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ClassPass co-founder Sanjiv Sanghavi joins Arcadia, bringing consumer marketing savvy to clean energy

“Helping navigate the elusiveness of product market fit” is how Sanjiv Sanghavi, the co-founder of ClassPass and itinerant startup executive describes his roles at different companies. 

From ClassPass through Knotel, Sanghavi has shepherded several businesses to growth and over a billion dollar valuations, now he’s looking to bring that branding and marketing savvy to the world of renewable energy as the new chief product officer at Arcadia.

The company encourages renewable energy development by offsetting its customers’ electricity usage by buying an equivalent amount of renewable power or investing in renewable energy projects that provide renewable credits to offset fossil fuel usage.

Sanjiv Sanghavi, ClassPass co-founder and now chief product officer at Arcadia. Image Credit: Arcadia

We founded Arcadia to aggregate the power of consumer demand to fight climate change,” said Kiran Bhatraju, the founder and chief executive at Arcadia, in a statement. “Sanjiv’s deep knowledge of creating and building engaging consumer products will be crucial in the coming years to help us continue to build a world-class home energy experience that people love, and the planet needs.”

Sanghavi will be integral to Arcadia’s expansion into the northeast as it looks to grow its footprint across the United States.

Over the past six months Arcadia has steadily built out its presence across the Atlantic seaboard as it staffs its New York office. The company added a senior vice president of design who previously worked at DoorDash, WeWork, and PayPal, Josh Abrams, and is actively hiring. 

I was drawn to Arcadia because of its lasting power; I wanted to build something that would make an impact for generations,” said Sanghavi. “I believe that what Arcadia is doing is astounding — we’re building a bridge from the people who are generating renewable energy to those who want to do something good.”  

 The company has raised $70 million to date, according to Crunchbase, from investors including G2VP, BoxGroup, Wonder Ventures and Energy Impact Partners. 

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Regulatory roadblocks are holding back Colombia’s tech and transportation industries

“You know we don’t drive down that road,” my father said.

I had asked him why we never took the shortest path to the beach. Just eight years old, I was fascinated by maps and was questioning my father’s choice. Years later I would learn the route I suggested was mired with armed groups of all stripes whose interests didn’t align with mine or that of other Colombian families.

You may be familiar with the conflicts that plagued Colombia for decades, but you might not be aware of the progress institutions, advocacy groups and its government have made with regard to building a future where citizens have options and mobility that’s not constrained by armed conflict.

In fact, Colombia has at times improved its “ease of doing business” ranking as measured by the World Bank. The country, its institutions and its leaders have a longer way to go when it comes to ensuring that opportunity reaches all corners of the country, particularly at a time that COVID-19 magnifies the inequities that persist. But one thing is for sure, the path to prosperity would look a lot better if Colombia further embraced innovation.

I have dedicated the last decade to Colombia’s path to prosperity. I have done so by studying at Colombia’s most prestigious Universidad de Los Andes, raising more than $10 million in venture capital and building two companies that generate direct and indirect earnings for more than 70,000 Colombians. I have directly retained hundreds of computer engineers by showing young Colombians that it’s possible to earn a good living without emigrating for professional opportunities. Heck, I’ve even convinced a few past emigrants to return to Colombia and work for me at Picap.

My contribution to Colombia’s prosperity and the contribution of thousands of talented engineers that build technology in Colombia is at risk. It’s at risk because the Colombian authorities and the legislative branch have been slow to update transportation and technology regulation designed for an era when regulation could last decades because the pace of societal innovation was measured in, well, decades.

In Colombia, we need to update regulations governing technology and transportation. The ever present threats that Colombian authorities and regulators have imposed on Uber and Picap are not only futile attempts to put the technology genie back into the bottle, but also delay the critical conversations that would build long-term partnership for mutual success.

It’s urgent that Colombia and countries around the globe construct regulatory frameworks that simultaneously advance the public good and technology innovation. We, in fact, have evidence of the kinds of benefits that can expand when new mobility models and technologies are embraced. Take GoJek or Grab which started, like Picap, as two-wheel ride-hailing platforms. Each is now worth billions and facilitates commerce, financial services and more, all for the benefit of societies which then produce more consumer surplus, formalize economic activity and stimulate new forms of innovation. Picap, and others, can do this in Colombia and more places across Latin America with regulatory advancements.

There are congressional leaders in Colombia who have made considerable efforts to advance their understanding of technology platforms, but their efforts, however laudable, have not advanced. Now, more than ever, Colombia’s leaders must, for example, recognize that private transport services need regulation that works for the citizens that power new mobility options. Every country in the globe faces a reckoning based on how easily COVID-19 weakened state-supported and independent systems of health, mobility and economic activity. Technology will be an inevitable component of strengthening health, mobility and economic activity in every country. We’ve already seen that delivery platforms, including Pibox by Picap, increasingly play a role in helping countries preserve social distancing. And yet there’s an opportunity for states to differentiate and think about not just defensive strategies during the pandemic, but also how to remake themselves for the future.

Colombia can learn from the example of South Korea, which for years positioned itself to fulfill the world’s future demands for the types of silicon chips that subsequently made LG and Samsung household names. South Korea did this not by impeding technological advancement, but by facilitating the development of know-how, investing in education and partnering with technology. As technologists, there’s nothing that would make us prouder than helping Colombia develop the kinds of economic activity that will strengthen the country in the long-term. I’ve seen the future, I practice it daily, and I know that Latin America, and Colombia in particular, need to invest in retaining tech talent and advancing regulatory frameworks that attract technology investment, or our economies will struggle even further in the coming years of potential recovery from COVID-19.

Recently, the Alianza IN, a mobility platform trade group, launched in Colombia with the goal of advancing conversations with Colombian lawmakers and regulators on the principles that the Colombian MinTIC (Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications) could incorporate to help attract more investment, retain talent and proactively prepare for a future in which mobility and technology platforms are critical partners of the country’s economic future. Technology platforms are already a part of the present, and the Alianza IN’s actions are a great step on the path toward ensuring that updated regulatory frameworks serve the millions of Colombian citizens who depend on mobility and technology platforms for income, mobility and improved quality of life.

Last year, Colombian technology companies received more than $1.2 billion of investment capital. I am impressed with the new headlines my generation and Colombian colleagues across technology have achieved in only 20 years. But I can assure you that Colombia’s headlines in the 21st century will be stunted if Colombian politicians and authorities do not address the underlying need to improve regulation that embraces technology and new mobility, including Picap. We have room to grow and show the world how our tenacity and resilience will help address not just Colombian or Latin American challenges, but global challenges.

I look forward to soon meeting the young Colombian woman who in 20 or even three years will have developed a renewable energy or disease-prevention innovation that serves billions of people. We have to remove roadblocks. We’ve begun doing so across Colombia on some fronts; we need to continue to do so on the technology front. I, alongside, my generation, will continue to attract the capital, retain the talent and further develop the competitive advantages that will position Colombia to lead in the 21st century.

I hope that the Colombian government, regulators and the Duque administration does this, as well.

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Could developing renewable energy micro-grids make Energicity Africa’s utility of the future?

When Nicole Poindexter left the energy efficiency focused startup, Opower a few months after the company’s public offering, she wasn’t sure what would come next.

At the time, in 2014, the renewable energy movement in the US still faced considerable opposition. But what Poindexter did see was an opportunity to bring the benefits of renewable energy to Africa.

“What does it take to have 100 percent renewables on the grid in the US at the time was not a solvable problem,” Poindexter said. “I looked to Africa and I’d heard that there weren’t many grid assets [so] maybe I could try this idea out there. As I was doing market research, I learned what life was like without electricity and I was like.. that’s not acceptable and I can do something about it.”

Poindexter linked up with Joe Philip, a former executive at SunEdison who was a development engineer at the company and together they formed Energicity to develop renewable energy microgrids for off-grid communities in Africa.

“He’d always thought that the right way to deploy solar was an off-grid solution,” said Poindexter of her co-founder.

At Energicity, Philip and Poindexter are finding and identifying communities, developing the projects for installation and operating the microgrids. So far, the company’s projects have resulted from winning development bids initiated by governments, but with a recently closed $3.25 million in seed financing, the company can expand beyond government projects, Poindexter said.

“The concessions in Benin and Sierra Leone are concessions that we won,” she said. “But we can also grow organically by driving a truck up and asking communities ‘Do you want light?’ and invariably they say yes.” 

To effectively operate the micro-grids that the company is building required an end-to-end refashioning of all aspects of the system. While the company uses off-the-shelf solar panels, Poindexter said that Energicity had built its own smart meters and a software stack to support monitoring and management.

So far, the company has installed 800 kilowatts of power and expects to hit 1.5 megawatts by the end of the year, according to Poindexter.

Those micro-grids serving rural communities operate through subsidiaries in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, and currently serve thirty-six communities and 23,000 people, the company said. The company is targeting developments that could reach 1 million people in the next five years, a fraction of what the continent needs to truly electrify the lives of the population. 

Through two subsidiaries, Black Star Energy, in Ghana, and Power Leone, in Sierra Leone, Energicity has a 20-year concession in Sierra Leone to serve 100,000 people and has the largest private minigrid footprint in Ghana, the company said.

Most of the financing that Energicity has relied on to develop its projects and grow its business has come from government grants, but just as Poindexter expects to do more direct sales, there are other financial models that could get the initial developments off the ground.

Carbon offsets, for instance, could provide an attractive mechanism for developing projects and could be a meaningful gateway to low-cost sources of project finance. “We are using project financing and project debt and a lot of the projects are funded by aid agencies like the UK and the UN,” Poindexter said. 

The company charges its customers a service fee and a fixed price per kilowatt hour for the energy that amounts to less than $2 per month for a customers that are using its service for home electrification and cell phone charging, Poindexter said.

While several other solar installers like M-kopa and easy solar are pitching electrification to African consumers, Poindexter argues that her company’s micro-grid model is less expensive than those competitors.

“Ecosystem Integrity Fund is proud to invest in a transformational company like Energicity Corp,” said James Everett, managing partner, Ecosystem Integrity Fund, which backed the company’s. most recent round. “The opportunity to expand clean energy access across West Africa helps to drive economic growth, sustainability, health, and human development.  With Energicity’s early leadership and innovation, we are looking forward to partnering and helping to grow this great company.”

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DroneBase nabs $7.5 million in a slight down round to double down on its work in renewable energy

DroneBase, a Los Angeles-based provider of drone pilots for industrial services companies, has raised $7.5 million during the pandemic to double down on its work with renewable energy companies.

While chief executive Dan Burton acknowledged that the company was fundraising prior to the pandemic, the industrial lockdown actually accelerated demand for the company’s services.

Even with the increased demand, the company had to make some changes. It laid off six employees and refocused its business.

“In the past three months it’s become clear that this is a moment for drones as an industry,” Burton said. “We were really pushing hard as a company, certainly on revenue growth and harvesting all the investments we made in technology and having a clear, near-term view to profitability.”

The new round, which closed in May, was a slight down round, according to people familiar with the company’s business.

“We see raising a growth round later this year,” Burton said.

New investors in the company included Valor Equity Partners and Razi Ventures, who joined Union Square Ventures, Upfront Ventures, Hearst Ventures, Pritzker Group Venture Capitla and DJI.

In all, DroneBase has raised nearly $32 million in financing, according to a company statement.

The new round will enable the company to focus on its data and analytics services that it has been developing around its core drone pilot provisioning technology — and gives DroneBase more financial wherewithal to expand its European operations under the DroneBase Europe, which operates out of Germany.

“DroneBase’s expansion into renewable energy reflects our belief in the growth potential of wind and solar energy industries,” said Burton in a statement. “Since many energy companies have both wind and solar assets, we are well positioned to leverage our DroneBase Insights platform to grow our global market share in renewable energy.”  

The key application for DroneBase has been allowing wind power companies to monitor and manage their turbines, improving uptimes and spotting problems before they effect operations, the company said.

For solar power companies, DroneBase offers a network of pilots trained in infrared imaging to detect anomalies like defects or hot spots on solar panels, the company said.

“DroneBase has established themselves as the drone leader in the commercial market, and its new work in renewables will have a lasting impact on the future of energy by keeping infrastructure operational for generations,” says Sam Teller, Partner at Valor Equity Partners, in a statement. “We believe DroneBase will continue to be a valuable partner in drone operations and data analysis across a multitude of industries globally.”

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Community Energy England: Community energy sector undergoing ‘radical and rapid’ change

State of the Sector 2020 report notes that the UK now boasts more than 260MW of community-owned energy capacity and has the potential to power 2.2 million homes by 2030 and support nearly 9,000 jobs

2020 will prove a “pivotal year” for the energy sector as community energy groups diversify and test new business models in response to the coronavirus crisis and a tougher policy environment.

That is the headline conclusion from Community Energy England’s(CEE) annual State of the Sector report, published today, which paints a picture of a community energy sector undergoing “radical and rapid change” due to the closure of the government’s Feed-In-Tariff (FiT) on 1 April this year and the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The update confirms that at the close of 2019, the total community-owned energy capacity in England, Wales and Northern Ireland reached 193.9MW of capacity, of which 155.4MW is solar and 33.6MW is wind. Total UK community-owned capacity increased to 264.9MW.

Solar projects dominated the community-owned electricity sector in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2019, accounting for 14MW of a total of new 15.4MW of installations. Wind projects accounted for a slimmer 1.2MW tranche of installations, while hydroelectricity made up the rest. Meanwhile, community organisations in the UK installed 2.1MW of heat generation capacity and 547kWh of battery storage, while delivering 102 energy efficiency projects.

Last year saw a surge of  community-owned electricity installations compared to the year before, an increase the report authors suggest was likely prompted by the imminent closure of the government’s FiT subsidy scheme.

The end of the FiT scheme will dramatically alter the support landscape for community electricity projects. Some 97 per cent of community electricity projects in 2019 were supported by the now-ended subsidy scheme.

In today’s report, CEE argues that the Smart Export Guarantee, a policy introduced by the government last January which asks suppliers to offer a payment tariff to small-scale generators, offers only a “limited form of replacement” for the more generous FiT scheme.

The government maintained that the falling cost of renewables justified an end to the popular FiT scheme, which helped drive renewables installations but was funded through a levy on energy bills. Ministers have predicted that lower renewables costs means projects should be able to be deployed without subsidy support.

However, today’s report warns that while renewables costs have fallen significantly, the financial case for many small-scale renewable projects will be “drastically diminished” throughout 2020 and 2021.

Looking ahead, the CEE said the community energy sector will need to identify and develop new business models, ownership schemes, and technologies in order to thrive in the new post-subsidy world.

“With the energy system in a critical stage of transition towards a more decentralised, distributed and digitised system, as well as wholesale changes to the policy support landscape, 2020 will be a pivotal year for the entire energy sector,” the report notes. “For community energy, electricity generation projects are expected to become more financially marginal and difficult to deliver, with a shift towards new models integrating local energy generation with demand management services to achieve project viability.”

The group forecasts that there could be a greater uptake in community shares over debt finance as communities seek to make increasingly marginal projects work. And existing organisations are likely to diversify their approach by embracing energy demand reduction projects and investigating whether low carbon heating, smart grid, and transport projects could be undertaken alongside renewables installations.

The report argues that knowledge sharing and introducing more effective and standardised methods of quantifying and explaining the wider social and environmental value community energy projects can bring could also play a role in catalysing the sector in the years to come.

The report also notes that the community energy sector will likely see fewer projects developed this year due to the impact of Covid-19.

However, it argued that the sector’s response to the crisis has demonstrated the vital role community organisations play in providing local services and fostering community cohesion. Community energy projects across the country have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds between them to support pandemic response initiatives during the crisis.

As such, the sector remains upbeat about the role it could play in the clean energy transition in the coming decade.

In a new ‘vision’ document published alongside the state of the market report, CEE predicts that with the right support and policy mechanisms community energy could be powering the equivalent of 2.2 million homes by 2030, contributing 5,270MW to the energy system, supporting 8,700 jobs, saving 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, and adding over £1.8bn to the economy each year.

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Plans for £60m Welsh marine energy hub move forward

Government approves business case for Pembroke Dock Marine project, allowing plans for major new Marine Energy Test Area to move to next phase

Plans to build a world leading marine energy hub on the Welsh coast received a boost this week, after the UK and Welsh government approved the business case for the high profile Pembroke Dock Marine project.

The proposed £60m development would establish a Marine Energy Test Area within the Milford Haven Waterway which would be led by Marine Energy Wales and would enable technology developers to test their marine energy devices close to their base of operation.

It would also feature a new 90 square kilometre Pembrokeshire Demonstration Zone delivered by Wave Hub Limited to enable the testing of full-scale wave and floating wind energy devices.

Meanwhile, a Marine Energy Engineering Centre of Excellence would provide a technology, innovation and research centre delivered by the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult.

And the redevelopment of land at Pembroke Dock, which would be led by the Port of Milford Haven, would provide supporting infrastructure to the expanding marine energy industry.

The business case approval means Pembroke Dock Marine can now start accessing £18m of funding that the UK Government and Welsh Government have already released to the Swansea City Deal programme as a whole.

Pembroke Dock Marine is also seeking £28m from the £1.3bn City Deal programme in the coming years, which it expects to help leverage a further £32m of public and private funding.

“The impact of Covid-19 has further heightened the importance of Pembroke Dock Marine, so the project’s approval is very welcome news for Pembrokeshire’s residents and businesses,” said Cllr David Simpson, Leader of Pembrokeshire Council. “Worth £73.5 million a year, Pembroke Dock Marine will also make our economy more resilient in future by transforming Pembrokeshire and the City Region as a whole into a global example of best practice for zero carbon, marine energy innovation.

“With phase one of the Marine Energy Test Area having already opened last year, we now stand ready and wholly committed to accelerate working with our partners to deliver the project. This project will place Pembrokeshire and the City Region at the heart of a growing global industry, helping further raise the region’s profile as a place to do business and invest in.”

His comments were echoed by Andy Jones, chief executive of the Port of Milford Haven, who said the latest approval was “an exciting step – not just for Pembrokeshire and the region but also for our economy, our communities and our environment as we work towards net zero decarbonisation targets”.

The marine energy industry is hoping to receive a boost from the government’s imminent green recovery package.

The UK boasts some of the best marine energy resources in the world and is home to a number of leading developers and test centres.

However, technical challenges and concerns over the relatively high cost of wave and tidal energy technologies have meant the sector has to date struggled to emulate the success of the offshore wind and solar sectors.

But advocates for the industry maintain that stable policy support and R&D funding could enable it to slash costs in the coming years, allowing it to provide a reliable and sizeable source of clean energy in support of the UK’s net zero emissions goals.

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Marine clean tech firm inks £1m deal with Carnival Cruises to deploy ‘micro-bubble carpet’ technology

Silverstream Technologies solution smothers ships’ hulls in bubbles to save on fuel. Credit: Silverstream Technologies

Silverstream Technologies has developed a system where a carpet of microbubbles is spread across a ship’s hull in order to reduce friction, save fuel and slash carbon emissions.

A clean technology firm that has developed a system that spreads a carpet of micro-bubbles between a ship’s hull and the water to reduce drag and enhance fuel efficiency has landed a £1m deal with Carnival Cruises.

Silverstream Technologies’ innovative system, which pumps tiny bubbles through vents on a boat’s hull to reduce friction between the vessel and the water, reduces fuel consumption by between five to 12 per cent, according to the Department of International Trade.

Minister for Exports Graham Stuart yesterday touted the technology as the “perfect example” of how maritime businesses can leverage new technology to slash their carbon footprint.

This week’s deal with the US cruise giant is the latest in a string of contracts secured by Silverstream Technologies of late, following agreements with Grimaldi Group, oil giant Shell’s shipping division, and Lloyd’s Register.

The DoIT, trade advisor for the London-based clean tech firm, said that it expected the company’s overall turnover to double by the end of the year, due to pipeline of deals in Europe and Asia.

Noah Silberschmidt, Silverstream Technologies founder and chief executive, wants the microbubble technology to establish a greener global shipping standard. “Shipping is one of the hard to decarbonise global industries so we have spent the last few years independently testing our system to support our claims,” he said. “We want to become a standard on new build vessels in the industry and to be the ‘new normal’ for sustainable shipping.”

The carbon-intensive maritime sector, which facilitates 95 per cent of all of the UK trade, has a long way to go before it reaches its net zero emissions target by mid-century.

But Stuart said that companies like Silverstream would contribute to the country reaching its zero carbon goal. “The UK is a global leader in green transport solutions and the perfect place for companies like Silverstream to go global and contribute to our net zero 2050 ambition,” he said. 

Harry Thechari, chair of Maritime UK, echoed the minister’s sentiment. “Silverstream Technologies shows that innovative solutions are being found to help the maritime sector reach its net zero carbon emissions challenge – and then be exported around the world. With 90 per cent of all global trade moving by ship, the market opportunity is vast,” he said. “By developing cutting-edge green technologies, our businesses are delivering sustainable solutions and real economic and societal benefits.”

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Episode 224: Biodiversity, climate tech and voices of clean energy equity

Week in Review

Stories discussed this week.


A new angel fund dedicated to decarbonization (18:50)

Ramez Naam, futurist and board member for Seattle-based angel investor network E8, chats about the new Decarbon-8 fund and why seeking racially diverse founders will be a priority. “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,” he says. 

Funding biodiversity (31:14)

William Ginn, author of the new book “Valuing Nature,” talks with Associate Editor Deonna Anderson about ways the private sector can address biodiversity.

Voices of the clean energy equity movement (48:25)

GreenBiz Senior Analyst Sarah Golden shares highlights of conversations with Bartees Cox, director of marketing and communications at Groundswell, an organization that brings community solar to low-income customers; Alexis Cureton, former electric vehicle fellow at GRID Alternatives, which works to bring clean energy jobs and access to low-income communities; and Taj Eldridge, senior director of investment at Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator.

*Music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions, AdmiralBob 77, Stefan Kartenburg and Lee Rosevere: “Throughput,” “Our Fingers Cold” and “Hundred Mile — Atmospheric” (Blue Dot); “Two Guitars” (AdmiralBob 77); “The Vendetta,” “Guitale’s Happy Place” and “Arc de Triomphe” (Kartenburg); “Curiosity” and “I’m Going for a Coffee” (Rosevere)

*This episode was sponsored by UPS.

Virtual conversations

Mark your calendar for these upcoming GreenBiz webcasts. Can’t join live? All of these events also will be available on demand.

The future of risk assessment. Ideas for building a supply chain resilient to both short-term disruptions such as the pandemic and long-term risks such as climate change. Register here for the session at 1 p.m. EDT June 16.

Supply chains and circularity. Join us at 1 p.m. EDT June 23 for a discussion of how companies such as Interface are getting suppliers to buy into circular models for manufacturing, distribution and beyond. 

Fleet of clean fleet. Real-life lessons for trucking’s future. Sign up for the conversation at 1 p.m. EDT July 2.

Resources galore

State of the Profession. Our sixth report examining the evolving role of corporate sustainability leaders. Download it here.

The State of Green Business 2020. Our 13th annual analysis of key metrics and trends published here.

Do we have a newsletter for you! We produce six weekly newsletters: GreenBuzz by Executive Editor Joel Makower (Monday); Transport Weekly by Senior Writer and Analyst Katie Fehrenbacher (Tuesday); VERGE Weekly by Executive Director Shana Rappaport and Editorial Director Heather Clancy (Wednesday); Energy Weekly by Senior Energy Analyst Sarah Golden (Thursday); Food Weekly by Carbon and Food Analyst Jim Giles (Thursday); and Circular Weekly by Director and Senior Analyst Lauren Phipps (Friday). You must subscribe to each newsletter in order to receive it. Please visit this page to choose which you want to receive.

The GreenBiz Intelligence Panel is the survey body we poll regularly throughout the year on key trends and developments in sustainability. To become part of the panel, click here. Enrolling is free and should take two minutes.

Stay connected

To make sure you don’t miss the newest episodes of GreenBiz 350, subscribe on iTunes. Have a question or suggestion for a future segment? E-mail us at [email protected].

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How we can fight the pandemic by embracing circularity

Throughout the pandemic response, a key issue has been a lack of communication and coordination to get personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies to where they are most needed, with many areas of the country suffering from severe resource shortages as a result. The only truly successful solution has been, and will continue to be, to strategically adopt two core elements of a circular economy model: reuse and resource sharing.

The key goals of the circular economy are “designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.” Unlike in our current linear economic model, which generally discards materials once used, the circular economy enables more value to be extracted from an item by eschewing the “take-make-waste” pattern. In a situation where supply is limited, the circular model gets far more use out of the same supply.

While the need for a circular economy has been growing for decades, especially as the impacts of climate change have begun to loom larger, this pandemic has caused that need to increase dramatically. Taking on the circularity principles of reuse and resource sharing — and equally important, having a more coordinated approach around those efforts — is critical for directing supplies to the places where there is the greatest need in a timely and equitable fashion.

My company, Rheaply, has pivoted our resource-sharing technology to aid in this approach. In partnership with the city of Chicago, we built Chicago PPE Market, a platform that provides small businesses and nonprofits access to a network of local manufacturers and suppliers of PPE at cost-controlled rates, helping them protect their staff and prevent further spread of the virus. Within the first week of the platform going live, we onboarded 1,555 small businesses, with over 165,000 listings and 2,100 transactions for items such as face coverings, protective shields and various sanitizers.

Yet we are just one company contributing to the efforts to fight the pandemic. To truly fight the virus, we must all adopt a circularity approach, sharing physical resources and human capital. Even beyond the pandemic, this approach will allow us to more efficiently and cooperatively operate as a global community. The first step is to change the way we think about the resources we have.

To do so, we must do the following:

Establish a community-oriented mindset. With healthcare professionals advising “social distancing,” we are all keeping physically distant from others, even as states begin to reopen. Mentally, however, distancing is a way of making people think more about others. You distance yourself to protect everyone, not just yourself.

We have to think about fighting this virus as a team effort, not as something that just healthcare professionals can do. 

We also have to think about that “team” more broadly. To combat the virus effectively, the team has to be made up of your family, your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors, your city, your state, your country — the global community. For most people, the most effective way to help the team is to practice social distancing in order to prevent the spread of disease. But for those with the power to do so, it is imperative to think about the broader team and allow for human capital and medical supplies to be allocated to places where the need is greatest now, while also planning for sufficient healthcare workers and PPE to fight the virus when it spikes in new areas.

Think about the resources you have that might help others. There may be other ways to help that may surprise you. 

Check your cabinets. Consider what resources you might have in your home or business. If you’re a dentist whose practice has been forced to temporarily close or whose practice has a surplus of supplies that could benefit healthcare providers, consider donating or selling those items to institutions in need. If you’re a graduate student working in a lab, think about the gloves, gowns and masks you’re not currently using and donate them. If you’re not in charge of the supplies at your organization, make the case to your superiors for donating supplies.

Think about your skills. Not all resources are tangible. If you’re someone who is healthy, consider how your skills could be used as resources to benefit others. One example would be people who have put their sewing skills to work to make masks. Another would be individuals who use 3D printers to make PPE.

Pivot your business. If you’re a manufacturer or other business owner, think about how your business could alter its offering to make a difference. If you have the resources and access to certain supply chains, you may be able to shift to manufacturing PPE. Businesses ranging from hockey equipment manufacturer Bauer to fashion brands have begun creating masks. You might be surprised to see how your business’s strengths could be directed toward fighting the virus. 

If we spread this way of thinking, both about supplies and human capital, then we can create a system where we all can rely on each other.

Think about using, not owning, resources. Question the way you think about items. Plenty of items don’t need to be owned, but instead just used for a period of time (properly decontaminated N95 masks or face shields) — you may have items that could be reused by those currently in greater need. Ask yourself, “What is the true value of idle resources that I’ve put aside?” If you’re not using an item, then it is of little value to you, whereas it may be of great value to someone else.

For items that should not be reused (gloves), think about how much of these items you actually need. Ask yourself, “Do I need this many gloves right now?” In many cases, your need is probably less dire than the need of overwhelmed healthcare providers.  

At the same time, we also should be thoughtful about how we treat and value the skills of our healthcare workers. Those who oversee healthcare providers can’t think of healthcare providers as belonging exclusively to certain institutions; instead, they have to think about them as having transferable skills that could provide a huge benefit to institutions and communities around the country and the world. 

If we spread this way of thinking, both about supplies and human capital, then we can create a system where we all can rely on each other. If you lend a hand now, then others will be more willing to help you when you are in need.

These times are tough, and it’s easy to start feeling helpless. But practicing and advocating for the principles of a circular economy are crucial ways to help. You have the power to make a difference. Let’s get started.

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

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.” 


This article first appeared in GreenBiz’s weekly newsletter, VERGE Weekly, running Wednesdays. Subscribe here. Follow me on Twitter: @greentechlady.

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