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Interview: Alex Gibb of Katalista Ventures

We caught up with Alex Gibb, a Brit with a deep connection to Lithuania that dates back decades. Alex is the co-founder and one of the partners at Katalista Ventures, founded with the goal of supporting startups that benefit people and the planet, as well as building capacity in the wider ecosystem. He is also a board member and mentor at various NGOs in Lithuania, including UNICEF.

Before investing in startups (and co-founding a fair number too), Alex worked in banking, where he got to explore the world of sustainability within a corporate context. Alex has been involved in a number of Lithuanian success stories, including Paysolut, which he co-founded and exited to SumUp in early 2021.

Where are you from, and when and why did you move to Lithuania?
I’m from Vilnius, it’s my home :). But I guess you’re asking where was I born? In the UK, where I grew up. I lived on the beach and went to school in the Lake District, which is a pretty special place. It has more than 15 million visitors per year and is all lakes and mountains under 1000 metres.

I did a gap year before university and decided that all the classic gap year adventures were not for me (like digging wells in Africa, traveling around Asia, working at a gorilla sanctuary). I was inspired by a friend of my mum’s, Joy – now nearly 80 years old, whose grandfather was from Lithuania. We set up an NGO together called Lithuania Link in the UK and started doing different charitable projects.

How did you end up in the Lithuanian startup world?
I’d created a few mini startups/businesses as a kid and was always hungry to create new things. I love innovating. After ten years in banking I went all in with startups in 2007 as I love supporting entrepreneurs.

What was your first investment?
The first one was in Poland in 2007 when we created Wyjątkowy prezent. This was a pretty wild ride as we had local shareholders too, growing the business on the ground. We bought them out after a few years with some drama and have since grown the business nicely. We sold the company this year to Emoti Group.

And your most notable one?
I’d love to tell you more but it’s not signed yet. It was an incubation project that was created from scratch and sold within 13 months. Unreal. I’ll talk about it more when it’s official but it has some great learning experiences for the whole ecosystem. I believe we can do so much more from Vilnius.

What was your biggest lesson?
Keep dreaming, keep thinking big. Each time we reach something, achieve a milestone, smash a goal, horizons seem to broaden and extend.

I think we’re still too humble and we (as the Lithuanian ecosystem) can do so much more to help each other. The biggest problems that early stage entrepreneurs face are 1) lack of resources and 2) lack of confidence. With each shared experience, insight, word of advice you can support other entrepreneurs, even if there’s nothing in it for you. This helps lift the tide and all the little boats floating on it.

You had a few exits (that only a few people know about). Could you tell us more?
I have four exits to date and seven of my startups have failed (so far…). One of those was a neutral return (same money back as invested) but the others were positive. My average IRR on exit is >400% which is pretty amazing and will be hard to continue, unless I’m very lucky :). There are still a few more on the horizon so let’s see…

What do you consider your biggest success with startups?
I think the real success is when you fail and want to continue with the people. I always say that I have 3 KPIs:

1) Can you still shake hands and look each other in the eye when you’ve failed?
2) Would I have had a smaller learning experience by spending the money invested at business school?
3) Would I invest and lose the same money again thanks to the learning experience?

If the answer is positive to all three then I am happy. This is the case with 99% of my startups. Note that the emphasis is on failed startups – I’ve learnt way more from these than the successful ones.

Why did you co-found Katalista Ventures?
Greta Monstavice and I met through Tinggly and share a passion for sustainability. We agreed that business as usual is not enough for us. We want to have a positive impact on the world’s grand challenges, such as global warming, and believe that supporting early stage startups we can do that. The concept of Triple Top Line is old and new at the same time, we want to promote this, helping startups think more broadly about their impact on people and the planet. We know that by doing this they can have financial success too.

It’s a hard time for startups, with many delayed rounds and a lot more scrutiny on financials. How do you see the next few years for Lithuanian startups?
We’re lucky to have government support in the sector with financing and other instruments, this will really help. Also, the LitBAN network is excellent and can really move things forward.

Yes, times will be tough but this means that a lot of crappy ideas get weeded out. Let’s hope that startups will really focus on revenue building.

I’m always happy to chat to people with new ventures so don’t be shy to reach out – especially if you see a Triple Top Line aspect.

What does the future hold for Alex Gibb?
I’m still working on co-creating at least 3 new startups at the moment, all in stealth mode but watch this space.

And the really exciting news is that I’m about to become a student again! In October I’m starting a Masters in the Anthropology of Food at SOAS

I truly believe that the Lithuanian ecosystem can flourish and that we will grow stronger, raising awareness and attractiveness globally.

How can people best keep up with your work?
Follow the team at Katalista Ventures on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. We are working on an exciting range of startups, projects, events and more throughout the ecosystem.

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