NATO Innovation Fund announces its new investment team

Backed by 24 NATO allies, the fund is investing over €1B in deeptech.
NATO Innovation Fund announces its new investment team

The NATO Innovation Fund (NIF) has announced its new investment team with experience that spans AI, energy and climate, quantum, materials, space tech and semiconductors. These knowledge sets will be used to “identify cutting edge startups, support leading founders, and help bolster the defence, security and resilience of allied nations.”

They join our founding team that have worked over the past 12 months to kickstart the fund’s investment activity, including Managing Partner Andrea Traversone, Kelly Chen, Patrick Schneider-Sikorsky, Thorsten Claus and Chris O’Connor.

Senior Associate Ben Banforth was previously an Investment Manager at XTX Ventures, the venture arm of XTX Markets, prior to which he spent four years with Amadeus Capital Partners – one of Europe’s leading deep tech venture capital firms. He is a Chartered Accountant and holds a MSci in Mathematics and Physics from Durham University.

Head of Sustainability Brooke Latham leads NIF’s sustainability, responsible-use and climate-security strategy. She is responsible for implementing these strategies for direct and indirect investment, supporting the portfolio to develop best-in-class practices, and the firm’s operations.

Brooke has a background in sustainable finance and international relations. Prior to joining NIF, she was Director of Climate & Impact at a French VC and before that she worked for Sonen Capital, an impact fund-of-funds focused on emerging markets. Brooke started her career in Central America in impact investing and supporting the growth of the regional ecosystem. She has a BA in Political Science and International Relations and an MBA from Esade Business School. 

Head of Operations Lauren Reade collaborates closely with the leadership team and external stakeholders to ensure the efficient execution of NIF projects and initiatives. Prior to joining the NIF, Lauren spent close to two decades as a Canadian Armed Forces Reservist in Ottawa, Canada. While carrying out her Reserve duties, she worked for a variety of boot-strapped and VC backed technology startups.

Associate Trisha Saxena looks at startups and founders across the 9 EDTswith a focus on the applications of space, biotech, materials and energy to security and resilience. She is also responsible for capacity building in Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic, and Portugal, building relationships with local VCs and founders to better understand the Deep Tech landscape in these regions.

Prior to joining the NIF, Trisha spent two years on the investment team at Seraphim Space, a global venture capital fund investing in the New Space industry. Before that, she was an Asset Management Analyst at HSBC for a couple of years, working across public market equities and quantitative strategy. Trisha holds a Masters degree in Physics from Imperial College London, where she focused her Masters thesis on the magnetosphere of Saturn.

Associate David Ordonez  looks at direct deals through the lens of science, technology, and R&D. He is particularly keen on artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, space, and hypersonic technologies. David pays closer attention to the Baltics and South European ecosystems, particularly in Spain, Greece, Lithuania, and Latvia.

Prior to joining the NIF, David was in the field of Formula 1 engineering, where he has held various operational roles – from developing and integrating new technology into wind tunnel systems to designing a race-winning car. During his longest stint at Alpine, he worked on bringing data insights to optimize the car’s performance and worked with drivers. David holds a BSc and MSc in Aerospace Engineering from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and TU Delft, as well as an MBA from the Quantic School of Business and Technology. 

Associate Lennart Velten looks at a range of topics with a focus on energy & supply chain security, novel materials and manufacturing. Based in the Netherlands, he also works on partner engagement. On top of countries in Western Europe, he is more closely involved with the ecosystems in Iceland, Italy, and Slovakia.

Lennart started his career in public policy consultancy where he worked on adoption of novel technologies and life science innovation. From there he moved to climate tech VC, focussing on asset-heavy approaches in clean energy and circular economy. Just prior to joining the NIF, he took a year to help startups with fundraising and structure growth planning. Lennart holds a MS in Science, Business and Innovation and BSs in Biology and Business Psychology. 

Nella Braun is the Fund-of-funds associate and collaborates closely with Thorsten to strengthen regional capabilities, foster ecosystem growth, and enhance global recognition for deep tech in emerging areas. Nela also works on connecting with relevant venture capital managers in the NATO region.

Previously, Nela worked at London-based venture capital firm DN Capital, which focuses on SaaS, marketplace, fintech, and consumer investments. At DN Capital, she supported finance, aided in due diligence, and forged LP partnerships. She also served as a Business Analyst at Silicon Valley-based insure-tech venture capital firm Sure Ventures. After graduating from The Hotchkiss School, Nela earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from UC Berkeley, focusing on entrepreneurship and technology.

Adoption Associate Wojtek Strupczewski drives the NIF’s technology adoption mission. He conducts military use-case and impact analyses for deep tech startups; advises portfolio companies on developing go-to-market, product, and scaling strategies in the defense domain; and collaborates closely with Allied stakeholders across government, private capital, and industry to bring cutting-edge technology into NATO armed forces and defense industrial bases.

Before joining the NIF, Wojtek led AI weapons development programs at Helsing, focusing on the air, space, and intelligence domains. Prior to that, he was a corporate strategist at BAE Systems specializing in Europe, and at the EU Council working in counterterrorism and on the intersection of national security and advanced technologies.

Executive Assistant to the Managing Partner Mariana Occidente Lupo reports directly to the Managing Partner as his EA, providing executive support in a one-to-one working relationship. She serves as the primary point of contact for internal and external constituencies on all matters pertaining to the Managing Partner’s Office. She also serves as a liaison to the board of directors and senior management team; she coordinates executive outreach and external relations efforts, and organises events such as Board meetings.

Previously, she was EA to the Global General Counsel of Walgreens Boots Alliance and EA to the Italian Defence Attaché in London. 

London Office Manager and Executive Assistant Suzana Ielcean provides comprehensive executive and operational support. In addition to her executive assistant role, she serves as the London Office Manager and acts as the primary liaison for all matters concerning the London office and company events.

Prior to joining NIF, Suzana gained extensive experience as an executive assistant at major tech companies, such as Facebook, Salesforce, and Pinterest, supporting senior executives in delivering high-impact projects and initiatives. 

Strategic Advisor Lars Frolund focuses on policy reform that support the mission of NIF, engagement with governments and NATO, and the establishment of additional sub-funds.

Lars Frolund (PhD) is a Lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He serves on the Board of Directors of the European Innovation Council (EIC), the EIC Fund (the equity investment part of the EIC), and the Danish Innovation Fund.  He was Special Advisor at NATO HQ for the creation of the Defense Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA) and NATO Innovation Fund.

Limited Partner Liaison & Support Officer Veronika Bartakova plays a key role in nurturing Limited Partner (LP) engagement at the NIF. Passionate about forging strong and lasting LP relationships, she works on ensuring seamless communication between our investment and operations teams and the LPs.

Having served as the lead action officer for the setup and the launch of the NIF at NATO HQ, Veronika was involved in the creation of the NIF since its early concept days. Prior to NATO, Veronika worked as a programme coordinator and science communications officer at, a non-profit based in the Czech Republic. Veronika has an MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a BA from the Anglo-American University in Prague, where she also discovered her interest in understanding the profound defence and security implications of emerging and disruptive technologies.

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