and supporting multiple initiatives. I have noticed however that a lot of my investments end up being in digital companies. I am attracted to their fast scalability and high impact, which I believe allows for real system change. 

I would say overall my strategy is to focus on the vision, not the sector. I keep my eyes on the greater movement whilst remaining realistic about what we can achieve, what we must achieve right now, and where I can play a real role. 

What would you advise starting impact investors?
Try to find what really matters to you, talk to a lot of people, and then remain open to what comes on your path. You don’t have to know everything, and you can spread risk and invest in many different asset classes. Just begin and let it be a journey.

Who do you ask for advice and why? 
My business partner and I are each other’s advisors in many ways, but depending on the subject or case I often ask other investors and entrepreneurial friends for their thoughts. Next to this, I think it’s important to lean on specific experts in the sector you are investing in.

You joined Women's Wealth Matters and a PYM Impact Circle this year - what was your experience with connecting to peers in this way? 
When I first started investing I hardly knew any active female investors. Joining PYM’s “Women Wealth Matters” sessions opened up a new international network for me with a great group of impact investors.

The Impact Circle was a very safe yet exciting environment: fun and interesting conversations with a warm group of women, all investors, from different backgrounds often facing similar challenges. Being exposed to the diversity of topics and thoughts allowed me to learn and get inspired, and was also very helpful for my own direction. I strongly believe connecting to other entrepreneurs and investors is essential for your journey as an investor. It has been to mine. 

What are your hopes for the next generation? 
I already love what the next generation of entrepreneurs is bringing to the table; so many of them are solving problems with their companies, are led by diverse teams, and consider creating positive impact the norm. My hope is that we will continue this trend and that traditional investors will become more conscious.

I also hope women get increasingly (more) involved in investing in private markets to create more balance. At the moment only 3% of investments go to female founders, but that might also be because only 3% of women are active investors. I am excited to see this change. 

Join us on the 14th & 15th of April for the PYM Impact Days!

Come explore what we can learn from our ancestors
and how we can apply that in the years and decades to come. 

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