Agents of Impact | June 7, 2022

In Silicon Valley, talent follows the capital – and the optimists – into climate tech

Amy Cortese and Dennis Price

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ImpactAlpha Editor

Amy Cortese

ImpactAlpha Editor

Dennis Price

ImpactAlpha, Jun. 7 –  Where you stand on the incipient tech slowdown may depend on where you sit. Investors and executives in climate tech are seeing – and welcoming – an upswell of talent.

“In a decade+ of investing in seed startups, we’ve never seen talent migration like this,” tweeted Collaborative Fund’s Craig Shapiro

“The quality of talent wanting to work in climate right now is insane,” said Apoorv Bhargava of San Francisco-based WeaveGrid. 

“Huge demand for designers at climate tech companies!” reports Justin Hardin of upstart climate job-discovery platform Climatebase. 

Last month, Collaborative Fund launched the Shared Future Fund to rapidly fund new climate projects. “The best and brightest entrepreneurs are overwhelmingly choosing to work on climate change,” said Shapiro.

Bhargava’s tweet went viral, prompting dozens of climate tech funds, firms and networks to respond with links to job postings, including Generate Capital, Fervo Energy, Women of Color Collective in Sustainability, Arcadia and Nori. And Climatebase’s Hardin was celebrating a partnership with Climate Designers to aggregate jobs for designers at top climate tech companies. 

Indeed, the downturn in other tech sectors could free up even more talent for work on climate solutions, suggests Fervo’s Tim Latimer. “Let’s hope we continue to see a wave of smart people interested in climate.”

X factor

Follow the talent… to the long-term trend, even as the market turmoil might be resetting valuations for some startups. 

“We should not be doubling down but tripling down on clean energy, alternative policies and technologies,” Silicon Valley venture icon John Doerr opined at a recent tech conference. Indeed, Doerr’s recent book, Speed & Scale: An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now, lays out practical steps for both the private and public sector to take to reach net zero.

President Biden accelerated the shift this week with a moratorium on tariffs on solar modules manufactured in Southeast Asia and the invocation of the Defense Production Act to accelerate domestic production.

“I think it’s actually going to be a very positive environment,” Saleforce’s Marc Benioff said at Davos last month.

Benioff, who founded Salesforce in the recession of 2001, estimates that entrepreneurs at a quarter of all startups in Silicon Valley are focused on climate and environmental solutions. “I expect a lot of these ecopreneurs will be born in this recession as well,” he said.

Climate leaders from Jigar Shah to Mark Carney have called net-zero transition the greatest wealth building opportunity in a generation. “Climate change is a societal risk but also a generational investment opportunity,” said Jim Coulter of TPG Rise, which has staked $7.3 billion on that opportunity with its Rise Climate Fund.  

“The next 1,000 unicorns will be businesses developing green hydrogen, green agriculture, green steel and green cement,” BlackRock’s Larry Fink said last fall. “Climate change presents a massive business opportunity.”

The migration extends beyond Silicon Valley. “A range of new-generation start-ups are not only disrupting existing business models by leveraging their technologies and re-defining old paradigms but also aiding communities on the path towards achieving sustainable development,” Credit Suisse analysts wrote in a new report, “European Unicorns: Harnessing the digital disruption.” The investment bank says more than half of Europe’s unicorns can be connected to one or more of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

In the U.S., climate investor Enduring Planet rolled out a scout program to help the fund find more underrepresented founders in climate. “Our brand is young, and scouts can help us spread the word,” said Enduring Planet’s Dimitry Gershenson. “We want to fund more underrepresented founders, and a diverse scout community supports that.”

Scientific talent is moving into climate finance, with heavy recruitment at Generation Investment Management, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Fifty Years and Lowercarbon Capital (see, “Is your fund serious about climate? Show me your scientists”).

“Talent is the X factor in limiting warming to 1.5°,” tweeted Daniel Padilla of the Rocky Mountain Institute. “Young people everywhere are trying work in climate and that type of talent is undefeated.”