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Shawn Harris: Let's invest in startups focused on climate solutions

The urgent need to solve water 

19 October, 2021




Aquatech Online (AO) - Tom Freyberg


Photo: ©Amrita Panday

Portrait Shawn Harris landscape by Amrita Panday
Portrait Shawn Harris

What do the Dragons’ Den television show, avocados, and water have in common? The answer is Shawn Harris.

The serial entrepreneur will deliver the Aquatech Innovation Forum keynote address on November 1. She will speak on the urgency we need to solve water challenges and the need for investors to step up when it comes to water. As well as founding produce wholesaler Nature’s Pride and start-up accelerator, Orange Wings, she also features on the Dragons' Den television show in the Netherlands.

Known as the “avocado queen”, Harris will discuss why she invested €5 million into PureTerra Ventures, an investment fund that focuses solely on companies that want to solve global water challenges.

With the tagline 'Celebrating Water's Changemakers', the Innovation Forum will bring start-ups, investors, utilities and others together in a vibrant atmosphere full of meaningful exchanges. Kickstarting Aquatech Amsterdam activities on November 1, the Forum is centred around a Roman Colosseum to drive free-flowing conversations.

Below is an abstract from an online interview with Shawn Harris:

From your experience founding the start-up accelerator, Orange Wings, as well as starring on the Dragons’ Den television show, how do you see the area of “climate solutions” attracting more interest?

On Dragons' Den, we have experienced that more than 75 per cent of the pitches are related to sustainability. This could be a social, environmental or local impact. It is an obvious trend.

I believe that there are many investors, including Orange Wings, that want to make an impact with all or part of our invested funds. The world has been overused and is letting us know. We will have to fix this together or pay a much higher price sooner than we want to believe. We are convinced that investing in start-ups focused on climate solutions can be as profitable as other investments. It is also a great way to diversify any portfolio.

“My foremost goal is to help early phase entrepreneurs with their brilliant ideas.”

You recently invested €5 million into PureTerra Ventures – why?

My foremost goal is to help early phase entrepreneurs with their brilliant ideas. Orange Wings currently has 12 start-ups and/or scale-ups which we invest in and coach. We are often the only investor for the first three rounds. 10-12 start-ups are the most that Orange Wings can handle at one time. This leaves room for Orange Wings to invest in one to two unique funds that we believe can make a difference and give a great return. It’s a way to diversify our portfolio without playing an active role.

We really like the team at PureTerra, along with their vision and strategy. These guys have been in the water business for many years and have access to most water focused start-ups and scale-ups on the globe. They are focusing on investing in high potential businesses that need their advice and knowledge along with funding. With their global reach, they can call on expertise that the entrepreneur needs when necessary. This is a no-brainer! Orange Wings hopes to invest more as the fund grows.

Many investors have historically seen the traditional water sector as "slow" moving to offer returns. Yet times are changing. Why do you think more investors should start looking favourably at water innovations?

I see the many options and opportunities that PureTerra receives to invest in water innovation. Water is like any other start-up or scale-up sector. Most entrepreneurs start businesses to make a difference and to earn a profit. PureTerra’s success will be partially decided by picking the right businesses out of the 100’s they can choose from. With their combined experience and knowledge, I am confident that they can do this. They are investing their own money in the PureTerra fund and betting their careers on it!

“I hope that there will be broader awareness to invest here in The Netherlands. It has so much potential.”

What are you hoping to achieve by speaking at the Aquatech Innovation Forum?

I hope that there will be broader awareness and keenness to invest here in The Netherlands in this sector. It has so much potential.

The event will also kickstart the night before with the sector’s first F**K Up night. How important is it for entrepreneurs to embrace mistakes and fail forwards?

I consider myself a good entrepreneur with a respectable track record. I know how many times I made major mistakes along the way. It’s part of any good entrepreneur’s track record. It’s good to discuss this and let it be part of the road to success instead of hiding it. I love the idea!

- Shawn Harris will be delivering the opening keynote address at the Aquatech Innovation Forum on November 1. For more information and register for a ticket, visit here.

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