Olivia Hipkins, Managing Partner at Gaia Global Ventures, is on a mission to invest in impact-oriented technologies that seek to transform our economies, lives, and the planet.
Olivia had always been passionate about the intersection of sustainability and financial services within entrepreneurship. After working in project finance for mining companies, she identified firsthand how the blend of sustainability, social impact, and innovation could exist. Olivia then set out to start integrating sustainability as a core value within more companies. At Gaia Global Ventures, she works with early-stage companies to consider sustainability in strategic decisions and empowers founders to see sustainability as an opportunity for positive impact and returns.
We asked Olivia about how her upbringing has contributed to how she operates as an entrepreneur, how she practices patience along her journey, and why she sees self-doubt as being essential to entrepreneurship.
Q: Tell us the story behind your company’s founding. How and why did you start working on Gaia Global Ventures?
A: There is a perception that one can either be focused on profitability or sustainability. In investing, there is usually a clear delineation between those putting money to work and those looking at environmental or social impacts, if there is any focus on sustainability aside from philanthropy or corporate social responsibility. It wasn’t until I actually worked in project finance for mining that I saw sustainability, stakeholder engagement, and innovation blended into underwriting.
For all the negative press, mining companies are hyper-cognizant of their “social license to operate” and the material consequences of ignoring environmental, social, and governance (ESG). In fact, ESG and impact is a driver, whether directly or indirectly, of the innovation we see in a historically slow-to-evolve industry, such as autonomous driving trucks, which limit staff underground, or process improvements to minimize toxic waste. Gaia Global Ventures is rooted in the concept that considering impact and ESG factors should be fundamental to innovation and any related capital investment, not simply because it’s a moral imperative, but because it makes for sustainable long-term profitability and resilient financial returns.
Q: In what ways has your upbringing or past experiences contributed to how you operate as an entrepreneur and leader?
A: My father is an entrepreneur and has served as a legal advisor to many startups. My mother was also entrepreneurial in her early career and was constantly inventing new activities to challenge our minds growing up. We were raised to be empathetic, adventurous, and intellectually curious; from being let loose in museums to find favorite historical artifacts or to stock up on reading material in bookstores. Growing up in Switzerland and California, we were blessed with an appreciation for the environment and different cultures. It made me independent, thoughtful, and passionate, which I translate into my work as an advisor, investor, and leader.
Q: Have you ever felt like you’re “different”? If yes, in what ways has this contributed to your journey as an entrepreneur? Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
A: I never thought I would be an entrepreneur, to be honest. But over time, I found that the confines of a corporate job were stifling some of the things I loved most. I always wanted to do more, and not always within the parameters of my job responsibilities. I was involved with company foundations, corporate social responsibility efforts like retention surveys, and sustainability working groups. I never wanted to just be a financial modeling monkey—it wasn’t where I truly shone. I’m a problem solver, a people manager, and a strategic thinker. But many corporate jobs don’t necessarily want that. I was “different”: too outspoken, too focused on the big picture, and too distracted from my “core” duties. I’ve found that all of those characteristics I was told to tamper are, in fact, the very same characteristics that have guided my journey as an entrepreneur.
Q: What were the most difficult and most impactful lessons you’ve learned starting and running a company?
A: Patience, patience, patience. So many aspects of the journey are fraught with bumps, barriers, and backsteps. Sparse resources, feedback loops, and structure leave us beholden to the priorities of others and our own limitations. It can be so challenging to recognize these realities. But practicing patience with process, others, and myself keeps me grounded.
Q: Have you struggled with self-doubt as an entrepreneur? How do you navigate this?
A: To me, self-doubt is essential to entrepreneurship—though perhaps I say that since I struggle with it. Self-doubt challenges us to test our assumptions while keeping us humble and curious. If it were easy, someone would already be doing it. I see working through self-doubt as part of idea validation—but there has to be a balance. You cannot let self-doubt drive your decisions. I try to identify what the root cause of my self-doubt is and define ways in which I can prove my thesis to myself first. Having a close network of trusted advisors and mentors is also an important avenue to work through lingering doubts. No one has to do it alone.
Q: What resources or people have contributed the most to your successes?
A: My family has been indispensable, and I cannot stress enough the value that I derive from having a partner who supports me. My boyfriend believes in me even when I might not believe in myself. I’m also grateful to my mentors and colleagues, many of whom modeled the leadership characteristics I work to emulate; and to some of the incredible communities I have found, particularly Dreamers & Doers. I think every entrepreneur couldn’t do what we do without Google and the folks who doubted us!
Q: What’s next for you and Gaia Global Ventures?
A: We are still fundraising a portion of our first fund and cultivating longer-term relationships with larger limited partners, as well as building out our co-investment platform to streamline opt-in for our limited partners. On the portfolio side, we are working alongside our investment companies to quantify impact and ESG alignment, and seek to engage in the broader VC community as the industry looks to integrate ESG more intimately into venture capital investing. I’m also taking on some additional advisory work for newer general partners who are looking to proactively integrate ESG and impact into their investment mandates, which is always an exciting challenge and learning experience.
Olivia is a member of Dreamers & Doers, a private collective that amplifies the entrepreneurial pursuits of extraordinary women through thought leadership opportunities, authentic connection, and access. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and subscribe to their monthly The Digest for top entrepreneurial and career resources.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.