Meaningful Business (MB): Please tell us a bit about your background and why you started Silverstrand Capital.
Kelvin Chiu (KC): Before Silverstrand I worked in finance, specialising in the proprietary trading of agricultural commodities. It gave me the financial freedom to pursue my goals, but it also made me wonder if there is a better way to feed the world. I soon learned about regenerative agriculture and was engrossed by the idea of farming with nature rather than against it, and where local communities, natural ecosystems, and our climate all benefit. I saw the potential for change and the lack of funding in the space, and decided to dive in and start our impact investing mandate focused on regenerative food systems.
The team and I soon widened our impact remit to the theme of biodiversity. Agriculture is the biggest driver of nature loss, and I realised I was driven by a deeper purpose – to protect biodiversity, the very essence and foundation of life on earth. I have always had a deep appreciation of nature and I love diving, trekking, or going on safaris. Learning about natural ecosystems, how they functioned, and the threats they face has strengthened my resolve to do my part to conserve and restore the richness of the natural world.
Kelvin Chiu, Founder & Principal, Silverstrand Capital
MB: Can you share details about the priority focus areas for your investments, and why you selected them.
KC: All of our impact investments aim to create a positive impact for nature, and we focus on two investment themes. The first is nature-based solutions – companies working on regenerative agriculture or sustainable aquaculture, or those protecting vulnerable landscapes or restoring degraded ones. These solutions not only address the ecological crisis but also the climate crisis, and they often have a strong social impact by working closely with local communities to improve their livelihoods.
The second is nature tech companies that enable the implementation and scaling of nature-based solutions through innovative hardware and software solutions. Some work on reducing the cost of conservation and restoration efforts. Others focus on biodiversity data collection and analytics, enabling us to measure and quantify the benefits nature provides more accurately and efficiently. There are also companies building the infrastructure for nature-based carbon or biodiversity credits, such as marketplaces or verification tools.
It is a nascent space with both categories currently underinvested in; among the SDGs, 14 Life Below Water receives the least attention from investors and Life On Land is not much further ahead. We look to invest in financially sustainable business models that can rapidly scale and create depth and speed of impact.
MB: How is your portfolio tackling these issues and what impact are they having?
KC: We can illustrate with two examples. Within nature-based solutions, there is Tiverton Agriculture Impact Fund (Tiverton) which focuses on sustainable agriculture and natural capital enhancement. Tiverton owns and operates diversified farmland assets in Australia and invests in aligned businesses that focus on soil and tree carbon sequestration, soil health and biodiversity enhancement. They work closely with partners to create on-farm threatened species programmes – contributing to the recovery efforts of highly-threatened endemic species like the bush stone-curlew and rufous bettong. Through their focus on soil health and biodiversity, the farmland reaps the benefits of a number of ecosystem services, demonstrating the mutually beneficial harmony that can be achieved between conservation and agriculture.
Under nature tech, Planblue is a company that combines spectrometry and AI to map the oceans depths with underwater ‘satellites’. They enable blue natural capital accounting, allowing us to better understand and protect our oceans. Advancements in measurement, verification and reporting (MRV) technologies like theirs are much needed; stakeholders can better track the success of conservation and restoration projects, ensuring that every dollar spent has a positive impact. This is key to holding ourselves accountable to historic treaties, such as the UN’s most recent commitment to protecting 30% of our oceans by 2030.
MB: What is your biggest challenge right now and what support do you need?
KC: Our main challenge is just how new impact-based venture entrepreneurship is in the biodiversity space, resulting in a dearth of opportunities that align with our investment thesis. We’ve heard similar sentiments from other impact investors.
To build capacity in the ecosystem, we designed and launched the Biodiversity Accelerator+. This is a three-month, high touch programme where companies from around the world that want to create a positive impact in biodiversity can apply. Through both in-person gatherings in Singapore and online sessions, we aim to help them to scale their businesses and their impact, and to become investment-ready.
What sets our accelerator apart is its holistic approach to impact, covering not only the business and financial aspects (such as strategic planning, financial modelling, fundraising, and branding), but also impact measurement and the science of biodiversity. This year is our second iteration of the programme and we have made further enhancements, intensifying the personalised one-on-one coaching with ‘entrepreneurs-in-residence’ mentors.
We’re looking for highly capable teams who are passionate about protecting nature to join our cohort and become part of our community. If this resonates with you or someone you know, please get in touch at www.biodiversity-accelerator.com
MB: What is your ambition for the future of your fund?
KC: Our ongoing mission is to fund and empower businesses that champion biodiversity. We particularly want to tackle key bottlenecks hindering the protection and restoration of nature, such as the lack of biodiversity data. We are committed to expanding our portfolio, being supportive long-term partners to our portfolio companies and funds, and showcasing both financial returns and tangible impact over time.
Another ambition is to help cultivate and grow a community of like minded investors, entrepreneurs, and other partners to drive systemic change. We are just a single investor, and we recognise that for solutions to truly scale we need a multistakeholder approach. We plan to accomplish this not only by creating synergies within our portfolio, but also with our philanthropic work focusing on capacity building and research. Specifically, we want to continue enabling early-stage entrepreneurs through our Accelerator and to deliver a structured learning programme, patient support, and an immersive community for founders. We have great respect for entrepreneurs on the frontline, taking risks and dedicating time and energy towards solving the crisis; our role as impact investors is to work closely with these emerging leaders, empowering them to succeed.
MB: How are you measuring success?
KC: On a practical level, we look at both financial returns and impact. We believe that demonstrating the financial viability of nature-based solutions can encourage others to join our mission. Additionally, impact measurement is crucial for accountability and to distinguish between genuine initiatives and greenwashing. While measuring impact in biodiversity is complex (versus say, measuring carbon), it builds credibility and is an important endeavour for both impact investors and companies to take on.
At times, we face a trade-off between financial and impact returns. As a single family office with no external LPs, we are fortunate to have some flexibility here. This allows us to fund deeper impact initiatives that are more philanthropic in nature, such as blended finance opportunities that are pioneering and catalytic, but that are inherently riskier or less profitable.
On a more philosophical level, we place greater emphasis on process rather than outcome. We firmly believe that by focusing on continual learning and hard work, positive results will follow in the long run, and that we can be proud of our journey and play our part, however small, in the fight against nature loss.
Discover the other leaders recognised on the 2022 MB100, for their work combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Global Goals, here.