The Brief | March 21, 2022

The Brief: Whole Earth (podcast), direct-air and forest-carbon capture, recycled wood waste, India’s venture capital surge

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The Whole Earth, then and now: John Markoff on Stewart Brand (podcast). In his famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford, Steve Jobs called The Whole Earth Catalog “one of the bibles” of his generation. “It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along,” Jobs said. “It was idealistic and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.” The catalog was the creation of Stewart Brand, the pied piper of so many trends that by now are well-adopted, but once were new and transformative. Like the personal computer. And psychedelic drugs. And online communities. John Markoff’s new biography, Whole Earth: The Many Lives of Stewart Brand, comes out this week. “What I found, over and over again, is that Stewart’s ideas would bubble for a long time and then emerge later,” Markoff says on the latest Agents of Impact podcast.

Brand, certainly, is an Agent of Impact, who at 83 is continuing to challenge conventional thinking, from the 10,000-year clock project of the Long Now Foundation, to efforts to revive and restore extinct species key to fragile ecosystems, like the woolly mammoth that once ranged the Arctic tundra. But Markoff himself is no less an Agent of Impact as the dean of tech journalists in his longtime role at The New York Times. “Stewart in the ‘60s had this experience on the rooftop of a San Francisco apartment, where he began wondering why there was no photograph of the whole earth,” Markoff recounts. The image Brand put on the cover of The Whole Earth Catalog displaced the nuclear mushroom cloud with a positive symbol of human hope. “Of course, we’re right back there now,” Markoff says of the nuclear threat. “So I think that the symbol is more important now than it has been for decades.”

Dealflow: Carbon Removal

Heirloom raises $53 million for low-cost carbon capture technology. Direct air capture technology is needed to remove the billions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere required to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century. But the nascent technology is expensive. San Francisco-based Heirloom Carbon Technologies raised $53 million from Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures and other investors to build a pilot plant to capture a few tons of carbon daily and demonstrate reduced costs for its novel carbon removal technology. “Utilizing low-cost, earth-abundant minerals as a sponge for carbon dioxide is key to making the economics work,” said Heirloom’s Shashank Samala. Heirloom’s carbon mineralization technology uses limestone, which can absorb carbon in days rather than years, and more cheaply than other approaches to direct-air capture. 

  • Climate accountability. New rules to be proposed today by the Securities and Exchange Commission are expected to mandate public company reporting on greenhouse gas emissions and climate risks (see, “Inside the generational opportunity to reshape rules of corporate disclosure”). Enhanced disclosure is expected to drive demand for new approaches to directly reduce carbon emissions, in addition to carbon offsets.
  • Catalytic climate capital. “Our catalytic investments in durable direct air capture technologies aim to drive mainstream adoption by bringing down the green premium through large-scale deployment,” said Microsoft’s Mark Kroese. Carbon Direct Capital and Ahren Innovation Capital also led the round (for context, see “Deploying catalytic capital to bridge financing gaps for climate action”).
  • Corporate off-takers. Partners such as Stripe, Shopify, Klarna Bank and Wise have already paid for carbon Heirloom will capture in the future. Stripe says it paid more than $2,000 per ton for its share. Heirloom aims to bring down the cost to as little as $50 per ton.
  • Onward

Kimmeridge deploys $200 million for nature-based carbon offsets. The New York and Denver-based asset management firm says Chestnut Carbon will generate forest carbon offsets verified for accuracy and integrity. “The harsh reality is that some emissions cannot be immediately replaced with carbon-free alternatives in a feasible or cost-effective manner,” said Kimmeridge’s Ben Dell. “Nature-based solutions sit near the low end of the carbon-abatement cost curve, with the greatest potential for implementation at scale.” Kimmeridge recently acquired Forest Carbon Works, a B Corp. that develops forest carbon offsets on smaller, family-owned forestland. Forest Carbon Works will combine with Chestnut Carbon to build a 500,000-acre reforestation portfolio by 2030. Share this post.

Cambium Carbon snags $3.2 million to recycle wood waste for carbon sequestration. Approximately 36 millions trees fall in U.S. cities each year and are sent to landfills, representing more than $26 billion in lost economic value. Washington, D.C.-based Cambium recycles the trees into wooden products that store carbon, and invests the profits in new trees in local communities. Early-stage venture firm MaC Venture Capital and Revolution’s Rise of the Rest seed fund backed Cambium “to grow a two-sided marketplace for locally-sourced and salvaged materials that reinvests in urban tree restoration and creates local jobs,” said Cambium’s Marisa Repka. Cambium says it has planted 220 trees and helped divert 47.5 tons of wood waste since 2020. Check it out.

Dealflow overflow. Other investment news crossing our desks:

  • AgFunder Asia and SDG Impact Japan jointly raise $10 million to invest in early-stage agrifood tech deals in Japan and Southeast Asia.
  • Komaza scores $10 million from Mitsui & Co. and Sobrato Philanthropies to help smallholder farmers plant trees and adopt sustainable wood harvesting practices to combat deforestation.
  • D.light secures $7 million in equity from OP Finnfund Global Impact Fund to expand pay-as-you-go solar in Africa.
  • Bazaar raises $70 million in Series B funding to digitalize and provide financing to unbanked and offline retailers in Pakistan.

Signals: Impact in India

Commercial capital floods into India’s impact startups. Venture capital investing in India, as elsewhere, surged last year, along with a wave of impact capital. Impact startups in India raked in $6.8 billion in equity financing—135% more than in 2020. Commercial investors like Sequoia Capital and Tiger Global pumped capital into large growth-stage and late-stage rounds. “The line between capital and pure play impact funding is blurring,” Ramraj Pai of India’s Impact Investors Council told ImpactAlpha.

  • Risk picture. Fintech ventures raised the most funding: $1.8 billion. Other sectors where commercial venture capital is flowing include edtech and agrifood tech. Climate tech, which saw $590 million raised across 79 deals, was the most popular impact sector in India in terms of deal count. Specialized and impact investors play an outsized role in sectors perceived to be more challenging and less proven, like climate tech and healthcare.
  • Market-making deals. Fourteen companies accounted for nearly 60% of India’s impact capital in 2021. Among the biggest deals: OfBusiness, which sources raw materials and provides procurement financing for India’s small businesses. The woman-led company raised $802 million in four funding rounds in 2021. The company’s fundraising also dialed up the amount of capital going to female founders, who collectively raised $1.5 billion or 22% of India’s impact capital. CredAvenue raised 6.7 billion rupees ($88.2 million) for its investment match-making platform for financial institutions lending to small businesses.
  • Read the full post.

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Adam Ozimek, ex- of Upwork, joins the Economic Innovation Group as chief economist… Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon, ex- of Founder Gym, is named CEO of All Raise… ImpactAssets seeks a remote director of strategic marketing communications… The Media Development Investment Fund is hiring a remote investment officer in India… The Global Impact Investing Network is looking for a manager of IRIS+ / IMM thematic content in New York.

Stacey Abram’s campaign for governor of Georgia has multiple openings… The Families and Workers Fund announced $13 million in grants to U.S.-based nonprofits focused on equity and good jobs… Alexis Ohanian’s 776 Foundation is accepting applications for climate fellows… Decolonizing Wealth Project is looking for paid summer interns… Registration is open for US SIF’s Forum 2022 in Albuquerque, N.M., June 6-8.

Thank you for your impact.

– Mar. 21, 2022