HomeInterviewsAscension VC, Interview With Partner Emma Steele

Ascension VC, Interview With Partner Emma Steele

Ascension VC Partner Emma Steele
Ascension VC Partner Emma Steele

Ascension VC, a London, UK-based early-stage venture capital firm, has just held the first £17M close of its new Tech4Good £50m pre-seed fund. In conjunction with the announcement, Emma Steele, partner, replied to our questions about herself, the firm, their strategy, and more.

VCWire: Hi, can you please tell us a bit more about you? What’s your background? 

“I’m Emma Steele, Partner at Ascension and responsible for fundraising, deployment and portfolio management for our new flagship impact fund Ascension’s Fund III, which will back talented founders leveraging tech to build more resilient societies by tackling the cost-of-living crisis. I also spearheaded the deployment strategy for our Fair By Design and Good Food funds. I joined Ascension in January 2018, after working in the charity sector at Eastside Primetimers to progress the sustainability of charity revenue models and encouraging social investment. Before that I worked in corporate banking at Santander UK. I’ve long wanted to build a career that pushes for social and economic change using commercial tools, so Ascension is a perfect fit. I haven’t always wanted to be a VC however – up until I was 12, I dreamed of being a ballet dancer and after that I even wanted to be the next UN General Secretary!”

VCWire: Can you introduce your firm? 

“Ascension has a proud track record backing Tech4Good businesses. One of Ascension’s key superpowers is the 300+ founders and hundreds of angel co-investors, which form a highly supportive community that share, access and assess the UK’s leading early stage deal-flow. We are committed to backing those founders that want to improve the world we live in. The Fair By Design fund was specifically designed to tackle the poverty premium and we quickly discovered that it is possible, through being very thesis driven, to achieve impact and returns hand in hand. The companies we invest in have highly scalable tech enabled business models led by founders that are equally ambitious in their drive to scale commercially, whilst changing the world for the better.”

VCWire: Which is your overall strategy (geo/amount/sectors)?

“Ascension Fund III’s focus is UK/ European/ North American markets with a particular focus on new work, financial inclusion and access to better health, investing in pre-seed and seed stage deals with average ticket sizes of £700k.”

VCWire: Beyond capital, how do you support startups?  

“We love to get involved with our portfolio and help where we can – we’re particularly useful with supporting founders on their journey to Series A. We do this via a combination of 1:1 sessions, being on the end of the phone when needed, roundtable focus events and even sessions in the pub. Our team are mostly all ex-operators too, so we have an understanding and first-hand experience of our founders’ common challenges.”

VCWire: What do you like to see in founders?….And what don’t you like to see in them? I mean, is there something which impresses you at a first glance?    

“A mission driven founder is a green flag for us from the start. We love to see passion for solving the problem or lived experience of the problem itself. This tends to mean the founder understands their market and has real drive to solve the problem.

VCWire: Please, tell us a bit more about the portfolio. You can list five startups whose paths have made you particularly proud of.        

“Now we’ve had the first close of our fund, we’re only just getting started with the fun part – deploying. We’re already having really exciting conversations with founders, but our previous impact institutional funds included Wagestream, Tembo, and Plend all building financial resilience, and Switchee which reduces fuel poverty. Other stand-outs are Urban Legend and Better Nature, both tackling obesity.”

VCWire: Which sector/s would you bet 2 cents on in the next five years?  

“Most VCs are looking at AI right now, but I’m particularly interested in the intersection of AI/Health and solving issues around women’s health in the future. Also, sustainable products that meet affordability and help users to save on energy bills for example, but simultaneously can support a greener economy.”