Bridging the Gap for Diverse, Early-Stage Innovators in Climate Tech - SecondMuse

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    Venture For ClimateTech is breaking down barriers to make a key sector more inclusive and robust.

    One of the trickier issues founders face when working to scale their innovations is navigating the “valley of death” that separates their promising ideas or prototypes from full-fledged businesses. Even trickier is navigating this transition as a minority or a woman, since these groups are underrepresented in innovation circles and face a barrage of barriers to success. Notoriously, less than half a percent of venture capital spent in the U.S. goes to Black women founders, while the greatest chunk goes to white men whose social networks offer them better access to funding, mentorship, and other support.

    SecondMuse has a long history of working to balance these related disparities, driven by the company’s aspirations for a more just world, but also by a conviction that diversity is the holy grail of innovation.

    “Often people with experiences that are very relevant to global challenges are excluded from conversations about how to address them,” Carrie Freeman, SecondMuse Co-CEO said. “We know their perspectives are invaluable and therefore work hard to find and support them.”

    While we think this work is relevant across industries, we find it especially urgent in the world of climate tech, a high-stakes space, especially for marginalized communities who are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis. The sector has, encouragingly, attracted billions of dollars in funding but still suffers from the same diversity issues as the greater innovation ecosystem.

    Programming to Fill Opportunity Gaps

    To address the related challenges of making climate tech more diverse and supportive of early-stage innovators, SecondMuse has worked for years to search in non-traditional places for founders developing technology to reduce greenhouse emissions. We have also honed a collaborative approach to providing these founders with relevant support and to filling gaps that have prevented underrepresented founders from getting their climate tech products to market. 

    One example of our success in this area is For ClimateTech, an initiative accelerating market breakthrough technologies through founder-centered programming and support. The initiative is run by SecondMuse and longtime partner NextCorps, who together, are focused on increasing opportunities for underrepresented individuals working in the ClimateTech space. The initiative does this through two distinct programs:  Scale For ClimateTech, which seeks out and supports growth-stage innovators, and sister-program Venture For ClimateTech, a non-profit global venture studio + accelerator program aimed at helping pre-seed innovators get their companies off the ground.

    Not coincidentally, both programs support a diverse roster of innovators developing technologies with the potential to substantially reduce emissions. Nearly 90% of founders who have been supported through Venture For ClimateTech so far have been from marginalized backgrounds. The program in particular is honing in on the gap diverse founders face at the earliest stages of innovation. As Director of Climate Investment & Partnerships Chante Harris explains, the earliest stages are critical to catalyzing founders from marginalized and underrepresented groups’ successful growth over time. “Founders from these groups are less likely to have access to family and friends as well as angels who are able to invest in their idea and prototyping stage,” she said. 

    The Case for Diversity in Climate Tech

    At the same time, the ideas and experiences these founders bring to the table are particularly relevant to any effort to combat climate change. Systemic inequalities have put marginalized communities around the world on the front lines of the climate disaster. In the U.S. context, this includes majority Black communities located in vulnerable areas as a result of historic discriminatory housing policies. Globally, women and girls bear the brunt of climate-related problems since they are more likely to live in poverty than men and boys, more likely to work in certain agricultural sectors threatened by climate change, and less likely to survive in disasters, research by Oxfam shows. Founders from these and other marginalized groups are well-positioned to consider practical and unique climate solutions that work in the most vulnerable communities. 

    To find them, the For ClimateTech team doesn’t solely rely on typical talent pipelines, like universities and higher education. In addition to these, the team engages global scouts and organizations that are building and providing tailored support to local communities’ top innovators. The team also collaborates with local partners, including incubators and entrepreneur support organizations, to capitalize on what already exists within the sector and leverage insights to develop funding opportunities that are more applicable or relevant to underserved founders.

    Case Study: How Venture for ClimateTech is Nurturing a More Inclusive Ecosystem

    After identifying high-potential, diverse, early-stage climate innovators, the Venture for ClimateTech team offers founders technical support over 30 weeks with everything from validating marketing opportunities to securing funding and building a robust team. 

    In just a year since launching, nine teams involved in its accelerator programs have secured more than $11 million in funding through grants and private investment, enabling them to double and in some cases triple in size. The innovations coming out of these programs include Mars Materials, which is commercializing technology that converts CO2 and biomass to thermoplastics, synthetic fibers, and carbon fibers. The technology also reduces carbon fiber production costs by 50%, which makes reducing CO2 emissions more viable for companies. 

    In an effort to influence the wider climate tech ecosystem, the team has engaged with more than 100 climate- and climate-curious investors across the globe about trends and opportunities, and also organized a summit attended by more than 700 people including investors, innovators, and industry leaders.

    “Our work over the last year has confirmed our conviction that great climate tech ideas are just waiting to be identified and supported,” said Chante Harris. “We  need to keep looking for them in less traditional places and give early-stage founders and those from underrepresented groups the boost they need to bring their products to life.”