Founder-CEO Interview Series

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Christian Winkler

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Christian is co-Founder at asc impact, an independent owner-led firm that primarily manages sustainable investments in the agriculture and forestry sector. Our investment approach is characterized by our deep involvement in the investments we make and aims to operationally ensure sustainable value creation.

Before joining asc, Christian worked in venture capital and banking for some 12 years. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degree in business and economics from the Universities of Maastricht and Rotterdam.

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Founder-CEO Interview Series

With: Christian Winkler

What made you decide to found asc impact?

Karl Kirchmayer, who is one of asc’s co-founders, and I have known each other for a very long time. In January of 2020 he told me that he had been acquiring land in Romania and been active in Russia too for many years and was seeing a string of very interesting opportunities. However, he was very much limited to traditional means of financing, joint ventures with other landholders or borrowing from the traditional banks.

At around the same time, I had just finished setting up a new fund for venture capital and private equity. I was seeing an appetite beyond traditional asset classes with regard to diversification but also with a view to a positive ecological and social impact. That’s when we came up with the idea of the asc fund. We tested this with two family offices and immediately saw very positive responses, so we started working.

Tell us more about the fund.

Our fund will combine great opportunities in agriculture and forestry with a substantial, positive environmental impact.

The asc team aims to set up a fund for agriculture and forestry focused on sustainable management and to manage the projects directly. The fund is looking to raise some 400 million EUR. The fund will meet some 180 ESG criteria that will be independently assessed. For example, we currently estimate that if can execute all 20 project we have in our pipeline, the combined CO2 storage of these investments would offset the annual CO2 emissions of 200,000 households.

What sets asc impact apart from a traditional fund is that we manage our investment directly. Karl and his brother have assembled an experienced team to actively manage the fund’s projects in Romania, Russia and Africa. This way we can ensure that our management methods and our impact are fully implemented.

Are you busy fundraising at the moment?

Right now we are sounding out the interest of investors. We have secured a strategic partner that will provide an umbrella structure to facilitate the whole process. As soon as this is done and the terms and offer are finalized, we will start the actual fundraising.

You were a tech investor. How does it feel to now be doing investments in agriculture and forestry?

Yes, it is a change from doing tech investments. But like you do with a tech fund, you need to set up a good structure, attract qualified investors, and you need to have relevant subject-matter expertise.

So, from a value chain perspective the change is actually not that great. And in terms of subject-matter expertise in agriculture and forestry we have Karl and his brother, whose family has been active in agriculture for over 300 years.

Have you always known that you would become an entrepreneur?

No [Laughs]. I am convinced that entrepreneurs have a little homunculus in their head who reminds them why they get up every morning. At the end of the day, entrepreneurs all have their own “puzzle” to solve. 

What is your view on failure?

Failure is part of life, especially in the venture world. As an investor and entrepreneur, you need to look for the strengths of a project first and foremost. The problem is investors in Central Europe typically focus on finding holes in the offering, when they should be looking for potential outliers with manageable weaknesses.

What does a typical day look like for you at the moment?

Typically, I plan calls with banks, investors, and our team from 9am to 4 or 5pm. Before and after that, I do emails. Of course, family time and sports are rounding up the day.

We have two team meetings each week, where everyone comes together, the founders and our entire team.

What are some early career experiences you had that has been vital for you to be where you are today?

I worked for a large Swiss bank for eight years. Working in this kind of corporate environment has taught me the importance of preparing well for big meetings such as the many talks we’re conducting at the moment to sound out potential asc investors.

I have also been very fortunate; I have always had very good people to look up to as role models. From everyone I picked certain traits that I didn’t have – maybe wanted to have, that was maybe aspiring to, and I think that helps.

What is your hope for asc impact?

That we can fund at least ten of the projects that we want to do in the next one to one-and-a-half years.

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