Scaling Climate Technology: Unlocking Innovation for a Greener Future

Scaling Climate Technology: Unlocking Innovation for a Greener Future

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All right, welcome, uh, welcome everyone. Real pleasure to be here with, uh, Jeffrey Reman and Satish Rao. Uh, our format is, I've asked each of them just to spend a couple of minutes talking about the strategy, uh, of their organization, their business for scaling climate tech, and what, what they're focusing on.

Just a couple minutes from each, and I've got some questions for 'em, some very, uh, direct point of questions, and then we will have 15 or 20 minutes to open up to, to questions from, from all of you. Um, so Satish, let me, let me ask you to, to open first and tell us a little bit new lab strategy in this sector. Totally, Yeah. Uh, thanks for having me. Just a quick background. I'm a former scientist, and then I moved over to technology transfer.

So I was actually working at Columbia Technology Ventures for about five years. Uh, so very familiar with the campus and great to be back. This is all new. Yeah. Um, walking around this area used to smell like dinosaur barbecue all the time. So I'm, I'm, it's very nice. The building seems to have good ventilation.

It's great, but it's nice to be back here. Um, yeah. So new lab, we, we call ourselves the center of invention. We do two things. We're really constantly trying to remove, uh, the critical barriers for deep tech startups to solve our world's greatest challenges in climate.

And we do this by applying infrastructure in the broadest sense of the WOR world award. So we started by building a building in Brooklyn, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Inside that building is a variety of collaborative spaces and in and labs for, um, initial product development.

We've now expanded that out to partnerships outside of our buildings to do, uh, testing and piloting. And so that access, if you think about the way it start, builds a product from early testing, prototyping to deployments in the field. New lab is there to kind of kind of supply that infrastructure to make that happen. Um, on the other side of the coin, we bring in investors and we run a variety of innovation programs that bring in public and private partners to be the early adopters and early investors in those companies. So the customers, right? And these customers can be, um, the, for Ford Motor Company or Verizon or on the public side cities. Um, and so a lot of our initial work on that end actually started here in New York, um, and supported by the Economic Development Corporation, other agencies in the city. And the angle we played there at the beginning was,

how do you apply innovation first to make cities smarter? And that's how we started. So data sensors, but really the mechanism, that feedback loop between city leaders, communities, and the startups, making that tight, that would give the permission for experimentation in a way that was really intentional. So we're not just showing up with a, with an AV vehicle and a sensor and saying, you sh you need to use this.

We're coming to you and actually asking you what your, what the problems are, what the problems that the cities are facing, what are the problems for the communities that you represent, and how can we use innovation and technology to solve that and test that in the field. And so we've done that, um, around smart cities, we've done in New York, we started expanding that out into Detroit, Michigan, where we moved into more of a mobility practice, again, applying innovation to solve a variety of challenges in the city of Detroit. And we came back to New York and started pushing our way more into energy. Um,

and one of the big progress we did last year was with the Department of Transportation around electrification. And this is how we met Jeff and Volt Post. So I'll pause right there and head over to Jeff. Yeah, great to be with you all today. Um,

Jeff Proman and founder and co and CEO at Volt Post, where we're on a mission to decarbonize mobility by democratizing charging access. And we're doing that by retrofitting existing Lampposts Street Lights into an EV charging platform to provide greater access across all communities. Um, it's a Brooklyn born company being built coast to coast with team in San Francisco as well. And at this point, new lab community, actually through our first pilot project with the New York City Department of Transportation with support from EDC and really understanding that with the DOT's targets of curbside chargers by 2030 that we're obviously just at the infancy of that.

And if we want to really carbonize ability, we to think about the full picture. So after taking initial meetings with the new lab leadership team with the DOT, with Con Edison, EDC, and other agencies to just get that initial buy-in and customer discovery about two and a half years ago, um, really saw that there was a need. And then through the studio model at NEW was pieced together what was the foundation of this first pilot project. So excited to share more today. Eric. Thanks. Welcome. Appreciate it. Starting off here, this is an exciting time to be in climate tech. I mean, I look back and,

you know, years past and think about how much is going on, how many incredible interesting companies like Vol post organizations, like, like your own great time to be on this area, but it's still really hard. I mean, there's a lot of challenges to success. What are those challenges you face today? What, what are, what are the biggest obstacles to your, do you bring successful and Yeah, can you go first and then specific to your business to Vol Post specifically? But Yeah, I'll go broadly. I, I I think one of the, there's, there's a few, uh, I think one of the first is, is absolutely understanding the city policies and regulations that one needs to sort of get through and also, uh, take advantage of in order to be able to really create true adoption in the city. And so energy storage is a great example. Um, what,

what do you think is the biggest barrier for deploying energy storage units in New York? From a policy perspective, it's the FDNY and for very good reason. Uh, if I put a, if I put a battery the size of that garden back there that can power this building, amazing. I can completely island this campus, but it's a massive fire hazard as well. And so that has to come first, the safety and benefit to the community first before we talk about decarbonizing buildings, right? And so what's a solution to that? We had new lab are piloting a variety of zinc, uh, focus patterns, so non lithium ion to get past the fire hazard. But who are we doing that with? Well, with the f, D and Y, well, on Monday, what have the FDNY showing up to a factory in Rockland County to look at how, what it looks like to make a zinc battery, showing them that the fire has, it drops dramatically down, and therefore this is something that you could adopt more quickly. That,

that requires then faster tracked policy and permitting that allows these implementations to happen more quickly. That creates the marketplace for demand for developers to come and build these systems in cities. So for us, the permitting, the policies behind what can work and what can't is an obstacle.

It's a challenge, but it's also an opportunity if done well, For example. And in Vol poll, you, you're trying to do thousands of life posts to EV chargers. What are the challenges? Well, let's start from the beginning. I mean, I actually was in a Columbia Master's program, the sustainability management, um, when writing a church paper that into what is now Vol Post as a company that spun out, and that was about three years ago now.

And just thinking how do you take an idea to a startup that gets venture backed and build a team and build a capacity? And really, there's many hurdles you have to jump through over that three year journey. Um, but really it is about building that community. And new lab is one of those communities. Columbia is another one, which as you kind of connect those nodes and find other people who believe that this is obviously a valuable solution as part of a broader ecosystem to carbonize, you can one, as an organization take it from just a simple idea or a research paper into a company, into an accelerator, into a pilot, and then three years later have a 20 person team where you're rolling out in different cities across the country. So how do you do it? I don't really know.

You just keep going. Uh, I say there's a thin line between the crazy and brilliant, and that line is persistence. And to go on that entrepreneurial pursuit, um, you do have to be a little bit crazy. But, and then in the end of the day, when you're starting a purpose-driven company and really see that vision and you're spreading that vision and with others who really want to get behind that 'cause they see the benefits to the broader community in New York City and beyond, then you've just figure out how to get there. And, and, and I think that benefits to community is worth double clicking on.

I think that that's, and the vote post is a great example of how they're really attacking that, that challenge. You know, if you think about all the great technologies out there in the world, ev charging ev cars, autonomous vehicles delivering stuff, right? Does the majority of the population in New York really care about that? I have a, I have, I have a house in the suburbs in Westchester. I can plug a charge into my garage and buy an EV car. Great. Right? How does that impact the 20 million people that in and around this city, right? And so that the benefit, the access to these technologies is really why you need that community different approach. If it's not benefiting them, it's not, if it's not useful for them, if they can't access that, you can't make the progress you need make in terms of climate.

EV chargers are a great example of that who caress if they're only in Manhattanville, right? They need to be accessible to the entire population of the city for it to really matter, to motivate the use of e-bikes to motivate the use of, of, of cars and so on. And so building that into the way you develop that technology, the way that Jeff's doing is inspiring, but also it's necessary. And I think that's what's leading to the success that, that Jeff's been seeing. So you both mentioned the word community and New York City is perhaps infamous for the activism of its communities at various levels, right? Right down to where I live. We have our very own block association. Every single block in New York City has his own block. Associ,

my spouse is president of the Block association. And you know what? We fight everything, every new change that comes along, someone doesn't like it. How do you, man, how do, how do you deal with communities? How do you take communities from not wanting to implement these new changes to, you know, bring 'em on their side and being an advocate for the work you're doing of Vol Post or the broader mission? You guys have a new lab. I mean, it starts with being able to communicate the benefits to that community. And in the case with what we're doing, obviously thinking about Citi Bike as a perfect example, example parallel example where many people, my Block fought city bike too, by the way. That's exactly what I was gonna say.

I love it. But then not how do Then many community groups fought in the early days, you're gonna take away parking spots or you're gonna disrupt our community and create more noise or whatever, whatever you may have had as Slack. But the reality is that you have to build that capacity person by person, block by block in a city like New York. And I think we could all say fast forward a decade later, the credible benefits it's providing to the city and to all of us as residents, and really in a similar path that had to go through a few years in the early days of that initial site selection. So from a data perspective,

going through geospatial analysis where you look at things like where should these bikes go or where should these chargers go in a city like New York? Well, where are the cars today? I mean, many are parked in the street and obviously we're not trying to promote private car ownership. We're actually really about decarbonizing mobility. And part of that is the broader ecosystem of how do we charge e-bikes, scooters, and other micro mobility as a multimodal charging, as the broader picture where this is all heading, right? But charging cars is kind of that entry point that is broadly accepted. And I think it really just comes back to rural. Something like Citibank takes years and it takes that dimension of hand to hand combat of building those relationships, working with those community groups, working with innovation economy groups like new lab and universities like Columbia. And you kind of just find your way because in the end of the day, the story has to spread, the value has to truly be there. If it can't just be technology for the sake of technology that you want to, it's not like selling a consumer product where you can just put together a flashy ad. It truly has to have that community benefit.

Yeah, and I'll, I'll, I'll take that. Uh, we have that same kind of thesis around how we approach innovation in our programs, and we operationalize that with a really strong sense of design in the work that we do. And so before we find, let's say the vote posts the world that have these world changing solutions, um, we're taking a systems level view of, of sort of designing a future state.

We wanna live, we all live in, let's be inspirational, then let's get human-centered to understand what are the actual needs at the local level before you show up with the answer, right? And, and that's how we approach a lot of the civic work we've done in Michigan and Detroit. Detroit, they're really famous example. We were doing some autonomous vehicle kind kind of opportunities form factors for delivering goods and people around in Detroit. Detroit is amazing. It's, it's got this like, you know, um, it's gone through some tough times. It's got these massive city blocks and majority of the population in the city don't have cars. And it's, and, and, and so someone has to walk 30 minutes to get to a bus stop, 45 minutes to get to the local drugstore. We went to one of the community community, um, sort of sessions and said, Hey, you know, what are your challenges in our mind? We had e-bikes, we had three wheel vehicles in our mind. And one person said,

we have a population of 66 years and older, mostly women living in this area. Can you imagine riding on a two wheel scooter? So why is there a line bike in my neighborhood? Grandma's not gonna ride that. And so immediately that changed the direction and, and where we went, it's dumb that we didn't know that going in, but we wouldn't have the fact that we spoke to them, learned that, and also gain trust. And so the next time we come with the answers, the answer that you've been asking for, and that allows us to open up sort of the, the avenues for companies like ful posts to come in and sort of create these pilots in the, in their backyards with some, with the permission and the hope that, that there is success there.

Jeffrey, you mentioned Sea Bike as an example. One of the reasons sea bike was successful was that New York City and the mayor was behind it. Yeah, right. It ended up on my block because the city just said, it's going to be there whether you like it or not, which was a great thing. Um,

how, how important is to partner either with the city or other institutions here, whether government or non-government institutions in order to be successful? Where do partnerships come in? What's, what's, when it comes to trying to roll out climate tech, what are your thoughts on that? I mean, it's all powered through partnerships and do this alone. And in the case of New York City with the public charging network, effectively the DOT put together a report that has the targets of 10,000 curbside chargers by 2030 and 40,000 chargers across the city. So those are just ultimately numbers in a document. If there's not the private sector stepping up to take a piece of that puzzle and solve for it, and we don't look at this as we are truly the complete answer, but part of a larger ecosystem to provide that value in, for example, densely populated Brooklyn Brownstone neighborhood obviously would make sense to have a lamppost charger dual port where people park today have that convenience, but in, say, Midtown Manhattan, completely different solution may be useful like a micro mobility hub, uh, for e-bikes and scooters as there's just greater flexibility in like a Times Square Midtown area. So really when you're trying to build those partnerships, you have to look at it as not just presenting a solution, but as you were saying, look at what the true problem is, listen to what people on the ground are saying.

So you can kind of thread out those insights and see what the right solution is to propose because it may be more nuanced in from one block to the next. Yeah. And I, I think when, when you think about the success of climate tech startups, we have to remember that they are businesses that need to have a market and a business opportunity.

And when you talk about climate tech startups being applied to cities, what's the role there? So, so policies around being able to create the right incentive, but also the right protections for those, those technologies that work for everybody, the city itself potentially being a first customer is amazing, right? So if New York was becomes a reference customer for a company, that is a massive signal for that company in the marketplace. You want those companies to be scalable to serve the city well for a long time. Right? And the third thing I just, I just see Jenny here in the audience, the third thing is, is being able to open up infrastructure for testing experimentation.

So Jenny's from the Broken Navy Yard, this is home to New lab, they're opening up their infrastructure, uh, through the, through the form of Yard Labs to be able to create testing environments for companies to, to be able to test and experiment in real environments. New York is pushing this massive initiative around that. So now you're attracting not just the end result, but also the development of that happening in our backyard. The more of that that happens here, the more I think we can draw attention to that from communities and other policy holders and things like that. The more it's created in New York and then deployed in New York. That's a great story to tell when it relates to climate and tech and sustainable cities.

So in many ways, New York City, despite its many challenges, it's actually a tremendous place to be doing the kinda work you're doing. There's, there's, there's other network effects going on. I'm a big believer that change happens partly because of macro trends, big trends that sort of maybe in the background, we're not even really thinking about them, but they're actually pushing your businesses in the right direction. What,

what are the macro trends you use, you see out there that really make a difference to where you guys are headed? I mean, effectively the why now starts with policy with the IRA passing, and there's no question that a major reason why climate tech with this administration has pushed forward on all fronts, whether it be storage, ev charging green hydrogen, et cetera, is because there's policy dimension that now supports the business case in a way that the market has woken up and obviously funded all this dry powder in the climate tech VC world. Um, without that, I don't think we could have had this entry point. So it is very much a timing thing. Um, there's a charging company's 1.0 of a generation that kind of built up when there was no utilization and people not buying EVs. And then those companies went through SPACs with volume that ultimately they couldn't deliver on and then had a depleted valuation.

Um, in our case, we're kind of riding that early wave up as that policy is passing. So we're not impacted by any of that other than just seeing the headlines of some of the challenges they've experienced, but really building a business with unit economics that are scalable, um, and focused on how do we enter into communities in a way that aligns with that public policy dimension that is truly permeating with budgets being unlocked for charging across the country for the first time, uh, just this year and next. Okay. So the policy trend is, is really strong at this point in your world that makes all the difference thoughts on either policy trends or other other trends you're seeing out there? Yeah, so I'll, I'll, I'll double click on the policy one for a second. What,

what, what, that's also what I'm seeing changing is on the startup side, the earlier earlier hires in some of these climate tech startups are actually policy folks. I was talking to one carbon sequestration company, the number two hire was their head of policy. That's unheard of for a tech company before. Um, energy storage companies, having people on their staff at the executive level that are policy or understand cities and urban environments and how to engage those communities.

That's talk that your mind is going to like the cu the customer and the consumer versus just r and r and d and technologies. That's a really great sign. Um, I think investors are taking a notice of that on the, on the funding side, we're seeing a lot of funding coming from the federal level. I think we've all seen that focused on that sort of near term scale. So if, if a vol post is able to get to that point where they can deploy a hundred units in, in, in cities, there is money out there for them to manufacture those things at scale. And so that's a huge benefit because getting to scale is really when it's ready. VC dollars aren't, aren't the thing that's gonna fund the factories, right? So you need that money to come from somewhere.

Cities can't subsidize everything, not even in New York. And so where, where's that bridge coming from? A lot of federal and state dollars that can support that. So it's a great trend to see, to see as well. Nice. Two different questions. Um, Jeff issue around, um, ensuring equity in the outcomes of your, of your, of your business model. So obviously there's a lot of, a lot of places you can install charges, some make more sense than others commercially, but there's also the issue of how do you balance equity in communities so that ultimately everyone's getting the right access. How do you,

how do you think about that? How do you deal with that? And again, New York City in particular is particularly complex ways to ensure equity. Yeah, I mean that it's built into the DNA and our values as a company in that by retrofitting existing infrastructure, we can deploy for significantly less cost without construction trenching in significantly less time without taking up new space on the curb. And with that, it enables us to have unit economics where we truly can deploy across all communities and thinking about transit deserts and not really only the wealthier neighborhoods that may be the early adopters to EVs, but actually thinking through like that city bike example, you wanna build a network. And in order to do that,

you have to be thinking about truly all the different factors. Um, ERDA has these disadvantaged community maps as to where they propose getting certain incentives that would tap in for the New York market more effectively in the per charger deployed, which is built into the policy lever and the incentives that a company like us can access. But truly beyond the economic rationalization, I think we just see that as a purpose driven company with that decarbonization goal, one, two, to build stronger, more resilient communities, and three, to create local jobs and upscale workers, um, to support with the operating and maintenance that there really is an opportunity here to thread the needle where that purpose and profit are one and the same, and it's not you do one and then you figure out how to give, give away the after the fact that it really is part of the DNA in everything we do. Yeah, one, one, um, I agree. I agree with all that. And New lab has that same, has similar mindset across some of the programs we work on.

Another thing I'll add there that is I think ties to equity is resilience. And so, so if you look at the way, you know, New York, you know, clearly I, I think we've got a resilient city already that's able to sort of withstand a lot of what the climate is sending our way. But think about us compared to other areas and cities in the, in the world, um, or in the country. Like at Detroit, I'll go back to Detroit,

that's where other location is where increasing issues with climate or leading to power outages, right? Lack, lack of power. So I'm gonna electrify a neighborhood. How do I guarantee that access? How do I guarantee continuous power and energy despite the sort of the, the challenges we're facing with climate and the, and the weather. And so in Michigan, for example, we've launched what we called a Michigan resilience zone in corporation with the local utility there and a variety of public and private agencies to basically create a zone where we're gonna install a variety of chargers, Jeff, hopefully we'll have some vote post units there as well. So charges for access,

some of those chargers are being attached in lots connected to churches and other sort of nonprofit organizations to create an economic loop. So if you're gonna charge your vehicle, charge it in the church parking lot, there's money that's made by that's given to the church as a result of that. And then what that creates is a zone that's basically resilient because it's islanded for all the community that's living in, in that, in that space, right? And so that to me is like a holistic approach in terms of how you answer equity, um, sort of in terms of access, in terms of economic, uh, benefit as well as a place you go to. And you can be guaranteed power every day regardless of the type of home you live in. And so to me like that's, that's sort of like the holistic approach that you go to a community. When we did that at the beginning, of course the, the feedback was positive at that point. Again, we showed up with that thought,

we didn't show up with the answer right away. I think that can be applied to a lot of different pockets in neighborhoods in New York to start and kind of expanded. I Think, uh, one, one or two more questions I want then open up the audience. Uh, Satish, you see a range of technologies.

Is there a technology or a sector or two that you think at the moment are particularly exciting? You know, ones for, you'd recommend people keep an eye on at this point or what, what you guys are really focused on at this point? Yeah, that's, that's a, there's a lot going on. Um, I do love you. It's exciting. Um, so one comment, one thing that we're really excited about is a lot of the non lithium ion technologies we're seeing on the world. And I'm double downing on that because I think that lithium ion, it's needed, it's really important.

It's a diminishing resource in the world and it's got a variety of fire hazards associated with it. And so my personal opinion is I think there is a ceiling we're gonna hit in terms of lithium ion power. So lithium ion browsers are now everywhere. They're in your phone, they're in your cars, and we're trying to scale them up to be bigger to, to su to supply longer duration power to our buildings. You can't get past a certain hour with lithium ion unless you build it on a certain scale. There are other technologies come into play that can extend that.

So if I wanna power my car, not a big deal. If it only last for four hours, if I wanna power this building, it has to be 24 hours. And so what are the technologies that are coming online for that? Really excited about a lot of non lithium ion sources that that can solve that. So that's, that's great. Alternative fuels beyond hydrogen, and I'm speaking, um, to things like ammonia, uh, fueled sources. I think there's a lot of interesting technologies coming out there that are sort of the near term next 20 or 30 year solution before hydrogen and things like this become much more, um, ubiquitous in the world.

Hydrogen has a lot of infrastructure challenges transporting hydrogen. What does a hydrogen gas station look like? Hydrogen tanks have to be probably five x the size of your traditional gas tank. If you, if you look at the science behind that, what is your car gonna look like if it does that, right? So there's a lot of alternative fuels that can actually answer that today that take advantage of the existing supply chains that we have. And that absolutely benefits communities and economic development. So alternative fuels and new types of storage systems, I think are probably what I'm personally most excited about in terms of energy transition.

I think the electrification work that the vol posts of the world are doing, it's very much about, to me like a customer solution fit than the more of a technology fit. And so Jeff, sorry, you can correct me if I'm wrong there, but like the fact that vol post design is amazing, it's really just answering a call more so than having like a novel technology. Of course it's full of novel technology, but it's brilliant, it's design into why it's being made. And so I think a, a lot of the charging systems are kind of moving with that approach that can be really deployed in cities. That's what I'm most excited about in terms of what, what I'm seeing coming out of your, your category. Yeah, I mean I would totally agree with you though.

Ultimately we don't have enough resources in order to stick to lithium ion at scale to fully decarbonize and where we are in with vol post by having a modular and upgradable platform approach and thinking about really future proofing and what does the city not just need tomorrow, but something as simple of a plug being adapted by Tesla and other OEMs that we can provide that flexibility, whether it be one plug or another, or whether it be certain breakthroughs in technology in the charging or storage, um, greater industries that can be integrated into future modules. So as things become market ready, that we're not effectively selling one piece of infrastructure into the public sector, that then in a few years becomes just this outmoded thing sitting on the curb, but actually has that flexibility and can be upgraded with different modules in different markets. And there may be air quality sensors or other sensors that are quite important in one area where, uh, grid, um, management like, uh, vehicle to grid or other mechanisms, demand response could be more important in another neighborhood, uh, Brent blackouts or provide greater resiliency.

And so with all of that thinking, it just becomes, with charging being our entry point to provide that platform both physically and digitally and then being able to, through the power of partnership, bring in other services that make sense for cities. Gotcha. Lemme ask one more, one more question. So it ties together a number of the topics we, we've covered, um, in terms of the trends in, in in climate tech and, and, and the opportunities and the challenges. And like, and a big issue now at this moment in time is how countries, the us eu, it's one group, China, India, and other countries are all moving ahead very aggressively in this area, in both a cooperative way, but increasing a competitive way. In your work, what do you see as the, the greatest strengths that the US has in this transition, this decarbonization is coming and where are limitations? And you spoke to say lithium ion batteries, China has an enormous lead in that, in that sector.

A lot of the policy has been, there's now economic policy around this for, for all these countries. What are your thoughts on that and the things that you're looking at? Yeah, uh, so, so I think the, you know, Europe has an incredible step ahead as it relates to policy backed by public funding, backed by real mandates around climate that's actually pushing the industry forward. So I'll, I'll give you an ex I'll give you a historical example here that happened in the us. Um, Stephen Chu was one of the en we used to be a former energy chief. He was a scientist at, at, at, uh, before that. Um, and he was at a talk, he was at a physics conference talk and he had just taken on the job and he gets up there and he says, he shows, he says, he's talking about how policy, not scientists, cap take it off. Why do you need policy and regulations in this world? And he puts up a graph and it's energy efficiency on the y axis time on the X axis, and it's a staircase.

And he was talking about refrigerators and he said refrigerators back in his sixties, the icebox would, would just be eyesore on the box. And now you've got these beautiful refrigerators in your home and here's how that efficiency went over time in a staircase. So can you guess what happened at every point? It went straight up.

You bought a new fridge, Was Yeah, there, there, there was, there was a change in the policy that said, now your refrigerators have to do this. And all of a sudden the industry figured it out, right? And so Europe I think is ahead of the game in terms of that. We have a lot of challenges, I think still in being able to push that policies forward, that really force industries to change. When the industries have to change,

that's where investment starts to flow in and that's where you get more vote posts coming, right? And so policy seems to be the theme of our talk, but I really like the more I've been thinking about, you're just sitting here. It's, it's amazing how, how, how that, how it cascades as a result of that. Where is us incredibly strong. Of course we're a massive powerful marketplace, right? We have a lot of smart talent here in this country. We have a lot of talent coming into the country as well.

We have a lot of infrastructure. We have a lot of places that would adopt these things and create a real marketplace for companies around the world. So go back to the New York example. If New York was open to the world for non lithium ion batteries, the whole world would apply to come here and, and deploy these technologies for us in the city. And so I think we have that adv advantage to pull the market of climate tech here if the policy investments come behind that. And then finally the federal government, like, you know, the Biden administration that has put up such an enormous amount of money into this space.

I get calls all the time from industries and governments around the world saying, how do I get our companies to the US? 'cause that's where the pockets and towers are to get this thing to scale. So I think that kind of, that kind of funding power we do have if we're able to point in the right direction. There's been some of that positivity so far. But again, like keeping that going with policy that kind of allows that to get to scale, I think we're a bit behind Europe in that sense for sure.

Yeah, I would totally agree with that. And just thinking, I mean, I came from big tech prior to doing what I'm doing now. I was a director of innovation at Samsung and actually made the fridge with the screen on it, the camera's inside. Was it efficient? Yeah. T right. I can tell you you a lot about the fridge innovation. It's My favorite story to tell. I love telling that story. Yeah, yeah. Okay. Sorry. Got it.

That's why I knew exactly what you're talking about. But there's, what I was going back to that is we have all the innovation in the us, all of these big tech companies and all of these great minds who are focused on sometimes not necessarily the most important problem. Um, and I'll use my past experience as an example. And in the end of the day though, I think there are a lot of people who are very passionate about wanting to take a step in the right direction, pivot their career into climate tech as I have. And I've seen others over the last few years and as we've had so many shifting layoffs in the greater tech community over the last year or two, seeing so many more people driving into climate and we're kind of in this new chapter of talent flying into this industry who may have never thought about climate in a more serious way prior.

And I think also from a manufacturing perspective, um, the US obviously has gone through a bit of a fluctuation globalization going off to China, but there's definitely, at least we're seeing feeling and actually an example of bringing that back to the US with areas like Detroit and re reshoring. Yeah, exactly. And really keeping that all to create newfound value within the US rather than thinking that globalization is still truly the answer. Sure. There's always gonna still be certain components that you just may not have a chip that you can get in the US at a certain period of time. So it's not like you can't access the global markets, but there really is an opportunity to reinvigorate that market here in the us. Take, uh, questions from the audience and um, if you have a question, I I don't know where the mic's we have Mike's, where are mics? Is Mike here? Mike here. We have a question right down here in the front and then we'll take one in the back as well.

Thank you, uh, for sharing your great experience. My name is Raquel Bell. I have a question, uh, related to funding. Uh, so what the greatest challenge, uh, when, uh, basically for the climate tech industry when raising capital, because you are always thinking how you rely a lot on the high CapEx and the really high he risk. And and most of the times, yes, we got, we got like the founding at the beginning stage by how you will overcome it during the value of death. I think that's like a, a big challenge. Yeah. Just like to hear your thoughts on that face. Yeah. Yeah.

That's so funny. It's, it's gotten of harder recently, I think. Great Question. Great question. It's gotten harder. Um, so this thing has gone two directions, I think positive and negative. So, so, so let's see where we end up. And that, that after that, sorry, Jeff. Um, and so, so like during like, um, the first, like the clean tech one point ohs, this was, I think during Obama's first, first, first term, um, it was a lot of venture dollars going into climate tech startups and then some big betts that the Obama administration made in terms of grants, right? And the failure there was of was oftentimes attributed to the fact that the venture dollars were, were were expecting venture returns. And so to your point, when the company got to a certain scale, they realized they actually weren't getting to a market because it's clean tech, it's hard, right? What we're seeing happening now, which is really interesting, and some of that stuff is coming outta research happening at schools.

Like this is this idea of different types of capital financing around a, the story of a climate tech startup. So yes, you still need venture type dollars to take that early stage risk, but some of the early r and d can be supported by grant dollars as well. And then when you get up to certain scale, there's a lot of interesting debt financing vehicles that can be applied when you look, start looking at these things as assets, right? Recycling is a great example of that. Right now we have, we have a lot of privatized recycling entities in the United States backed by private equity. That's good.

And so that's a lot of great money going into being able to be able to privatize and run these recycling systems more efficiently. We're starting to see some of that happen, um, in terms of banking around electrification as well, right? So I, I think the, the financial climate, at least from a model perspective is much better and potentially mapped better to what the climate tech story really needs to be. The problem is the venture market's not doing great right now, Right? The overall Market's, the other side, the other side's kind of dropped a bit, right? So, but I think the, the, the, the understanding of what it takes from a full financing stack to go from an invention to deployment is now better understood by that in the financial industry for climate. Yeah, I mean, it's a blended capital stack. When you look at climate tech, it is not just a straightforward VC model.

There's so many grants out there depending on which aspect of climate you're trying to focus on. And there really are so many programs. I mean, as an example, if you are building something outside of impact or climate, you may join an accelerator and they take 5% of your company just in saying that we'll help and talk to you for a couple months in climate. We've participated in six accelerators since the company's inception. Some of them have provided grants to us. None of them have taken equity. And they all are mission aligned.

They all are trying to provide those introductions to venture capitalists and other advisors that can support you along the way. Um, NYSERDA here in New York has a tremendous amount of programs, um, which are supporting early stage climate companies. Um, there really is just a broader climate technology ecosystem, not just in New York, but really building across the country. There's, I mean, look at climate week, just a few weeks back, the amount of events it felt like just in one year to the next amplified five, 10 x and as there's more people entering this sector, more talent, more money, frankly, as much as the macro economics of the last year have been challenging, I mean, we still managed to close around with major institutional investors this spring.

Um, there is a way to persevere The back, hard to see if there's lights. I I guess not. So it's, sorry, here in, in the middle, there's, uh, yeah. Hello. Hello. Uh, I'm Mohit, and thank you for bringing that policy thing up because I was part of the transition in General Electric for ROHS compliance, and all of a sudden we had these beautiful lambs coming out, right, which had no cadmium, no hexavalent, chromium in over a year, just one year. So, but my question to you is, from your experience, how does one start thinking about these projects? How does one start thinking about scoping ideas without even policy coming into play? Like what could be next big thing that we can optimize or what other things that I see in my daily life that I can improve? That's, that, That's, yeah. I mean, you're, Jeff's the founder, so you should take that first, but yeah. But, but I think generally like, you know, um,

looking at the problem and the user that you're trying to serve first before, rather than trying to take a technology and see where it fits, right? I I, I think that's a classic entrepreneurship sort of lesson that's been learned, but sometimes is not necessarily repeated all the time. And so when we do our innovation work and we do our design work in the studios, like we're definitely coming with like, here's what the problem is. Here's how we can impact positively. Here are the challenges, here are the innovation pathways that we think you can follow. Let's prioritize and fair what will work best, then go get the technology that that can work. And, and so that's how we do our process in terms of how we identify startups we wanna work with and where we can help deploy them in the field serving these civic and the industry customers that we serve. And the, the founder,

I'm sure has a much, has a certain view there too as well. Oh yeah. I mean, so I was in Samsung basically as an entrepreneur building new business units of where tech and trends come together and say, this could be a market opportunity.

And it does start with the problem and looking at consumer pain points and trying to find those insights before you just fall in love with the technology. The reason why I go back to that experience when I was in the Columbia Summa program, effectively I wanted to learn the climate science, I wanted to learn the problems. And I wasn't falling in love with a technology. I wasn't even sure if I was gonna start a company. But ultimately, in doing research across the board developed actually about a half a dozen business cases. And it's just simply problem, potential solution. What's the market size of a market opportunity? Uh, what would be the key features? Who are your customer segment? Like, just go through that, right in five to six pages of a very simple presentation that you can talk to anybody that you respect or admire, whether it be a professor or somebody else within your network, and start having those conversations. And if, well, I mean, that's basically what I did. I had a half a dozen ideas and said, okay,

I want to give you five ideas in 30 minutes. Invol post being one of them. And then when people were like, just do that one. I'm like, well, I wanna still tell you the other three or four ideas. Like, no, I don't care. That's, that's good. And let me introduce you to somebody,

or let me use my social capital or social currency to whatever, get you in front of a VC or get you in front of somebody that I know that could push this idea forward. So sometimes the investment isn't in dollars, but it's actually through relationships. Okay. I'll take one more question here in the middle and, and then we'll wrap up with one last, uh, one last question for our speakers here. Thank you both for your time. Uh, my name's Anshu Kaha.

I just had a quick question. If you guys could just speak more on how you work with department and municipal agencies, because you mentioned the part about FDNY, but oftentimes they won't talk to the NYPD or the DOT. So how do you foster that communication and have you developed any strategies to go through that process? That's super hard. Um, for sure, um, your Answer, So where do I start with that without, you know, um, so I, I think like the, the, this is not, we don't have an answer, a full answer to this, but we are doing it. So I'll, I will say that. So for example, with our work with DOT, I think we've made interested connections between DOT and FDNY through the work of new lab. Uh, we're looking at,

at sort of some new innovation around battery swap technologies that can serve the delivery workers in the city, right? FTNY absolutely has to be at the table because those systems could potentially be set up in public areas around universities, for example, and so on. And so getting those two to talk around things that are, that are related to DOT owned properties, but FDNY has to approve, why are we doing this in the first place? Like just doing the hard work to bring those folks to the table. Um, just being intentional about that. There's no, there's no solid strategy in doing that, to be honest with you. I do know the one thing that resonates is the common mission, and it sounds cheesy to say that, but the fact that we're trying to serve delivery workers in New York using energy storage and e-bike technologies, everyone is into that, right? So at least we can galvanize around that first. Um,

but then we have to respect the fact that the FDNY has to, you know, has to do its job in protecting us. The DOT also has to do its job in serving the city as well. And so, um, bringing those two to the table early on I think is really important. So that's a point I've been making, making consistently don't show up with the shiny object just yet.

Show up and listen, actively listen and try to bring those folks together. Then start bringing the solutions has seemed to serve as well. Um, versus I think before we'd say, Hey, you should check out this energy storage project. This bike is cool. You should look at it like, no, you know, we're not living in their world yet when we do that. Sorry, it's not, it's not, it's not, it's not a, you know, whoever solves that, please come find me.

'cause we love to like deploy that elsewhere. Anyone add to that, Tiffany? Yeah, I mean, I would just say you're generally looking for somebody to champion an idea in one of these larger organizations, and sometimes it has to be someone who can actually benefit from that. So if you go in through the wrong door to a large organization, you may fall on deaf ears or general interest, but not willing to take more than 30 minutes. But then when you find the right entry point, that that person can make their career to the next level or see this program as something that they somehow benefit the organization.

Um, so it helps to make sure you have that person. And until you identify who that is, sometimes it can be difficult. I would also say by being kind of that external organization, you can actively listen to both silos, right? Whichever that may be. In our case, the DOT and Con Edison, and then we brought, not necessarily just them together in conversation, which we did, but also thinking through the challenges that they're thinking at are insurmountable.

But by being drilling deeper into both sides and actually presenting information from each other's side and actually creating that network effect, they're actually like, maybe that's, this isn't as complicated as we all thought in our narrow lanes of things. So sometimes you just have to help build those bridges for these organizations. Now we, we have two minutes left and, uh, in our panel and I I wanna ask our, our, our speakers, um, one specific question, which is for those in the audience who are looking to work in this sector looking for, uh, careers, or for those who are looking to make a career switch into the sort of work that you're, you're doing, what advice do you have for them once it start us off? Sure. I mean, as somebody who is coming from Columbia and going through a master's program as I did as well, like, there's no better time than right now while you're in a program to be reaching out. I say, look at the stage of company, there's a complete difference between a pre-seed versus a Series B company. So looking at what scale of company do you truly wanna sit at?

And then which sector, and really that comes to what is the problem that you really want to be a part of solving what gets you excited? And to wake up every morning and just focus on that thing. And once you can identify both stage and problem, then just vector into reaching out to people in that community, going to events like this and networking because you're in a safe space where generally if people are mission aligned in the climate sector, are happy to have a conversation to try and point you in the right direction. Thanks. Yeah, I would say, and just, I, I guess an track I follow is like, you know, think about, first of all, think about I agree with you. Think about what, what,

what you wanna do that, uh, that gets you up every day. And so what is the sector you wanna work in? What's the type of company you wanna work for? And then what superpower do you have that can be applied to that based on your experience and your talents, right? So if, if you're looking at a climate tech startup, you don't necessarily have to be a technologist to make a massive impact in that company. We just talked about a lot of examples around that. Um, and so to me, like what do you bring to the table from like a policy perspective, finance, operations, bd, marketing, whatever it may be, an understanding of a, of cities, understanding of a space or a category. Um, companies like Jeff have to build an entire team at some point to really hit scale, to really make that business happen. And it's gonna take a lot of different people and a lot of different types of talent, especially in climate tech, for those things to be realized. And so you all have a role to play if you want to. And as Jeff said,

there's tons of opportunity out there. Innovation is important, technology is important. At some point, it's gonna take everyone else to make that company scale and that's gonna open a lot of opportunities for different types of roles, different types of talents to join, join those types of organizations.

Thank you. Thanks to both of you. Please join me in. Thank I.

2023-11-28 14:38

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