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  • Dusan Mijailovic

Climate Start-Ups Showing Resilience During Tech Recession

When Arebeth Pease was let go by the tech start-up MasterClass in the previous year, she could have chosen from multiple job opportunities. But she felt as though many tech companies' objectives were insubstantial and that some were causing more tribulations than solutions.

At 42 years old, Ms. Pease was attracted to Span - an innovative firm that creates smart home electrical panels. Span is part of the group of rapidly expanding companies that are attempting to fight against climate change. She joined Span in September as an operations manager, the main appeal being the organization's goal of decreasing the impacts of global warming.

She declared that their work was meaningful.

The economic downturn has caused a lot of tech-sector workers to ask themselves if their job is really making a positive impact on the world. Consequently, there has been an influx of people into climate-focused start-ups, as investors pour money into the sector. This has been highlighted by the significant layoffs and cost-cutting from some of the major tech companies.

Crunchbase, a data provider, reported that the amount of funds raised by climate start-ups in the United States in 2021 was almost three times that of 2020 at $20 billion, with 2020's figure being $7 billion. Furthermore, HolonIQ, a research firm, stated that there are presently 83 climate-focused companies around the world with market values that exceed $1 billion.

Despite concerns around a recession, the excitement for climate start-ups has not been diminished. Laurence D. Fink, the head of the investment company BlackRock, recently proclaimed that another thousand climate unicorns, each valued at $1 billion, are on the horizon.

At a conference hosted by Axios in October, one of the founders of Lowercarbon Capital, Chris Sacca, declared that there is not a single field of business that will remain untouched by the climate. He went on to point out that this is also an opportunity.

Investors declared that the current enthusiasm and vigor was dissimilar from the clean technology surge of the mid-2000s when speculators invested heavily in a group of clean energy businesses that relied on government assistance. Numerous of those start-ups eventually failed.

UP.Partners' investor Ben Marcus noted that the previous cleantech wave had much to teach, and that now investors are seeking to invest in viable companies instead of mere scientific experiments.

Julia Collins, the creator of Planet FWD and Moonshot Snacks, expressed that "there is no longer any need to demonstrate the reality of climate change."

Recent economic events have been advantageous to the market. Over the last decade, the cost of renewable energy has decreased. The SEC established a regulation in the previous year that would necessitate businesses to disclose their emissions, prompting the need for tools to measure them. The Inflation Reduction Act was passed in the last year, allocating $370 billion for climate projects.

According to the nonprofit website, Net Zero Tracker, 91 percent of the world's economy is now subject to some kind of commitment to a "net zero" plan with respect to the climate. This has made its way to the corporate boardroom, as well.

Venture capitalist Rick Zullo, from Equal Ventures, stated that climate tech is a "bright spot" in the economy, due to its capacity for withstanding economic recessions.

Since the beginning of 2021, 135 climate investing funds have been founded, each with its own $94 billion under management. Some of the most well-known venture capital firms, such as Sequoia Capital, Khosla Ventures, General Atlantic, and TPG, have all increased their investments in climate-tech businesses. Additionally, corporate investors like Salesforce and United Airlines have also increased their contributions to this space. This information was reported by the Climate Tech VC newsletter.

In Lila Preston's opinion, the enthusiasm for Generation Investment Management, the business that Al Gore established in 2004, was welcome and absolutely essential.

She noted that having top investors at the table was of utmost importance when attempting to cause disruption in industries.

Despite the Silicon Valley-like expansion, there is also an associated level of hype. Those in the climate change sector are cautious of the possibility of too much capital being invested in start-ups with inflated pricing. Others fear that the enthusiasm may result in an increase in "greenwashing" - when businesses prioritize marketing over actual influence - as well as debates over which solution is the most effective, ultimately harming the industry's trustworthiness.

Yet, according to those in the climate industry who have invested or taken part in entrepreneurship, the consequences of inaction are too serious to be apathetic.

Elisa Jagerson, an investor at Wildcat Venture Partners, declared that there is a greater battle to grapple with: she believes all other issues are nothing more than "shifting the chairs around on the Titanic".

When Julia Collins presented her climate tech start-up to investors in 2019, the first slide of her presentation addressed the urgency of the climate emergency. The business, Planet FWD, is a software provider that assists companies in tracking their climate impact, and she also started Moonshot, a snack food business that incorporates regenerative ingredients, local suppliers and recycled packaging.

She mentioned that she had to spend a significant amount of time getting people up to speed on the pitches.

It is no longer necessary to prove the existence of climate change or its market size, according to Ms. Collins, who has since stopped utilizing her impactful slide in her presentations. This is because the effects of climate change and its associated extreme weather events have become unavoidable.

The value of some of the new climate-oriented start-ups has increased, essentially on paper, due to the influx of funds. Josh Felser, a venture capitalist at Climactic, mentioned that the 11 climate businesses they had funded in the past two years had seen their worth increase by two and a half times since the initial time of investment. This was possible because other investors had put more money into them at higher valuations

He remarked that their success was not due to their own abilities, but was instead attributed to the buoyant market.

The founders revealed that their business was doing very well because of the external pressure put on people to be more eco-friendly. This has led to more expenditure on things such as carbon offsets and emissions trackers. William Cowell de Gruchy, the CEO of Infogrid, a start-up that assists with running buildings efficiently, expressed that it was previously challenging to market their products.

He stated that the sentiment had shifted to "We've got to do this" due to the demands of their shareholders, the directives of their boardroom, and the regulations of the regulators.

Olya Irzak, CEO and founder of Frost Methane, reported that more people are interested in getting involved in climate start-ups.

For almost 10 years, Olya Irzak, a co-founder of Frost Methane Labs, has been mentoring people who are interested in working at climate-related businesses. She noticed an increase in the number of people contacting her and looking at her yearly list of climate start-ups during the pandemic. It appears the pandemic has sparked a climate awakening in the tech industry.

Ms. Irzak noted that with people spending more time at home, many difficult questions arose, and this was when the tech talent pool began to experience a major transformation.

Climate Draft is a project designed to pair climate start-ups with advisors, financiers, and personnel from the tech sector. To date, over 3000 tech workers who have been recently discharged have registered on the Climate Draft website to explore new job opportunities in the climate industry. Additionally, another online platform, Work on Climate, has seen its membership surge to 16,000 since its inception in the year 2020. This platform is utilized for networking and identifying new job openings.

Eugene Kirpichov - an ex-Google engineer and the co-founder of Work on Climate - remarked that it will require the united effort of all working people to reconstruct all of our industries.

Diego Saez Gil, the originator of Pachama, an organization that finances reforestation and sells carbon offsets, stated that he has recently recruited personnel from Meta, Google, Amazon, Airbnb, and Tesla, with some even accepting a decrease in salary to join. This is a deviation from his previous startups, where it was difficult to get people from the major tech companies to accept a reduction in pay.

He declared that the individuals journeying to the climate are missionaries who experienced a kind of epiphany. They comprehended that the world was deteriorating and instead of helping, they were working on getting people to click on ads.

Bryan Nella, age 47 and a veteran tech worker, experienced something unique. When the pandemic put a halt to air and car travel, bringing clear skies, he began to contemplate his effect on society and the environment.

In the previous year, Mr. Nella became part of SemiCab, a new business that assists trucking businesses in eradicating miles driven with no freight. He usually disregarded calls from recruiters, he said, however he was motivated by SemiCab's goal to minimize trucking emissions.


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