Funding climate tech and entrepreneurs of color should go hand in hand

June 11, 2020 by  
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Funding climate tech and entrepreneurs of color should go hand in hand Heather Clancy Thu, 06/11/2020 – 01:00 Not-so-news flash: The venture capital community has an abysmal track record when it comes to funding entrepreneurs of color.  Here’s the backstory in numbers. According to the nonprofit investor network BLCK VC, just 1 percent of venture-funded startup founders are black (that data comes from the Harvard Business School). Just as shocking, although maybe not surprising given the tech industry’s troubled past on diversity writ large, 80 percent of VC firms don’t have a single black investor on their staff.  Over the past week, big-name firms SoftBank and Andreessen Horowitz took baby steps toward addressing this, but far more needs to be done — especially when it comes to finding and funding climate tech. The specifics: SoftBank has created a separate $100 million fund specifically dedicated to people of color: Cool, but that amount is minuscule alongside the $100 billion in the SoftBank Vision Fund.  The new Andreessen Horowitz effort is a donor-advised fund launched with $2.2 million (and growing) from the firm’s partners with a focus on early-stage entrepreneurs “who did not have access to the fast track in life but who have great potential.”  Let’s cut to the chase. These are well-intentioned gestures, but they don’t even begin to address the bias that pervades the VC system, at least the one that exists in the United States. “Black entrepreneurs don’t need a separate water fountain,” observed Monique Woodard, a two-time entrepreneur and former partner at 500 Startups who backs early-stage investors, during a BLCK VC webcast last week that was livestreamed to more than 3,000 people. (She wasn’t specifically addressing the two funds.) “You have to fix the systemic issues in your funds that keep black founders out and keep you from delivering better returns.” What’s wrong with “the system”? Where do I begin? One black venture capitalist on the webcast, Drive Capital partner Van Jones, likened getting involved in the VC community to a track race in which you’ve been seeded in lane eight and handicapped with a weight vest and cement boots. “There is no reason we should be having the conversation today that we had in the 1960s,” he said during his remarks.  Elise Smith, CEO of Praxis Labs, a startup that develops virtual reality software for diversity and inclusion training, tells of putting on “armor” to engage with the predominantly white ecosystem supporting entrepreneurs — where her experience has been questioned repeatedly and her mission described as niche or as a passing fad.  Smith says one of the biggest issues faced by black founders: the inability of many investors to recognize problems faced by communities of color. “What happens when the problem you want to solve isn’t one that is faced by the people who make decisions about what is funded?” Or, as Garry Cooper, co-founder and CEO of circular economy startup Rheaply. puts it: “I have to overachieve to achieve.” He adds: “You are running a race twice as hard as your white counterparts.” He knows firsthand. Rheaply, which makes software that helps organizations share underused assets, raised $2.5 million in seed funding disclosed in March from a group led by Hyde Park Angels. Cooper started speaking with potential investors more than a year ago and was struck by how difficult it was for him even to score an introduction. While he has praise for his “committed” funding partners, Cooper is the only black founder represented in his lead investor’s portfolio. “It’s shameful that I know all the black VC founders in Chicago,” he said.   Along with some of his allies, Cooper is sketching out what he describes as a “pledge” intended to help expose this issue more visibly. The idea is to encourage hot startups — regardless of the race or gender of the founders — not to seek funding from firms that don’t represent the black community on their team of investors or within their portfolio. Stay tuned for more details as they are finalized, but Cooper says the response to this idea so far has been gratifying. As a climate tech startup founder, Cooper agreed with my personal conviction that any VC firm funding solutions to address climate-related technology solutions must pay particular attention to the issues of equity and inclusion. And yet, when I’ve asked well-known VCs about their strategy for this, none has offered specific strategies for recognizing the needs of people of color in the ideas they consider. I must admit: I never have asked any of them specifically about their strategies for funding entrepreneurs of color. But this is something I’m going to change. “The problems are so enormous, we need every brilliant committed mind thinking about this,” Cooper said.  That sentiment is echoed by Ramez Naam, futurist and board member with the E8 angel investor network, which recently launched the Decarbon-8 fund dedicated to supporting climate tech. Naam said investors funding climate tech startups must recognize the intersection between the climate crisis and the crisis of racial justice. That’s why Decarbon-8 will be intentional about seeking entrepreneurs of color. “We think that means it also makes sense to find entrepreneurs and teams who are minorities that are in the groups that are most impacted themselves. Because if we are going to help some people build companies in this, and they’re going to profit, as the entrepreneurs should, we’d like some of that to go back into those people, in those communities.”  Truth. This article first appeared in GreenBiz’s weekly newsletter, VERGE Weekly, running Wednesdays. Subscribe here . Follow me on Twitter: @greentechlady. Topics Finance & Investing Climate Tech Environmental Justice Diversity Featured Column Practical Magic Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Rheaply founder and CEO Garry Cooper.

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Funding climate tech and entrepreneurs of color should go hand in hand

It takes a village to succeed in climate tech

June 3, 2020 by  
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It takes a village to succeed in climate tech Ben Soltoff Wed, 06/03/2020 – 02:00 Solving climate change depends, to some extent, on technological innovation. The world’s leading climate authority, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published a landmark 2018 report highlighting the urgency of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The report outlines four potential pathways for reaching that goal. The pathways are vastly different, but one thing they have in common is a central role for new technologies, all of which fall under the growing category known as climate tech . Relying on emissions-reducing technology isn’t the same as blind techno-optimism . New technology needs to complement existing solutions, deployed immediately. But the IPCC pathways make clear that the route to mitigation goes through innovation. So, what does it take to turn a societal need into a functional reality? Scientific breakthroughs are only part of the challenge. After that, there’s a long road before solutions can be implemented at scale. They require funding through multiple stages of development, facing many financial and operational risks along the way. There’s a parallel here with the response to COVID-19. Even if a working vaccine is developed, it must go through trials to determine efficacy and the logistical challenge of distribution to billions of people. But a key difference is that effective climate solutions are more varied than a single vaccine and usually more complex. At a webinar last week hosted by Yale, Stanford and other groups, Jigar Shah, co-founder of clean energy financier Generate Capital , noted that climate technologies, unlike medical breakthroughs, must compete with systems already in place.   “In the biotech industry, which I think folks herald as a well-functioning market, once companies reach a certain validation of their technology and approach, there’s a payoff there,” he said. “And in [climate tech], there really isn’t one [in the same way], largely because there are a lot of incumbent technologies that provide electricity, energy, water, food, land and materials.”   The period when a new technology is costly to develop but too early-stage to produce commercial revenue is often called the “Valley of Death” because even promising technologies often fail during this period. Success requires the collaboration of a wide set of partners and investors. As an Environmental Innovation Fellow at Yale, I’ve helped compile insights for investors on overcoming the unique barriers faced by nascent climate technology. Fortunately, many investors are already tackling this challenge.   The new wave of climate tech investors In the early 2000s, there was a well-publicized boom then bust in clean energy investing. According to Nancy Pfund, founder and managing director of impact venture capital firm DBL Partners , much of this interest was from “tourists” looking for an alternative to the dot-com failures earlier in the decade. On a GreenBiz webcast last week, she observed that the current interest in climate tech is markedly different. “Today there’s such a high level of focus, commitment and knowledge on the part of both the entrepreneurs and investors,” she said. Pfund said the interest in climate tech is partially due to the compelling economics of renewable energy compared to alternatives. “There’s been a stunning cost reduction over the past decade,” she said. “This brings in mainstream investors who are just making dollars and cents. They’re not even necessarily waving the climate banner. They want to rebalance their portfolio for the future.” During the same webcast, Andrew Beebe, managing director of Obvious Ventures , noted that an additional factor in the rise of climate tech has been the overwhelming public demand for climate action. “There’s been a societal shift as well,” he said. “In entrepreneurs today and investors, I see an urgency like we’ve never seen before. People are not that interested in doing yet another social media company, unless it has a real impact.” In entrepreneurs today and investors, I see an urgency like we’ve never seen before. It’s important to note here that climate tech takes many forms. There are software solutions that can help reduce emissions and that don’t face the Valley of Death I mentioned earlier. But some of the most critical solutions are physical technologies that require a lot of time and capital to succeed. “You can’t spell hardware without the word ‘hard,’ and everyone knows that,” said Priscilla Tyler, senior associate at True Ventures , at the Yale-Stanford webinar. “Hardware is hard, which isn’t to say it’s impossible. And if anything, in my opinion, it begets more impact and more opportunity.” There are promising signals that climate tech is here to stay. Tyler is part of a group of venture capital investors called Series Green , which meets regularly to discuss climate tech opportunities. Additionally, multiple weekly newsletters share the latest deals in climate tech, and in a recent open letter , a long list of investors confirmed that, despite the COVID-19 economic downturn, they remain committed to climate solutions. Going beyond traditional venture capital A notable climate tech deal that happened last week was the $250 million investment in Apeel Sciences . The California-based company has developed an edible coating for fruits and vegetables that can help to preserve some of the 40 percent of food that normally gets thrown away. Investors in this round included Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund and celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Katy Perry. A company such as Apeel doesn’t start out raising hundreds of millions of dollars from large institutional investors and celebrities. At the early stages, many new technologies depend on government grants and philanthropy. Apeel got started with a $100,000 grant from the Gates Foundation in 2012. Apeel coats fruits and vegetables with an edible layer that can is designed to extend shelf life by two to three times. Media Source Courtesy of Media Authorship Apeel Sciences Close Authorship Prime Coalition is an organization that helps foundations deploy philanthropic capital to climate solutions through flexible funding structures that allow for long periods of technology development and multi-faceted risk. It calls these funding sources “catalytic capital,” because they can help unlock other forms of finance further down the line.  In addition to helping others deploy catalytic capital, Prime also makes its own catalytic deals directly through an investment arm called Prime Impact Fund. “We’re looking to support companies that have specific things to be de-risked before they will be attractive to follow on funders, and then we can be the source of that de-risking capital,” said Johanna Wolfson, principal at Prime Impact Fund, at last week’s Yale-Stanford webinar. By collaborating with one another, investors such as Prime can help technologies move through the stages of innovation, until they’re ready for more traditional investment structures. Catalytic capital invested today could help create the next Apeel Sciences several years from now. At each stage, investors serve not only as sources of money but also strategic partners for the startups themselves. This is particularly true for corporate investors, who may have substantial industry knowledge to share and more flexible expectations than traditional investors. There’s a lot more sophistication on part of corporate investors now than there was 10 years ago. “There’s a lot more sophistication on part of corporate investors now than there was 10 years ago,” said Pfund. “Then, you saw the agenda of the corporation being pushed around the board table more than you do today, and that’s never a good idea.” If their interests are aligned, corporations and startups can create mutually beneficial relationships, where each offers the other something that it couldn’t have obtained on its own. “These corporate investors see so many different technologies, and they believe their own products are better than the startup products, so how do you actually get their support?” said Andrew Chung, founder and managing partner of 1955 Capital , on last week’s GreenBiz webcast. “Well, you need to have a widget or product they haven’t seen before or can’t build themselves.” Non-financial support also can be catalytic Investors such as DBL Partners often connect the startups in their portfolio to corporates and other partners. These connections can be hugely valuable for startups, especially in emerging industries where networks are largely informal. While investors’ main role is to provide capital, they also provide many forms of non-financial support, which can be essential to advancing innovation. In addition to connections, they also can help startups to navigate dynamic policy environments at the state and federal level. “Policy plays a pivotal role,” said Pfund. “We don’t invest in policy, we invest in people, but we know that our companies are going to have to address the changing policy landscape.” We don’t invest in policy, we invest in people, but we know that our companies are going to have to address the changing policy landscape. DBL Partners helps to shape the policy landscape by convening roundtable meetings, advocating for legislation and reaching out to regulators in order to help create a more favorable environment for innovation. This sort of engagement is relatively low-cost in the short term, but it can have massive benefits in the long term, especially as new technologies begin to scale up. Shah pointed out that the challenges facing climate tech don’t end once solutions reach commercialization. Nascent technologies still need to be deployed at a large scale to have impact. “A lot of us focus on going from zero to millions,” he said, “but then, in fact, millions to billions is still nascent.” Reaching the necessary scale requires a careful alignment of technological development, market creation, political support and investment across a wide spectrum of capital. “All of these things work together in tandem to really unlock nascent technologies,” Shah said. This story was updated June 4 to correct Apeel’s funding information. Pull Quote In entrepreneurs today and investors, I see an urgency like we’ve never seen before. There’s a lot more sophistication on part of corporate investors now than there was 10 years ago. We don’t invest in policy, we invest in people, but we know that our companies are going to have to address the changing policy landscape. Topics Innovation Climate Tech Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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It takes a village to succeed in climate tech

Agtech startup Pivot Bio snags $100 million amid busy April for climate tech

April 30, 2020 by  
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Agtech company Pivot Bio snags $100 million more in funding, while AI developer Hypergiant spins up COVID-19 emissions modeling tool.

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Agtech startup Pivot Bio snags $100 million amid busy April for climate tech

9 Canadian startups tackling the climate crisis

April 29, 2020 by  
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With political short-termism aplenty, Canada’s climate leaders are private companies.

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9 Canadian startups tackling the climate crisis

Why the electric vehicle wave is still coming

April 29, 2020 by  
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Buckle up: this year will be rough, but this road trip still looks promising.

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Why the electric vehicle wave is still coming

The future is uncertain: planning for the long term in a short-term world

April 29, 2020 by  
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One silver lining: corporate sustainability professionals are comfortable with complexity and change, and our modus operandi is to plan for the long term.

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The future is uncertain: planning for the long term in a short-term world

6 resources to help navigate the COVID-19 crisis

April 29, 2020 by  
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Because everyone can use some extra help and additional perspective right now.

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6 resources to help navigate the COVID-19 crisis

This is climate tech

April 22, 2020 by  
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The stunning array of technologies emerging to decarbonize the world and make it more habitable for flora, fauna and humans goes far beyond cleantech 2.0.

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This is climate tech

America is terrible at building things. Let’s fix that, starting with transportation

April 22, 2020 by  
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Respected venture capitalist Marc Andreessen is calling for a resurgence of U.S. manufacturing and transportation projects. We should build things such as EV charging infrastructure, zero-emissions public transit and protected lanes for micromobility.

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America is terrible at building things. Let’s fix that, starting with transportation

Youth lead the Earth Day digital strike

April 22, 2020 by  
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Social distancing measures are in place but these organizations are still engaging in collective action.

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Youth lead the Earth Day digital strike

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