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Insights December 6, 2021

Meet Gårdskapital: the startup connecting Swedish farmers with investors

Gårdskapital is an agricultural impact fund helping farmers accelerate their transition to more sustainable working practices. We spoke to co-founders Ebba Sundström and David Elvingsson to get the story behind their startup.

Gårdskapital Co-Founders co-founders Ebba Sundström and David Elvingsson.

Tell us about your backgrounds and why you wanted to start Gårdskapital. 

Ebba: I grew up on a farm, and worked in the pension fund business for over five years. Connecting these two different worlds is really interesting to me, and one of the reasons I joined Gårdskapital. We’re solving a huge issue that’s only getting bigger: farmers’ capital needs. Farmers need more money to make the transition to more sustainable farming practices and increase local food production, but they struggle to secure loans and investments. Combining my interest in agriculture, but also my willingness to work in the financial sector while serving a higher purpose is really motivating for me. 

David: I’m from southern Sweden where there’s a lot of agriculture. I had a summer job delivering newspapers to farmers and started chatting to them about their businesses. I saw there were a lot of issues in the sector. Sweden imports half of its food, even though it should be the opposite, and the average age of farmers in Sweden is over 60 years old so they couldn’t secure loans or financing needed to implement more sustainable practices. Land prices also continue to increase, and traditional banks simply aren’t set up structure-wise to finance all of these businesses. 

So I got this idea that if you could create an alternative lender to farmers, as opposed to traditional bank loans, it would make a massive difference.  There’s such a high demand for capital and a strong synergy between what’s good for the soil, the planet, the farmers, the economy, and the wallet, so to speak. I really wanted to help these people become more financially stable and more ecological. 

How does Gårdskapital solve both financial issues and environmental ones?

Ebba: Gårdskapital connects farmers with investors to accelerate the transition to more sustainable agriculture. We provide a complement to bank loans for farm businesses making responsible investments. Loan purposes focus on, for example, climate adaptation increased local food production – which massively reduces global emissions – and regenerative farming practices. 

David: From the farmers’ side there’s a very high willingness to invest in sustainable practices, for example, drainage to make the soil more resilient to extreme weather and greenhouses – but this requires a lot of money. With these loans, farmers can become more resilient to climate change and also help mitigate it. Soil and forests absorb the carbon from the atmosphere, so there is a big opportunity for them to reform the land so they can catch carbon from the atmosphere. You can develop all sorts of foodtech solutions that are super sustainable, but if farmers – who are really the crucial people in this equation – can’t afford to implement it, then it’s redundant. Primary stage food producers need to be supported in order to reach the sustainable development goals. 

What other issues are farmers facing?

Ebba: I think a lot of farmers are misunderstood because, for example, 50 years ago everyone knew a farmer. But today almost everyone is so urbanized, so nobody knows a farmer. There are so many misconceptions and prejudices about farms that they’re bad for the environment. A higher vision of ours is to bridge this knowledge gap, strengthen farmers’ status and educate the general public and investors about how farming works. 

David: Exactly. And connecting the financial market and investors with the agriculture sector is one way of doing it. If we start to invest in agriculture, we can learn more about it and understand how it actually works and help the whole sector become more sustainable. Right now, it’s very hard to quantify what is sustainable and what is not because there’s so many ways to look at it and so many conflicting interests. 

What are the most important things that you’ve learned so far on your startup journey?

David: Things can change so much from one day to another – it’s a real rollercoaster. Some days you feel like you were really onto something, and the next day you’re back to square one again. You also always need to be open to new perspectives, but it’s a balance. You can sit for hours discussing things and listening to ideas, but eventually, you have to stick to one strategy. In the end, it’s the execution that really matters.

How do you make these sorts of strategic decisions?

Ebba: We try to look at our broader vision and higher purpose. Our vision is to accelerate the transition to more sustainable agriculture. So in all of our discussions, we kind of go back to basics, and ask ourselves why we are doing this – and what will help us get there faster. You can’t listen to all of the experts or it’s just information overload. 

What would your advice be for other startups?

Ebba: Stick to your higher vision and don’t compromise on that. Also make sure you have fun during the process, because like David said, one day you feel like you’re onto a super good thing, then the next you realize it won’t work. So I think it’s very important to have fun on the journey, make jokes, and try not to be too serious because otherwise, it’ll be hard to find that motivation again. We try to celebrate all the small wins too! 

What’s next for Gårdskapital?

David: We’re currently closing our financing round, which is our top priority. We’ll be able to invest more in the business and grant more loans so we can prove our business model. 

Do you have any tips for entrepreneurs trying to raise a round?

Ebba: Dealing with investors is super hard, it’s a science in itself! One tip could be to find investors that can contribute with more than just money. I think that is quite important for us as we’re at a pretty early stage. I’d say look for someone who can become more of a long term partner, rather than someone who wants to make an exit as soon as possible.

Have you learnt anything in particular at Sting?

David: Sting has helped us a lot, actually, especially when it comes to organizing and structuring investor meetings. They made us think about a lot of details that would’ve never crossed our minds. 

Would you like to learn more about Gårdskapital?

Visit their website or reach out to Ebba at ebba@gardskapital.se.