Sam Marchant explains why his focus has been on businesses that make the world a fairer place
Ascension is an early-stage venture capital firm built and managed by exited operators and entrepreneurs to back the next generation of tech and impact founders. Ascension is best known for its social impact institutional funds, Fair by Design and Good Food, amongst others.
Kerry Dwyer, Equity Manager at Swoop, spoke to Sam Marchant, Investment Associate at Ascension to find out more about his experience to date in the VC world sourcing, screen and performing due diligence on investment opportunities, after co-founding his own business.
Kerry: Tell us a bit about Ascension
Sam: Since 2015, Ascension has invested in 150+ startups across its (S)EIS & Institutional funds. Our specialist approach and extensive sector reach allow us to identify and scale pioneering tech enterprises. With over £70m under management, Ascension is one of the most active early stage investors in the UK, with a particular focus on backing impact businesses who are leveraging the power of technology to solve some of the world’s biggest problems.
Kerry: How does Ascension add value for founders?
Sam: We provide crucial post-investment support for early-stage founders, offering the tools and relationships needed to scale their businesses. Our community gathers frequently to share learnings, inspire new ideas, and tap into the collective mindshare of the Ascension network.
There are three key ways we bring value to our founders:
Venture Partner Network: Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to partner with people who have defined what success in tech looks like. If we can’t directly help with something, we probably know someone who can.
Events: Across our investor showcases, workshops, socials, we facilitate knowledge sharing and forge new connections, through our community driven approach to portfolio management.
Introductions to Series A investors and beyond: Our extensive network of co-investors and later stage investors from the deals we have done and the fact that we have been investing in pre-seed/seed since 2015 enables our founders to raise further investment and fuel their growth.
Kerry: Favourite part of your job?
Sam: Meeting founders! As a founder turned VC, the energy you get from speaking with founders about their businesses is really what gets me excited about the role. I’m naturally inquisitive, so the opportunity to meet incredible founders every day is a real joy.
Kerry: Least favourite part!
Sam: Saying ‘no’ to founders is the worst part – it never gets easier. I’ve found that all founders want honesty and transparency, and the art is in how the message is delivered. I always provide as much feedback on my reasons for saying ‘no’ as I do when I take a business forward.
Kerry: Diversity etc, what would you give Ascension out of 10 for gender equality and diversity?
Sam: Ascension is a diverse team (with a new team member joining soon, 53% of the Ascension team identify as male, 47% identify as female). In a recent Sifted article, Ascension was named in the 15 most active European VCs, by deal counts, in female founders.
Kerry: I know you’re relatively new to the VC world with your one year anniversary last week! Do you have any tips for someone looking to get into the space and is there anything you would warn them about?
Sam: Always be yourself. There’s no right or wrong background for getting into a VC role, it’s really down to being able to communicate with a wide range of people and to think critically. I would encourage anyone looking to get into VC to spend as much time as possible with founders and understanding what enables the best founders to scale their businesses.
Kerry: Now that COVID-19 isn’t ruining our plans, have you been able to spend much time with other VCs and getting to any events?
Sam: There have been some amazing events recently and it’s always good to spend time with other VCs to hear what they’re excited about. What I’m really enjoying now though is being able to meet founders in person as it’s hard to feel like you’ve properly met someone on Zoom!
Kerry: What’s your favourite sector right now?
Sam: As my primary investment focus at Ascension is the social inequalities fund, Fair by Design (FBD) I’m actively looking at companies addressing the rising costs of living – specifically in energy, consumer credit and insurance. With UK inflation at a 30-year high and the recent interest rate rise, the cost of living has risen sharply and this has a huge impact on the most vulnerable households in the UK. Our recent impact report estimated the total Poverty Premium reduction (household savings) from our portfolio companies since launch to be £192m. We’ll be continuing to invest across all sectors where companies are addressing the rising cost of living.
Kerry: Any particular investments you’ve made recently that you are particularly excited about?
Sam: That’s like picking your favourite child – I love all the FBD portfolio companies! We’ve been incredibly impressed with the growth of Hundo who are tackling youth unemployment with high engagement from Gen-Z talent. Similarly, the team at Plend are experiencing incredible traction with their lending platform aiming to improve financial inclusion in the UK.
Kerry: Tell us a bit about you outside of the day job!
Sam: You can usually find me out cycling with friends or spending time with family. I’m working on a new project of my own at the moment which is exciting and is keeping me busy. Now I’m living in London, I’m really enjoying exploring new restaurants as I’m a big foodie!
Kerry: Who inspires you?
Sam: I get inspired by many people around me, in particular the founders of companies I have angel invested in. The conversations I have on a daily basis with founders gives me huge inspiration.
Kerry: Favourite podcast/book?
Sam: I’ve read so many amazing books, but if I had to pick one, ‘The Science of Getting Rich’ by Wallace D Wattles would be my number one choice.