Say yes to ambiguity. — When starting a business, the only constant thing is change. There’s no certainty at anything you do — your products, services, clients, partners, even team members may change. This ambiguity may give you bad feelings but you can also use this as a positive.
As part of my series about companies who are helping to battle climate change, I had the pleasure of interviewing Greta Monstavičė.
Greta Monstavičė is the CEO and founding partner of Katalista Ventures. From the beginning of her career in the world of startups and startup accelerators, Greta gravitated towards sustainability-related roles. Greta co-founded Katalista with Alex Gibb after realising they share the same passion for startups and sustainability. The accelerator’s triple top line approach is the result of Greta’s adaptation of the industrial design concept to the world of startups, and reflects the accelerator’s emphasis not only on offsetting negative impact, but, crucially, on aligning business results with positive impact on people, planet and profit.
As well as running Katalista’s programs and mentoring founders, Greta has worked with some of the biggest names in banking, tech, sports, real estate and other industries within the areas of sustainability and innovation. Greta is a graduate of the Global Business and Sustainability Masters programme at Erasmus University in Rotterdam.
Greta is often quoted by the media and can be seen giving keynotes on sustainability at startup and investment events, being the go-to expert to comment on sustainability and resilience for startups and the concept of the triple top line. Greta is a Stockholm Resilience Center alumna and a member of UNLEASH, a global community by the United Nations.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been amazed by the fire I saw in the eyes of entrepreneurs. The first time I felt that was during my time with the Plug and Play — one of the leading accelerator programs in the world that had a branch in Spain and this is where I spent three months in my early twenties. There was no going back after that. I was involved with various startup projects, working together with the startup teams in the accelerator, mostly focusing on marketing and partnerships. This was great until, one day, one lucky (for me) complaint changed it all. One of the startups I was working with was criticised for being unsustainable and creating harm for the environment. The word ‘sustainable’ had been crossing my mind for a while at that time and I decided that was a great time to invest my time in learning more about it. Once I did — it hit me. Being sustainable is not a luxury. It’s not about a charitable project to be done for PR reasons or anything like that — it’s about designing your business in such a way that creation of positive impact for people and the planet generates you profit. That was absolutely mindblowing to me and I knew I had to learn more. Five years later — I’ve finished a Master’s degree in sustainability, have my research published on accelerating sustainable startups, I’m a member of the amazing alumni communities of Stockholm Resilience Center and UNLEASH and of course — doing the important work with Katalista Ventures. So I’m very excited and thankful about where this complaint brought me.
What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?
Katalista Ventures is a triple top line accelerator and advisory for startups and organizations aiming to achieve their potential while bringing a positive impact on people, planet, and profit. We strive to build capacity in the sustainability ecosystem, provide sustainable innovation advisory, and help develop resilience following the triple top line business model. We also look for ways in which we can bridge the challenges of both startups and corporate in a win-win scenario, in which companies can solve strategic challenges through startup innovation and startups can test their products with real clients and scale faster.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
We do our best to address climate change and sustainability in almost every action we take, fundamentally through our mentoring and investment in sustainable-minded startups. Through the accelerator we run a number of sustainability and impact-oriented programs, and our portfolio reflects our ethos. A good example is our portfolio company Tinggly, which seeks to replace material presents with experiences, and which more than offsets its own carbon and waste production. This has become part of their DNA and their USP when going out to the market.
We also carry out activities outside of the strict remit of acceleration and deployment of capital, be it by getting involved in the community with sustainable initiatives or by spreading the message about sustainability and the triple top line with thought leadership and other means. We also produce research reports and we are about to launch a tool to help startups self-assess the extent of their alignment with triple top line thinking. In other words, to what extent is their business success generating, and linked to, positive impact for people, the planet and profit? We launched from Lithuania at a time when sustainability was not top of mind, and we like to think that we contributed to making a difference — much has changed in the last years in the Baltic countries.
Something that is often overlooked when it comes to sustainability-oriented companies, is their own ability to become financially sustainable. In an effort to help the planet, they forget to help themselves. Our biggest contribution that we can make is help companies both help the planet and the people within it, but also thrive financially. We not only work with companies from scratch, but also help them become more sustainable and align to the triple top line.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
The most important aspect to consider when contemplating a new sustainability initiative is how to integrate it into the business objectives. Ideally, a sustainability strategy aims to achieve higher customer satisfaction, increased employee engagement and higher profitability. As long as these are aligned, you can evaluate the impact of your sustainability efforts using the same metrics as for the more strategic objectives. By measuring the existing sustainability efforts and connecting to sustainable development goals or ESG criteria, companies can better communicate their impact to their customers, employees, and partners.
An example of this is our portfolio company, Tinggly. In order to increase success in expanding into new markets, we helped to identify new customer segments and new value propositions by transforming towards a sustainable business model.
Another example. The Knotty Ones — a startup we worked closely with, created a sustainable fashion brand with a business model that employs women from rural areas. During the pandemic, when many companies faced a huge downturn in revenues, The Knotty Ones kept growing. The answer to that mystery — the amazing loyal customer base who believed in the vision and the importance behind the beautifully knitted sweaters.
The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
The Nordic countries are leading the way in terms of sustainability and they put great emphasis on teaching children about global environmental issues from a very young age. From teaching them to recycle properly to discussing climate change, spending time in nature and choosing sustainable means of transportation. The infrastructure is also built to accommodate a sustainable lifestyle. The relationship with nature has long been prominent in the Swedish culture, and the environment has been integrated into the school curriculum since 1969.
5 things to inspire:
- Share knowledge and discuss openly about climate change, teach children to actively participate in informed discussions in their communities and instill the mindset that action starts from each individual.
- Teaching sustainable habits — recycling, biking, composting.
- Positive framing — talking about the positive impact they can have instead of catastrophizing climate change.
- Connecting to nature and the planet — go outside, travel and enjoy nature and new cultures.
- Leading by example — the most powerful one. Each parent knows that the kid is a little copycat. Do the things you’re preaching about.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1: Say yes to ambiguity.
When starting a business, the only constant thing is change. There’s no certainty at anything you do — your products, services, clients, partners, even team members may change. This ambiguity may give you bad feelings but you can also use this as a positive. Ambiguity gives you opportunities you have not planned for and may change your course for the better as it will be based on the real-time inputs around you rather than pre-defined expectations that may not be valid anymore.
2: It’s not possible to know everything.
As a person who loves to know everything — this was a hard one for me. When you arrive in the startup world you get to meet incredible people who are all experts on various matters. It’s unrealistic to know everything about intellectual property rights management for software, medical device testing, AI algorithms and sensors needed to increase yield in potato fields — and these are just a few of the topics we got to work with at Katalista. Understanding your own area of expertise and not trying to be an expert in the ones you’re not is a big lesson.
3: People who achieved a lot are also just people — don’t worry!
There are many big names you may come across during your journey — CEOs, investors, politicians and activists whose bios are very impressive. However, when you meet with them you realise that they are also just people like you. It’s just likely that they were very focused on something for a long time. Make the most of these moments and be a human. Socialise, be curious and create relationships just like with anyone else.
4: Make more decisions based on your values.
While the value-based approach has led our team and myself in Katalista Ventures for a while now, this has not been the case before. The breath-taking moment here was the realisation that when you identify your values, you get an outstanding decision making tool. One of my values is co-creation. So whenever I onboard a new project, I ask myself if that certain project follows the principles of co-creation and this is one of the main criteria for my choice. This approach makes sures that I am always motivated to do the work which leads to great results and a sense of fulfillment.
5: Take meetings with new, interesting people even without an agenda.
If you have ever been in a work-related meeting without a goal, you may know it may not be the most comfortable feeling. You may find yourself constantly going through your head and trying to find something that connects you and the person in front of you. And this is the golden moment. In this moment of uncertainty, various synergies may emerge. If you meet a person who’s interesting and you’d like to connect but don’t really have much in common — do it anyway! You never know what’s cooking on the other side and what synergies you may find. And even if there are none — you have a great contact you may connect with in the future, when the synergies are more evident.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would say that one of the people that motivated me the most is my co-founder Alex. Three and a half years ago sustainability was not a big topic in Lithuania and creating Katalista Ventures was a bold move — Alex was the person who had the crazy visionary belief, excitement and an unmatched confidence in our capability to do this. When I look back at our journey I see how we managed to embrace the ambiguity of the situation and be the start of the team that is now thriving and supporting triple top line startups and organisations. I’m beyond excited to see where we’ll be in the next three and a half years.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?
It’s unsurprising coming from us, but very much a needed, desirable thing. Hopefully we are contributing towards it already. We would like to see a triple top line movement for organisations around the world. Triple top line is about the integration of people, planet and profit .None of the three aspects can go alone with the approach, which intertwines them in a way that, when making a sale, you immediately create a positive impact for people and the planet as well. The emphasis here is on creating positive impact as opposed to simply reducing negative impact. This could be the fundamental change that we need to see generally inbusiness philosophy. We need to understand that it is not only about ‘not creating harm’ but actually we need to go further and create a positive impact and regenerate our world.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
I actually find Jason Silva’s new definition of a billionaire an inspiring quote. He says that the “New definition of a billionaire [is] someone who positively affects the lives of a billion people!”. The current economic structure is not exactly fit for the planet that we have. At the moment, we are only looking for ‘profit’, but forgetting about people and the planet. While that is great for the economy in the current, narrow way we tend to measure, it’s often devastating for people and the planet. Redefining how we judge success is crucial for the sustainability of the planet and therefore us as humanity. I love this quote as this is doing just that. Let’s not glorify the financial billionaires if they have not created a positive impact — let’s redefine the term of a billionaire itself.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
Greta LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gretamonstavice/
Greta Twitter: https://twitter.com/GretaMonstavice
Katalista Ventures LinkedIn: https://lt.linkedin.com/company/katalista-ventures
Katalista Ventures Twitter: https://twitter.com/KatalistaV
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!