5 Questions with Nicole Systrom, Chief Impact Officer

Nicole Systrom
Nicole Systrom
Chief Impact Officer

1. Tell us about what you do at Galvanize Climate Solutions.

I’m the Chief Impact Officer, which means that my team, the Impact team, and I are responsible for helping to ensure that everything Galvanize does matters for the climate. We think about impact at three levels:

  1. At the platform level, we think about impact in terms of our role in the broader ecosystem. How do we as a firm work with our peers and use our power to help move climate-related initiatives forward? What reporting on our impact should we be doing as a firm? What industry-level climate initiatives should we be supporting?
  2. At the investment strategy level, our role is to act as a strategic partner to the investment teams through the investment process. From thesis development to diligence, the impact team integrates deeply with our investment colleagues to help quantify areas of potential climate impact and ensure that potential investments are aligned to each strategy’s climate goals.
  3. We also think about impact at the asset level. Once an investment has been made, it’s our responsibility to help measure the impact of that investment and simultaneously to help increase the asset’s impact over time. We do that by providing policy, market development, and science and technology support, and/or by working in concert with our talent and communications colleagues where needed.

2. How does the Impact Team work with each of the current investment strategies?

Our work differs for each strategy based on the needs of the investment team and the constraints of the strategy.

For our Venture & Growth strategy, Innovation + Expansion, the Impact team is usually deeply integrated with the I+E team from the very beginning of diligence all the way through the life of the investment. In the diligence phase, we work with the investment team to diligence technical, scalability, and policy questions around the potential investment. Once an investment is made, our team can then jump into action to help with areas like go-to-market, provide connectivity in the policy space, and/or advise on R&D, as needed.

For our public equities strategy, Galvanize Global Equities, our team does a similar kind of work. As the global equities team is working on different investment themes, for those relevant to technology questions, our science and tech team provides background information and research to help the investors better understand the state of the technology and the market in which their potential investments are operating. This helps the investors gain conviction that a company will provide both financial return and positive climate impact.

We also support global equities’ work on engagement as the investors work directly with their portfolio companies to encourage and support those companies to disclose their emissions, set climate targets, and consider tying executive compensation to the achievement of sustainability goals. 
For our recently launched real estate strategy, Galvanize Real Estate, we have been working very closely with the real estate team on an operational framework for decarbonizing buildings. That work is particularly exciting because the real estate team is tying a portion of its financial compensation to performance against sustainability goals; the impact team has been instrumental in helping our real estate investors articulate those sustainability goals and how we’ll measure success.

3. Why did you choose to join Galvanize?

I chose to join Galvanize for the climate mission and the team, pretty simple. I spent my whole career working on climate change and had come to the conclusion that the best way to make progress and achieve climate impact was with the integration of a variety of perspectives and expertise. From investment acumen to policy awareness to the state of the technology and the market, I think the most climate progress is made when all of those perspectives can be taken into account, and at Galvanize, we have folks from each of those worlds working together to advance climate goals. 

One of the questions I’d been asking myself was “where is the firm that is taking a holistic approach to investing in the transition?” I was looking for a firm that had a multi-asset class strategy fully aligned with the climate transition and understood the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to both investing and climate impact. Tom and Katie were excited to build that, and it really felt like a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be a part of something really special.

4. Galvanize is a founding member of the recently launched Venture Climate Alliance. What do you hope the VCA will accomplish? Why are such initiatives important for the climate investing community?

I hope the VCA will create a home and standard for not just the climate community, but the venture community writ large to engage, understand, and incorporate climate into investment decisions and portfolio company management.

Venture capitalists, our Venture & Growth team included, are in a really unique spot to serve as partners to these early-stage companies. We have the chance to support entrepreneurs that want to be running businesses focused on climate impact, and want to incorporate sustainability into their operations at an early stage. Having supportive venture investors is crucial to making that happen and I hope the Venture Climate Alliance provides a community and resources for venture capitalists to come together and figure out how to do that successfully.

5. What trends are you tracking in the impact measurement space? What do you hope to see in the next year?

One trend I’m tracking is the overall push for more transparency surrounding impact investing goals. It’s not enough now to say you’re climate aligned or mission-driven firm–you can’t just make that claim. LPs are asking for evidence now, they want to understand your vehicle’s theory of change. How are you going to collect and report data to show that your theory of change is working and that you’re having the impact that you set out to have?

What I hope to see in the next year, especially as we work with our peers and partners in the Venture Climate Alliance (VCA) and with groups like Project Frame, is more investors coming together around what best practices look like in climate impact investing, especially in the venture space. And then seeing venture investors actually incorporating impact more deeply into their investment decision-making processes. 

We saw it in the launch of the VCA, it’s been really heartening to see all the interest in impact, and not just from impact firms but from more mainstream firms. There are a lot of impact-curious investors out there and I’d like to see some of that convert from interest to implementation.