My Journey into Climate VC
The last three years of my life (outside of work) has been spent hustling in to break into climate VC. The idea at the beginning of this journey was: “Can I get into climate-tech VC?”
Over the last year, in particular, I’ve made the most progress and got into the groove of things. However, I’m not technically in climate-tech VC today. So what have I been doing? And has it been worth it?
Well, to answer if it has been worth it — YES! Doing something that is beneficial to the future of our planet is always worth it. If I can’t look at the next generation and say that I tried to make the world a better place, what am I doing here today?
To give more color of what I’m doing today, I am adding value to the ecosystem by helping startups get in front of the right resources, and through that, these startups can continue to contribute to the fight against climate change.
How am I doing this? Cold outreach and selling my mission — helping avert this impending climate crisis. Over 300 startups and over 250 investors have bought into this mission.
How am I doing this? I’m not a startup founder, and I’m not an investor. I’ve effectively built a huge snowball that keeps rolling. I filled a gap that was not present before — being the super node in the climate-tech sector to help startups and investors connect with one another.
Let’s back up to 3 years ago for some perspective.
My first job was with FreshRealm, a food delivery startup (similar to Blue Apron and Hello Fresh). I got the taste of startup life…and then I got my job offer from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). This was an offer that took 8+ months to come my way. This was my way back to the Bay Area and a more balanced lifestyle.
Within the first month with LLNL, I experienced culture shock, from startup life (15–20 hour days) to government life (no more 40+ hour weeks). As a chemical engineer and having worked at a startup previously, I picked up the job quickly and needed something else to give my life purpose.
I thought about business school with the thought process of wanting to switch industries (from government to climate), but I didn’t want to stay in the same function (nuclear safety). I thought that going the route of finance/investment would be interesting. However, being 2 years out of the school at the time, I decided to hold off applications for a year. In that following year, I wanted to validate my interest in what I wanted to do.
I knew no one in the climate sector. I also knew no one in finance or investment. I started from scratch, reaching out to anyone I could for informational interviews. I knew that volunteering for an organization was going to be my best bet to gain exposure and add value to an organization at the same time.
I eventually came across Powerhouse Ventures, where I managed to pull off working a full time job and volunteering with them on my days off (I worked 4 days a week, 10 hour days, so I worked Fridays at Powerhouse). This was my first exposure of climate and investment. I learned so much and enjoyed the work.
At the same time, I started volunteering with Techstars organizing and running Startup Weekends. I might have gone off the deep end, organizing 5 of these events in the span of 1.5 years (all in the Bay Area). For as crazy as it was to coordinate all the logistics surrounding these events, I loved the community building aspect.
Both of these opportunities, in addition to attending 3–4 climate events per week, gradually led to my involvement with Cleantech Open and One World Training & Investments.
And then the pandemic happened. This made me refocus what I was doing, as I was commuting from Livermore into Oakland or San Francisco after work to attend events in the climate space. The pandemic made it easier to virtually connect with people in the sector.
Traction over the Last Year
At the start of the pandemic, I ended up going through John Gannon’s GoingVC program to solidify my understanding of VC and finance. The part of GoingVC that helped the most was their pre-seed and seed stage fund, which is when I started reaching out to climate startups. However, the startups I was bringing GoingVC weren’t a great fit, due to the technology risk. So, I thought about doing something that would be of benefit to the founder’s time.
That is when Innovate Climate was born. The first year, this was out of my personal email. The goal was to reach out to qualified startups to help get them in front of investors, and to expand my investor network. If I could take 20–30 minutes of a founder’s time and provide them access to many investors, I figured that was a good ROI. I took this a step further.
In the Spring of 2020, I started writing for The Impact. My writing over time has converged to talking about unique, innovative, and/or under the radar technologies, and giving these startups a place to tell their story — but at the same time, also framing why their solutions are needed and what the market looks like.
When I formally created Innovate Climate on substack at the beginning of 2021, this took a once private email newsletter run out of my personal email and made it available to the greater public. The mission now is to help startups with visibility and accessibility.
The most recent addition to my assortment of newsletters/activities is Innovate Climate — Careers. I noticed that many subscribers to Innovate Climate were looking for jobs, so I made a newsletter that helped these people. The idea is to highlight candidates looking for jobs, as well as to showcase jobs that hiring managers have posted, and the intention is to facilitate email introduction among the two.
Takeaways and Next Steps
Everything I have built today has been to help the sector. I put startups first, building out resources to help them, and by doing so, have also created assets for the ecosystem at large.
Looking back at where I started 3 years ago, I’ve come a long way — from knowing nobody, to now knowing many amazing founders, investors, and individuals. Most importantly, I now lead the ask for conversations by showing how I can add value, rather than asking for an informational interview.
That said, I am still employed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and not technically an investor in the space. That said, I am putting startups in touch the the right people, so that they can have productive conversations.
Climate is my passion. I talk with many startups and investors every week, with the goal of making connections that benefit the future of the planet. Every conversation gets me closer to working in climate 100%, and ideally as an investor. I’m always looking to connect with individuals passionate about climate. Let’s connect: firstname.lastname@example.org