Impact Investing: Interview with Charly Kleissner

There are not many funds that invest ‘patient capital’ – investments with a longer return period but significant capacity to create social impact. Charly and Lisa Kleissner’s KL Felicitas Foundation is all set to change that. For the last ten years, Charly and Lisa Kleissner have been making investments globally in sustainable enterprises to create social, environmental and economic impact. I caught up with Charly in a phone interview to discuss his views:

Tell me a little bit about your work before you started impact investing.

I migrated to the US in 1986 from Austria after completing my Ph.D in Computer Science. I worked with Hewlett Packard as a technical lead. I had a very successful career in the Silicon Valley for about 15 – 20 years as a technology executive. I was able to make major contributions to three startups as their CTO and all three have been quite successful.

I worked on the functionality of the Operating System of Apple called OS10. The last senior executive job that I had was at Ariba. It is a three billion dollar company. And, I helped grow that company from zero to 800 million dollars in revenue. In 2000, my wife Lisa suggested that we should start a foundation. We decided that we would give away majority of the wealth we have created, that lead to K L Felicitas. In 2002, I quit my role as a for-profit executive, and since then have been focusing on philanthropy, impact investing and social entrepreneurship.

What motivated you to enter impact investing space?

We believe that the wealth that we have been able to create is not really ours. Somehow, the universe conspired to enable us to get that wealth; we felt a deep responsibility to do something meaningful and positively impactful with this money. The other issue is that, if you look at where the world will be in 2050, there would be over 9 billion people on this planet and very very few resources. So putting your smarts and wealth towards a sustainable future is a no-brainer. I mean if you don’t sort this issue, we will have more difficult days to deal with in the future.

Tell me about the work that you are currently doing in impact investing space.

We decided to align 100% of the corpus of our foundation with impact investing. We are very public about the investments we make and what the results are.

Considering your previous experiences co-founding Toniic and Social Impact International, what do you think are the major challenges when it comes to making a difference with impact investing? How do you think we can overcome them?

If you look at the ecosystem at the BOP, there are two major challenges and in two different stages. One is the case of early stage ventures and the other is the case of successful enterprises. In the beginning when ventures need access to capital and capacity building, a lot of capital that needs to be subsidized. But, there are not many funds that invest patient capital. Early stage companies can’t pay for capacity building. They need meaningful support. These can solved by providing very very patient capital to these companies and also subsidize capacity building for these companies.

In case of really successful companies, there are enough number of SMEs out there, but when it comes to exit strategies for social enterprises, they are not well defined. So, what we need to do now in the eco-system is to both fix the front end and the back end. At Toniic, we work on fixing the first part of the issue.

Can you share with me your success stories in this space?

One of the ways in which we deploy our funds is that we deploy them in very early stage companies. We have invested in a company called Zouk Ventures, a renewable energy company, based in UK, but with a global presence. Now, they are raising their second fund(50 million dollars). That is one success story. A couple of other companies that we have invested in, are now getting to their second equity rounds, which I consider success.

What impact do you hope to make as a member of ennovent advisory board?

I believe that through my networks and through my experience, I would be able to make some positive impact, both on the due diligence side and bringing ennovent more visibility and also challenge ennovent to be more rigorous about its own impact, and ultimately take it to the next scale. I guess ennovent’s success depend on its ability to reach the next level, and I should be able to help them do that!

I think ennovent positioned in a unique way to  support early stage companies in a big way.

We appreciate Charly’s support in our all initiatives and are delighted to work with him. For more information on Toniic, an intertnational impact investor network, go to www.toniic.com

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