Ugly Duck 2023: Innovation, Sustainability and Gender Balance

European Investment Fund (EIF)
4 min readOct 11, 2023
European Investment Fund, Ugly Duck 2023, EIF, Luxembourg

Rather than chase the €1bn valuation in paper value, shouldn’t we be chasing positive impact on 1bn people’s lives? That was the main question Uli Grabenwarter aired at this year’s Ugly Duck event, and the main message that coloured the gathering throughout the afternoon.

Big, bold, blue and pink — Ugly Duck, the European Investment Fund’s annual venture capital event, was back in living colour last week, as a crowd of 300 European fund managers converged in Luxembourg to meet and mingle for a thought-provoking afternoon of talks and discussions.

Sustainability with a Nature-First Approach

Sustainability — in all its forms — was the common thread throughout the afternoon.

European Investment Fund, VC funding, unicorns, Uli Grabenwarter

While Uli called on fund managers to re-write the narrative to highlight game-changing companies across a range of industries solving real-world problems instead of focusing on unicorns, keynote speaker Olivia Lazard, a Fellow at Carnegie Europe, highlighted the ecological, geo-political and existential challenges posed by the twin green and digital transitions.

Offering a heady mix of sobering facts about climate change and the ongoing implications of global resource extraction and optimism for the future, Olivia guided us through today’s Industrial Revolution — often referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution — and its unseen impacts on the environment, most notably from the widespread extraction of materials.

At the end of the day, and on the back of a mountain of compelling data that she cited, it boils down to the need for transnational collaboration based on the fundamental awareness that we are all interconnected. Climate security in one part of the world often comes at the expense of climate stresses and exploitative extractions elsewhere.

EIF Insights: Human Capital, Innovation and Sustainability

Sustainability was also addressed through the lens of human capital, with Marjut Falkstedt, our Chief Executive, underscoring the ongoing gender imbalance in the VC space, reminding all of us that only one in ten founders who received venture capital in Europe were women; only 2% of the total VC funding went to all-female start-up teams; and only one in seven top-level VC investors in Europe were women.

Gelsomina Vigliotti, chair of our Board underlined the importance of capital markets union across Europe in order to ensure that the venture capital industry is well-nourished. Venture capital has a fundamental role to play in shaping our future and achieving positive change for society, the economy and the planet alike, and this theme carried over into the breakout sessions as well.

Breaking Out: Deep Tech, Impact Investing, and Life Sciences

EIF, deep tech, impact investing, life sciences, Olivia Lazard

Richard Muirhead (Fabric Ventures), Ashley Lundström (EQT Ventures), and David Reger (Neura Robotics) took a deep dive into deep tech, touching on Web3.0, decentralisation, and the marriage of AI and robotics (a match made in heaven?), examining the delicate relationship between man and machine in this rapidly changing world.

Inka Mero (Voima Ventures), Craig Douglas (World Fund), and Pasi Vainikka (Solar Foods) explored impact investing and venture capital. Taking a page out of Uli’s playbook, they called on the VC community to step up their game.

And Federica Draghi (XGen Venture), Ingrid Teigland Akay (Hadean Ventures), and Dr. Anabel Sanz (Centre for Genomic Regulation) represented life sciences, questioning whether Europe can achieve sovereignty in healthcare, and calling on the venture capital industry as a whole to improve its story-telling and communication in its efforts to attract more institutional capital — to sustain the industry as much as healthcare.

Taking a Look in the Mirror: the EIF’s Catalytic Effect

But what of the EIF’s role in sustaining the venture capital industry? Are we meeting our policy goals and achieving real impact? How can we be more flexible and agile with our market interventions? Are we living up to our diversity standards?

We’re not above asking ourselves hard questions, and we had some help from editor Amy Lewin of London-based Sifted, who led wide-ranging discussions with our very own Bjorn Tremmerie (Head of Technology Investments), Patric Gresko (Head Life Sciences & Impact Investing), and Alessandro Tappi (Chief Investment Officer).

The discussions explored many aspects of the EIF’s investment activity, such as the focus on specialist versus generalist funds, market maturation and future investment areas (e.g., HealthTech, GreenTech, Life Sciences), the rise of solo GPs, funding gaps and untapped innovation across Europe.

And while, at the EIF, we do what we can, if we are to be competitive on the global stage and maintain a strong venture capital industry, it’s clear that, collectively, we will need to do more to attract institutional investors into the VC space.

Ugly Duck 2024

EIF, Ugly Duck 2023, VC community, Luxembourg

And, finally, a massive thank you to all of our expert speakers, to our 400-strong VC community who joined us in person and made it the buzzing experience that it is. As our Ugly Duck heads south for the winter, preparations are already underway for its return next year, when we look forward to welcoming old friends and to making new ones at #UglyDuck24!



European Investment Fund (EIF)

Europe's leading provider of risk financing for SMEs. Cornerstone investor in VC and PE funds. Making debt financing more affordable for entrepreneurs. @EIF_EU