Three learnings from a tough week

Guest Author

For ten years, climate tech investing could feel as chilly as the ocean in my home state of Washington. It was hard to get others to jump in. In the last three years, however, public awareness, extraordinary entrepreneurs, the rapid advance of digital solutions and new investor participation have warmed the waters.

When the Silicon Valley Bank news broke, it felt like someone dumped a bucket of ice on my head. In the days following the collapse, our team had a lot of calls with our portfolio of 150+ companies, as well as with venture capitalists and philanthropists, to deal with the fallout.

Across these conversations, three themes emerged:

Story time: We need to do a better job sharing how climate solutions benefit everyone. We also need to show how entrepreneurs are taking risks to create value across society—and are not all tech millionaires. According to one entrepreneur in our portfolio: “Assuming every startup is full of tech bro millionaires is like assuming every musician will end up as rich as U2. The odds are very against us; there’s a ton of personal sacrifice.”

For example, we’ve invested in companies that provide communities with clean drinking water, reforest after wildfires, recycle old clothing into new fabric and reduce truck pollution near ports. Many of the entrepreneurs impacted by SVB’s failure are creating jobs across the country—our Elemental portfolio companies are active in all 50 states—while making neighborhoods healthier.

Hustle and diversify: For many, SVB filled a gap with working capital loans and venture debt hard to come by elsewhere. In our experience, SVB did debt well and, importantly, did not require personal guarantees, enabling people to start companies and take risks. If this type of debt becomes even harder to find, there could be a funding gap for startups, even as other lenders emerge.

Take action: We have just 84 months (seven years) to halve carbon emissions. We see climate tech as the biggest economic opportunity ever, and we’re not alone. Private capital going to the industry has reached unprecedented levels and historic federal funding opportunities are on the very near horizon.

Investors and philanthropists need to work together to build a pipeline of commercial-ready technologies ripe for federal opportunities and later-stage investments. In fact, Elemental just announced our increased funding commitment.

People in climate tech are optimistic problem solvers and radical collaborators. We can all lean in:

  • If you are a philanthropist, consider catalytic capital and activate more funding for climate solutions with community impact.
  • If you are an investor, be brave and move on deals you think have the power to disrupt the status quo and advance decarbonization.
  • If you are a policy maker, provide clear direction and prioritize speed for new funding opportunities, permitting approvals and tax credits. The Inflation Reduction Act dollars and tax guidance can’t come soon enough.

Now is the time to jump in, not despite the fact that the water is cold, but because of it.