Recovering Minerals from E-waste – E74

Great to chat with Megan O’Connor,  CEO and Co-founder of  Nth Cycle, a company that recovers and recycles critical minerals from waste materials for the clean energy transition! We discussed the very small amount of batteries that are recycled worldwide, the process of recovering the minerals for the battery manufacturing supply chain, how Nth Cycle can help reduce the carbon footprint of the mining industry and more!

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The unedited podcast transcript is below

James McWalter: Hello today we’re speaking with Meghan O’Connor CEO and co-founder of Nth Cycle! Welcome to podcast Meghan.

Meghan O’Connor:  Thank you, thank you for having me today.

James McWalter: Brilliant I suppose to start could you tell us a little bit about Nth Cycle.

Meghan O’Connor:  Yes, absolutely Nth Cycle’s mission is to really enable a very clean, streamlined supply of the critical minerals we need for the energy transition. So we’re really trying to recover as much cobalt nickel. Ah, really the main battery materials. We’ll need from any type of feedstock. So we’re looking at mining in the different ores we have around North America as well as the spent materials. So like the laptops the cell phones even the ev packs that come off the road trying to recycle those to get those materials back into the supply chain.

James McWalter: And what drove the initial decision to start Nth Cycle .

Meghan O’Connor:  Let’s see it was back in 2014 when I was in graduate school actually um, the technology itself was invented over 12 years ago by my co-founder Chad Vecitis who was a Full-time professor at harvard university and he had developed it actually for a waste remediation strategy in fourteen I saw him give a talk on this technology and I thought wow that is a very different way of remediating different wastewaters than and I had seen before and around the same time that that happened. I was also getting very very interested in circular economy electronics waste recycling and really reading more and more into the projected supply chain delays as well as shortages that were you know, projected for 10155 years on the line with respect to critical materials and how that was going to impact.

James McWalter: So.

Meghan O’Connor:  The energy transition long term and I was actually in the hallway when I was at yale university and 1 of the professors there was trying to put together what he called a green electronic summit and this is where he invited some of the folks from Apple dell um. You know all the big electronics and semiconductor companies. You can think of to yale to talk about the major sustainability issues they were seeing at a corporate level to try and help yale’s internal research direction and so this was completely closed to students and. I was very determined anyway to try and get into this meeting and so I banged down this professor’s door for about 3 weeks until they finally let me in as a scribe. So I sat there taking notes for for many many hours by hand because I couldn’t even use my laptop but it was totally worth it to. Be the fly in the wall and to hear you know the real sustainability issues that all of these corporates. You know, truly saw coming down the line and over and over again I kept hearing you know waste management and recycling is is very much needed and will become an even larger issue right? as. More cell phones come out of consumers hands as more evs come off the road. This is just going to be a growing problem that we currently have no solution to and the main reason that is is that there’s really no ah economic way to recycle these materials the other problem that I kept hearinging over and over again was supply chain.

Meghan O’Connor:  Delays and management of that and how they saw these huge supply gaps coming down the line and how you know where are we going to get all this material from especially when you know the ev Boom boom happens because they think these were very early adopters of of that belief and so.

James McWalter: And.

Meghan O’Connor:  You know I walked at that meeting thinking like how has nobody developed a solution to not only recycle these materials and really develop a rigorous waste management strategy while also pulling out these metals. You know, very economically to put them back into the supply chain to help create a secondary source of all these materials that are very much needed. And so from there I actually you know walked into my ph d advisor’s office I said I’m going to change my project. You know I saw this chad vaidis guy with this really interesting technology. Um I think you could really work for mental recycling and so I asked both of them if I could work on it and that’s what I changed my ph d project to and worked on for the next. Ah, three years and so that’s yeah.

James McWalter: That’s absolutely fascinating. Yeah, and and so so so what point you know before that meeting that you’re ascribing within or during the Ph D we were like okay this is actually a company that I personally want to build versus a technology that maybe somebody else can you know, utilize to solve this problem.

Meghan O’Connor:  Yeah I got you know as I was developing the technology and and scaling it for you know metals recycling over the 3 years finishing out my Ph D you know I kept thinking about that same question of of you know we could go and you know license this to 1 of the you know big companies that was in the room. But. Felt like it could have so much more potential if I brought it out into the world on my own and and I always knew I didn’t want to take the traditional path of of you know, becoming a professor or going into a standard industry position after my Ph D and so I think sort of the combination of the things really drove me to just take the risk and the leap into entrepreneurship to try and at least um. You know, commercialize it for the greater Good instead of just having 1 company sort of use it for their recycling purposes.

James McWalter: And in terms of the core technology. Ah you know as you kind of developed it into commercial applications. Did you have to pivot did some of your early suppositions not pan out. What was that process like.

Meghan O’Connor:  Absolutely I think every entrepreneur will say that they’ve had some kind of pivot for us. You know the technology works for many different metals across the periodic table so we actually started the company off with a huge focus on rare Earth so where earths are another. Ah, group of critical minerals that are in the magnets and big winter turbines and they’re the the magnets that power the motors and eves so they’re using similar technologies that you find batteries but the rare earth supply chain is quite difficult to get into because the majority of it is over in Asia. And so while we have sort of the end of life feedstocks here. We learned very early on that it might not be the best market for us at least to start off so that’s that was our first I wouldn’t say big pivot but definitely a pivot to a different feedstock to start with which is the lithium I batteries I mentioned.

James McWalter: And so the I guess in terms of let’s say you’re so where are you sourcing those that feedstock today like what are the primary sources and ah how again I guess how has that changed over the years

Meghan O’Connor:  Yeah, so we we primarily work with folks collecting different types of scrap in this case, Scrap lithium I and batteryteries. So they can come from directly from some of the oems if they’re if they’re they have manufacturing defects or things like that. Or if they’re just simply cell phones and laptops that consumers bring into like a best buy or any of the sort of drop off locations for your electronics. It ends up at a big recycler and then we partner with them to actually chemically recycle that back to the individual metals that go into manufacturing again.

James McWalter: So It’s a ton of kind of working to find partnerships where basically these yeah Lithium ion batteries are moving into like a waste stream and there might be some existing recycling but it’s not fit for purpose or just some sounds of it often. No recycling whatsoever and so your primary I Guess. Customer In this case is the ah you know those companies who are doing the recycling or trying to dispose of the waste in some way.

Meghan O’Connor:  Exactly exactly less than five percent of of lithium I batteries are recycled worldwide and the folks in the United states at least who are you know electronics forcycles and doing air quotes are just legally allowed to collect them and then basically find a home for them which sadly the vast majority of the time is in Landfills. And so yeah, we’re helping them to to find a better home bike actually being able to chemically recycle not just collect and ship to a landfill but actually chemically fully recycle them back into a used product again.

James McWalter: And so let’s say the ah you know you get a shipment in lithiumy batteries into your facility. What is the process. So and what can you share about I Guess the the kind of core ip that you’ve developed.

Meghan O’Connor:  Yeah, no great question. So so we work with folks that take the batteries and they shred them down into this material. That’s called black Mass. It’s a very generic name but it really looks like black mass looks like salt water and it contains all the valuable metals right? It contains the cobalt The nickel.

James McWalter: And.

Meghan O’Connor:  And then some graphite which is the anode of a battery so we take that black mass and we put it through our process which is called electro extraction and you can think about it as an electrified Britta Filter. So It’s a carbon filter that we push an electrical current across and while we’re pushing the dissolved black mass through. Electal current helps select or recover the individual metals out at that specific voltage. So That’s how we’re able to selectively remove the metals that we want while the rest of the stuff goes through to the next stage.

James McWalter: And so the the filter I suppose what is the kind of Ma material to use for the filter and can they be reused and I guess then the other kind of major input is electricity itself and so I suppose how electric electrically intensive is the process.

Meghan O’Connor:  Yes, so the filters can be reused. They are made out of a carbon material and the electricity inputs actually are the lowest part of our total operating cost. So it’s It’s a very very efficient process in terms of how much electricity put in to turn that metal into a valuable product.

James McWalter: I Love this and and and so then for a I guess a battery manufacturer um like those are your primary kind of customers on the other side then is is the case.

Meghan O’Connor:  Yes, yes, we do make a product that can be put back into the battery manufacturing supply chain. Exactly.

James McWalter: And are a lot of those like onshore or you’re then kind of moving into a more globalized supply chain I Guess where are mostly these Lithium iron batteries being built.

Meghan O’Connor:  Yes, so the US and North american in general is building out facilities to to create and manufacture cathodes. We’re still a few years away from that. So the majority of the material is moved um, offshore to europe at the moment. But.

James McWalter: And.

Meghan O’Connor:  Yes, the the goal is to keep all this material sort of in the North american supply chains as we continue to grow out and invest in our own you know, entire supply chain and the manufacturing that goes along with all the various steps to create you know the batteries that you see you know once you drive your eb around.

James McWalter: And I was going to the earlier mention you have of circular economy is there any limit to how many times your process could recycle a given material. Um and you know can I actually could get circularly back into the economy each time.

Meghan O’Connor:  I love that question because that is where we got our name from so end cycle um is right unlimited amount of times we can recycle this material. You know as many times as we can get up back to our process and so yes, in theory you can recycle Metals. You know an unlimited end amount of times. Um, so that’s what’s so great about it is once we have enough material. You know the goal is to truly enable a decrease in the the total mining that we have to do around the world.

James McWalter: Yeah, and actually that was going to my next question about how you think this will affect the mining industry writ large you know when I think about the different industries that need to Decarbonize. You know there are some that are moving pretty quickly and and I think about energy and transport to a certain extent. Some that are kind of in the middle which is a lot of the kind of food system and then you have the very hard kind of last togo industries and I think you know aviation and mining are probably chief among Them. How do you think about how your how end cycles kind of process will potentially help decarbonize mining.

Meghan O’Connor:  Yes I think I think mining has you know a very negative connotation for good reason right? that the technologies and the the processes they use today are very dirty. They are very carbon intensive like you said, um and a lot of the you know mining space has has seen as you know, not really wanting to move forward and and evolve and. Um, Sadly, we do need to mine more material. We simply do not have enough coal to nickel and all the other critical minerals needed. You know within the waste streams that we have um to be able to continue on this path to clean, um to a clean energy economy so we do need to think rethink about mining and that’s you know the other side of NTHcycles business is sustainable. Mining. Actually pulling these metals out of the ground in a much more sustainable way with a much lower carbon footprint. So we can go on site with these mine operators help them pull the cobalt and the nickel out of the ground and we can reduce their carbon footprint by seventy five percent so no more of these very hazardous chemicals or anything that you know. Is is traditionally thought of when you when you think of mining.

James McWalter: That’s that’s absolutely fascinating and I guess we’re also in this kind of ah massive acceleration in the amount of lithium ion batteries needed and obviously evs are emergent. Everybody has a mobile device or most people have a mobile device in their in their pocket everything from drones to many other use cases are using these type of batteries. And so I guess how do you think about the kind of addressable Market how that how that that is expanding and how that affects your business long-term.

Meghan O’Connor:  Yes, yes, So so the market is quite large I mean with the the amount of batteries that are needed again to to fully electrify and and move us forward to this clean energy economy the market just just grows astronomically over the next 10 years but for recyclers. In particular, we’re sort of 8 to 10 years behind any massive growth in manufacturing because we have to wait for all those packs to come off the road. So The average you know, expected lifetime say for a Tesla is 8 to 10 years. They’re they’re estimating and so we have to wait for those to come back out of the consumer’s hands and into the recycling market to see that so we see sort of a delayed bump.

James McWalter: So.

Meghan O’Connor:  Um, in terms of our market growth. But if you look at the total sort of critical minerals market in general and not just the the fraction that goes into batteries I mean it is you know 1 hundred and sixty 7 billion dollars by 2030 it is you know that’s how much material will need for this for this transition.

James McWalter: Absolutely massive I guess 1 of the issues when I’ve talked to other companies who are trying to replace or recycle commodities in some way in in a way that’s less’s carbon intensive or fully decarbonized. There’s often this kind of challenge between ah, getting to price parity versus you know the the status quo. How do you think about the pricing of like what is I suppose like ah like a perfect case for encycle down the road is price parity a name or is the fact that it is a recycled material. There is value in that feature in of itself means that price parity is I guess less important.

Meghan O’Connor:  Yeah, so electro extraction in general can reduce the overall cost of of pulling these metals whether it’s out of you know end-of-life batteries or out of the ground and and new mining operations by fifty percent or more and so we are very cost competitiveive with the traditional technologies and on top of that. You know it is a recycled material so there is a little bit more demand for that type of material in general I wouldn’t say it’s ah, there’s any kind of monetary Value. You can put to that quite yet. But we are starting to see more and more movement especially in the commodities trading space of folks wanting and. Being able or being willing I should say to pay a higher price for recycled content especially in in the Automotive space.

James McWalter: And where you have to today you know in terms of like the size of facility. The amount of processing you can do in a typical day or year or whatever the kind of relevant frequency and I guess what’s the kind of plans over the next yeah 12 to eighteen months.

Meghan O’Connor:  Yeah, so right now we actually just moved into a 12000 square foot facility so this is our headquarters just outside of Boston massachusetts on the North shore. So we’re very excited we yes they get up and running there.

Meghan O’Connor:  Um, and we actually will be at our we’re still in the scaling process in terms of our technology development and we’ll be at our full commercial scale in Q One of 2022 so at that point we’ll be able to process about 6 metric tons of battery waste per day.

James McWalter: And if you considered licensing the technology um with other kind of partners globally um versus kind of having it all under your roof in in your kind of initial facility and then subsequent facilities.

Meghan O’Connor:  Yeah, so our actual business model is more of a tolling model so we’ll actually go on site with these various customers because again 1 of the largest challenges with batteries in particular is that it’s a very distributed form of waste and it’s very hazardous to ship all this material to 1 location. So.

James McWalter: And.

Meghan O’Connor:  I’m sure you know we can all think of the videos that we saw of these batteries sort of spontaneously combusting right? and so you can imagine when they’re of a lot of defects and they’re at their end of life and they’re being transported in a truck and they’re being jostled all around a lot of safety issues. You know can can can come up and so the value of Encycls technology is not only in.

James McWalter: And red.

Meghan O’Connor:  The you know greenhouse gas reduction and the cost reduction but also in the modularity so we can actually go on site to wherever this waste are located so saving an entire transportation step which also has you know a carbon impact and process that material right there and pull out these products which are then you know much lower volume much higher Value. You know, much easier to transport to that final stage of of the refinement before it goes into manufacturing and so here again, we’ll be on site with these customers and we’ll charge a fee per Kilogram of of say battery waste that we process for them. And so we have thought about the licensing model. But again the real value. You know we can bring to this feedstock in particular is is being on site and operating for those partners.

James McWalter: And I believe you recently raised a round of Capital. Um, you know you’re I’m sure talking to tons of investors some who I’m sure earns Yeah, understand the space but I’m sure there’s also a lot of generalist investors and vcs who may be a little bit less familiar with the space. You know what? what are the elements that they found most compelling as part of those conversations.

Meghan O’Connor:  Um, yeah I think our investors were not only impressed with the technology and how we were you know the technology allowed us to come up with a completely different business model right? This very distributed modular approach. Instead of having to raise you know hundreds of millions of dollars to fill out this 1 facility for 1 feedstock like you see in the battery recycling space right? now you know our technology can go out and process really any type of scrap that has cobalt and nickel in it and I think they really loved the diversification that we could bring to the table and the overall mission of again, not trying to focus on on 1 feedstock because. You know recycling lithiumine batteries is a very much needed a space to be in. But even if we were tocycle 1 hundred percent of lithium ion batteries in 2030. It would still only be about ten percent of the total metals for cobalt and nickels specifically that will need you know for the projected demand so we need to look at you know. All the different feedsocks across the entire so value chain and think okay, where can we get that other you know ninety percent of metal that we’ll need if it can’t come from from spent lithy mine batteries and so that’s really what end cycle I think brought to the table that was quite different from our competitors and even some of our partner facilities that we work with is. You know we’re really trying to take a holistic view of this and I think you know that combined with the team and and really our passion for the space was was what really sold them.

James McWalter: And that’s absolutely fascinating and and I guess there’s a couple different other kind of tailwinds that are potentially kind of would come up when as I was in the research into into encycl and into the space and I guess 1 is you know postco there are tons of concerns around ah supply chains. Um, and. Even supply chains that have some sort of national security element right? So chips but lithiumyon batteries are arguably becoming part of ah you know like a national security point point of view as well. How do you think about how like en cycle intersects with some of those concerns some of those tailwinds around. Tighter supply chain supply chains that you know national economies that have a large technological yeah use case are kind of dependent on.

Meghan O’Connor:  Yeah, absolutely we hear all the time that right? This is a big national security issue for for lithium mine batteries but also for a lot of the materials that are used in the defense space for a lot of the the technology that’s used there as well and and you know having. You know the pandemic impact that even more I think just shown a light on it. You know, even brighter that you know we really are truly almost 1 hundred percent dependent on overseas metal supply chains and we really need to start looking and investing at Technologies here to bring. Not only the manufacturing back. But also the refining capacity because that’s really the biggest pain point that we’re trying to solve is that you know the United states and north america in particular just really didn’t invest in the refining capacity that is needed to bring all the manufacturing back here because where even if we had battery manufacturer. We’d still have to get the metals from Overseas. There’s multiple parts in that supply chain that I think you know we’re really riding the tailwinds of of of you know the government is starting to realize industry is starting to realize that oh hey this is and a really big deal and it’s coming a little bit faster than I think folks thought and people are starting to you know think. Think a little bit more strategically about where we get those materials from and what types of technologies. You know they’re willing to invest in even if you know it is earlier stage than what traditional you know investors would look for especially in climate tech.

James McWalter: Yeah I think you were speaking a little bit about this in your recent techcrunch presentation I believe that you came runner up in that just last month I guess what was that experience like.

Meghan O’Connor:  Why for Tech Crunch. It was great. I mean that audience was phenomenal and we’ve never really been able to pitch to a global audience before so that in itself was very exciting for us and I think just the coaching and and ah, really all of the fabulous people that we were in the competition with was just really wonderful. It was It was. About 8 weeks of really intense training sessions to to get ready for that. So that was you know something on its own. But yeah, once we got to that day. It was just it was really exciting to be able to just you know tell the story of end cycle to as many people as we could possibly reach.

James McWalter: And I guess probably helpful from a kind of challenge point of view as well. Um, as you kind of scale up I’m sure you need you know, very very smart people across a lot of different. Um you know domains to really make end cycle bring an end cycle to that next level and having that kind of global form potentially helps with that as well.

Meghan O’Connor:  Absolutely absolutely the team I think makes or breaks a company I think you could have the best technology in the world. But if you don’t have the right team behind you. You’re never going to execute on that on that vision and so yes I think that too again just telling the encycle story having as many people whether they’re investors or potential Employees. You know here. You know what? we’re all about and what we’re trying to do or the next several years was was really exciting and we did actually get a lot of inbound interest from that So I was you know, really really happy with that.

James McWalter: And so when I think about how kind of lithium ion batteries and the use cases for them. You know a lot of them are in our mobile devices and the large yeah mobile devices manufacturers apple samsung etc. Basically there’s a kind of system of planned obsolescence. You know there’s always a new phone coming out the the next year or the next quarter. And people are encouraged to yeah, replace their phones. Ah what is your kind of general view on that that form of planned obsolescence is that sustainable I mean obviously what encycle can do is dramatically reduce the the cost of that on on society and the cost of that from a waste point of view. Um, but what about that as a practice are we going to see moves to kind of move away from that type of business model.

Meghan O’Connor:  I hope so so could say about that I I really hope so I do not think it’s sustainable I think you know, ah you know planning these for these devices to die after 2 years at best for these phones is is. Horribly unsustainable, especially when you think about the design changes that have happened even over the past five years right? I remember you know back when I had my first couple of cell phones. You could take the battery out you could change the battery you had you know the removable parts of the phone and now if you look at phones like you know I have a phone here.

Meghan O’Connor:  And I can’t remove the battery out of it. You know so that if you think about how that translates to recycling that’s you know, an excessive amount of labor that goes into actually disassembling the phone because you can’t simply pop the battery out so they actually shred the whole phone together which makes it you know. Ah, orders of Magnitude more difficult to actually recycle and so if we could go back and you know manufacture these phones and think about I like to call it design for disassembly it would make recycling easier. We’d be able more of these components back into the supply chain instead of a lot of them just ending up in the trash.

James McWalter: Ah.

Meghan O’Connor:  Because they’re so difficult to disassemble. That’s really I think the the major challenge on the mechanical separation side I think there are people literally using their hands to separate these. There’s no automated way to do this yet unfortunately and then in every phone there’s seventy five different elements so that makes it very comfortable.

Meghan O’Connor:  Folks like us to be able to separate individually all those 75 elements out some of them are metal Some of them are not and so if we were able to separate out these different components if they change the manufacturing design. We’d be able to just pull out the Lithium ion battery and then the magnets that have the rarersenum and really be able to separate out those those individual component streams I like to call them. Which you know takes it from 75 elements to down to maybe 5 which is you know much more reasonable and much more efficient to recycle.

James McWalter: And I guess thinking about to that meeting. You sat in on 4 or 5 years ago whatever maybe compared to those conversations you overheard or you were sitting in on then versus the conversations with the oems and these large corporations I’m sure you’re having today has the messaging changed are they getting the need to change some of their manufacturing processes. Or is it pretty slow going and and you know they’re not close to where you need to get to.

Meghan O’Connor:  Yes, so I think the consumer electronic brands are definitely moving a little bit faster I think they see the value in it having a lower carbon fiber material and in that transparency that comes along with you know, really tracking where the Michelle comes from so I think.

James McWalter: Button.

Meghan O’Connor:  And and a lot of that is coming from consumers right? I think a lot like Apple and dall I think are leading the charge in that sense of of really trying to be more transparent of where you know the aluminum comes from where the cobalt comes from um, right because people don’t want a phone that you know the cobalt content comes from the democratic. To the democratic republic of congo where you know there were so children mining that material and so I think you’re starting to see a little bit more movement there and then in the automotive space. You know you’re starting to see them think about okay, what are we going to do when you know they made they’ve all made these massive announcements if they’re going to be fully electric by I don’t know 2045.

Meghan O’Connor:  30 whatever the number is for that specific oem but you know what are they going to start to do with all this waste. You know, very difficult to handle waste. You know 10 years down the line so they’re a little slower because I think their problem is a little further pushed out than like you said right cell phones in the last 2 years so the electronics manufacturers have to think a little bit faster on that. But.

James McWalter: And.

James McWalter: Right.

Meghan O’Connor:  Um, they definitely are are both. You know, definitely seeing the urgency of the problem now.

James McWalter: I Guess what is the kind of role of the consumer in this you know I think there’s often this kind of pressure where people across the you know the consumer side the business side. The government side often. It’s like oh well, you know consumers made better choices than business would respond to that and Or. Consumers Will you know like organizations will say Well yeah, business are pushing upon them ah products that are just you know net bad for the planet and you know consumer choice is somewhat limited.. How do you think about? Let’s say the role of Consumer choice in yeah, reducing this as a problem.

26:34.78 Meghan O’Connor:  Yeah I think from a couple of different angles right? You can choose where you want to get your phone so you know do your research you know the what companies are actually using recycled content or trying to use recycled content or at least have goals of reusingcycled recycled content by. 202055 because there are companies out there that are actively trying to work on this and then from the other side you know you know if um, you know plans obsolescence doesn’t go away and you have to get rid of your phone in 2 years right you know truly try to find a place where it can be Recycled. Don’t throw it in the trash I can’t tell you the number of people that I talked to that still don’t realize you have.

James McWalter: No.

Meghan O’Connor:  Recycle e-waste. We’re like oh yeah, just you know, throw it in the regular trash and I’m like no don’t do that? Um, because it’s in at least in the United states right? It’s it’s a very state by state thing in terms of the regulation. There’s no sort of federal regulation that says you have to recycle ewaste. Unfortunately so you know.

James McWalter: All right.

Meghan O’Connor:  I Think consumers you know, need to take that upon themselves which I think Education is a big part of it of of teaching people where to take these devices and but them figuring out you know, take these is a huge part of it because if if they don’t return them in and they just sit like like I know my parents have.

Meghan O’Connor:  You know a couple cell phones sitting in their sock drawer because they didn’t know what to do with them right until I helped them figure out where to take them. Um, you know if they’re sitting in a door somewhere. We can’t we can’t recycle them so they’re just really lost content to us at that point.

James McWalter: Absolutely and I’m definitely guilty as well of having the random drawer full of random batteries and the old phones and you know and in theory right? You’re going to bring them to the right place. Ah, but you know but the greatest will in the world often. We make those mistakes and it it is quite difficult because. Like it should be I don’t know I guess any electronic device just have like a big sticker. It says you know you’re in New York State or you’re in Massachusetts and you know here’s the closest place to your address. Ah try to reduce somewhat. But again it is to your point. Um, you know the consumer does have to take some role in that as well.

Meghan O’Connor:  Yes, and it should be. It should be easier I Hope we get to that point of where it’s it’s It’s very obvious and and very easy for people to figure out where those go because you’re right part of it is. There’s just really no communication on it in general.

James McWalter: And I guess as you look across you you know, but your space as well as I guess circular economy approaches and in general where would you like to see more innovation I mean I’m sure there’s a bit of an all of the above like answer that question but specifically like where could you know? smart people who want to start companies or join companies doing smart things where are the areas that you kind of. Point them towards besides nth Cycle. Of course.

Meghan O’Connor:  Yes I think ah plastics recycling Um I can tell you how much I Wish we had a better solution for plastics recycling right? I mean I as try as we might to to.

James McWalter: Ah.

Meghan O’Connor:  To go away from single use plastic. There is still plastic in so many of our devices in things that are packaged and sent to us and you know soap from the store and things that you somewhat can avoid um you know it’s sadly like even if you put it in the recycling bin.

James McWalter: Ah.

Meghan O’Connor:  The the chances are that it’s not recycled right? So I Hope that somebody is out there and I’m sure there are very very smart people like you said out there developing a much cleaner more efficient way to sort the plastic which is I think challenge number 1 and then actually getting it to be recycled and and back into products and then I’ll say the other 1 closer to myspace is. I think I mentioned this a little bit before but you know right now even for Ev packs and consumer Electronics. You know, part of the recycling challenge is that all of these components are stuck together so you can imagine when recyclers get these massive ev packs in right? They’re the packs.

James McWalter: Ah.

Meghan O’Connor:  And then you have the modules and then you have the individual cells like somebody is manually standing there in this you know giant suit so they don’t get electrocuted pulling out these cells 1 by 1 it takes you know, basically a whole shift 1 shift to take up our 1 pack if it’s a big enough pack so you can imagine once we get to you know the massive eve the messes of evs that we want to. That is going to be a huge bottleneck so I hope somebody is out there and you know if anybody’s thinking about this. This is a great opportunity to to figure out how to automate that. How do we efficiently start to to depack these cells and and even for consumer electronics right? How do we do that you know Automated. So I say those are the 2 big things that come.

James McWalter: Yeah, so I love that as an idea and it’s definitely something that as I know talked to a lot of people or never researched people for this podcast I think there are people working on plastic actually. Ah.

Meghan O’Connor:  Top of mind.

James McWalter: And julia from sway is going to be talking I think right before this episode comes out. Um they’re doing ah like an algae- based ah plastic replacement for sing these plastics and we’ve got a few other people kind of working on like plastic substitutes. Although the recycling piece is still quite difficult but that separation piece absolutely and ah, we’ve also talked to some people in the more in the food wayside. And even kind of sorting out food waste into composting and so on these are all just very very difficult things. It needs a combination of both mechanical biochemical and maybe other processes as well. And so yeah, you kind of it sounds to really tackle that problem you need smart people coming from. A lot of different disciplines and perspectives to try to build out a process that works at scale very good and so yeah as I kind of dug into your background I almost fascinated. You know how people’s was fascination with the environment and with I guess sustainability with large starts.

Meghan O’Connor:  Um, absolutely.

James McWalter: Yeah, is there anything that you can point to in your kind of early early days. Um, that got you excited about this space.

Meghan O’Connor:  Yeah, so I think when I was an undergrad at union college in Upstate new york I in general they’re a very environmentally conscious school and so I think just being there and having you know all the clubs and and just having a really eco-conscious. Campus to live on was like sort of the first thing that sort of hit me is like wow like I’ve never been around this before and this is pretty cool but then the research that I did there I was it was a chemistry major and I worked specifically in an environmental chemistry lab and you know my professor and just everything she could teach me about you know how.

James McWalter: And.

Meghan O’Connor:  Chemicals are transported through the environment and how it affects like different ecosystems whether it’s human Animal. You know, whatever you know the being is that’s being affected but just really learning about how every single thing that we make you know has an impact on this world and and trying to figure out how we can. Sort of mitigate that or at least try it to stop it from happening trying to create a solution without causing a whole bunch of other issues along with it was just super fascinating to me and that’s you know, doing those projects you know was great and I loved looking at you know how these molecules are transport the environment and can affect. You know, very small scale things but it. It didn’t really um, satisfy my desire to to make an impact at a very large scale and so I actually transferred um at once I graduated from Undergraduate I went into civil and environmental engineering so still doing a lot of that and like environmental chemistry work that I really fell in love with. But at the engineering Scale. You know you can make a much bigger impact in a much shorter period of time and so that’s really where I fell in love with you know all the different technologies and how they can solve some of these really large sustainability challenges in general.

James McWalter: And and thinking then about let’s say you came out of a University background with a technology designed as part of your Ph D with these amazing advisors who became your early team members. But I suppose I’ve talking to a lot of people who’ve developed. Cool Technologies in Academia and the technology then never really gets commercialized.. There’s kind of this breakpoint like in the kind of space between academic kind of applications and then commercializations and sometimes it’s down to funding the funding environment’s too opaque or sometimes you know the. Right? Kind of operator person coming from start of world doesn’t speak to the right academic coming from the kind of technical side. What could be done to kind of create a better pipeline of companies coming out of universities.

Meghan O’Connor:  Oh that’s such a great question and I and I see that all the time and it’s something that we suffered with right I mean my co-founders and I are very academic. Um and you know as best as I could to learn all the business stuff. There was still certain things that I just couldn’t grasp fast enough.

James McWalter: Er.

Meghan O’Connor:  And so I think for us it was really finding that right partner which is not always the easiest right? Like you said finding that right person who understood the type of business model that we needed and could help me with the financial side of things not to mention like learning how to fundraise the right way and what types of capital you would like at certain stages I think. Something that I found is really really interesting at least the universities that I went to was a lot of times they have really great competitions internally where they pair some technical folks with folks from the business school who are very interested in entrepreneurship and climate in general and building those teams with people with you know all the right skill sets coming together. Um, and trying to start a company that way I think has been really interesting and I have seen a lot of success stories of that of those of those folks and those groups that have won these competitions going out into the world and and creating these successful companies. So I think that’s been I Think the the biggest thing that I’ve seen work. Um. If if you’re sort of in still in University and and looking for folks to help you sort of build out the team in the right way. But for us, you know we really just went out and and I tried to meet as many people as I could tried to Network tried to tell our story and the more you tell your story and the more you harness that in.

James McWalter: And.

Meghan O’Connor:  Um, you will find people who also fall in love with it and believe in you and believe in the team and and you’ll find you’ll find the right fit.

James McWalter: Yeah I think of universities have this great potential for matchmaking right? You know people find the the people they phone love with and people find you know business partners and and some of the best friends of their lives and all these kind of things and that yeah I love this model that that you mentioned of the business school and the the more technical people are are otherwise kind of. Meeting up and working on projects together because that kind of cross-pollination you know allows pretty interesting things to potentially be emergent and I guess you know you your came straight into you know from mind understanding. This is the first kind of company I guess you worked at I know it’s and it’s also you know you you found that it you’re the ceo.

Meghan O’Connor:  Exactly exactly.

James McWalter: What are some of the things you’ve learned as Ceo that I guess you found a bit surprising once you kind of were kind of building out the company right.

Meghan O’Connor:  Oh so many things. Um I think 1 h r in my mind was something that was not going to be difficult and oh boy that is that is not far is not easy. So.

James McWalter: Paper.

Meghan O’Connor:  Think next time I do this or if I had to do it again I would hire you know an external firm to help me with that almost immediately because there’s so many things you can want on that side. Um, in terms of payroll whatnot but the other thing I think was was you know, just really finding the right support system finding the right investors finding the right cheerleaders.

James McWalter: Okay.

James McWalter: No.

Meghan O’Connor:  Was I knew would be important but I didn’t realize how important right? Those people are really there to support you but also to go and tell other people. How great you are and what the company’s mission is and so that that networking piece is just so much bigger than I ever thought it would be so I think those 2 things are the first things come to mind. But I think I learned something new every single day.

James McWalter: Yeah, no, absolutely yeah, no so and it’s funny like I was at a previous company and our 10 to tent hire was actually a full-time hr person which is pretty pretty unusual I think but it was a fully remote company. This is a number of years ago and it actually really helped massively particularly for.

Meghan O’Connor:  Um, and the challenges that come along with.

James McWalter: Remote company because you could start to have a single person to kind of like start to figure out like what Ra remote culture could look like and all those elements and and then also the day to day of yeah making sure everyone gets paid and and all those kind of things. Um and the other bit around the I suppose that that networking piece is kind of fascinating I think as people are trying to.

Meghan O’Connor:  Um, and Then. Um, but.

James McWalter: Build companies until they kind of get I guess it’s like this kind of wedge is kind of filter where it seems like nobody’s returning your calls. Nobody’s like answering anything. Um, you’re like you know you’re looking around and everybody seems to be raising money and everybody seems to be like you know, getting featured on different things and then it often just takes like 1 or 2 people to. Make a little bit of a bet on you. You know make that in shirt that you mentioned and then all of a sudden. It’s like oh like it’s it’s kind of easy. You know all of a sudden and and I guess I think a lot of people and I definitely don’t think you’re in this case but I think a lot of people forget how difficult that early filter. Processes um, until they get into you have that next step where they have a few investors or a few people senior in the industry to kind of vouch for them.

Meghan O’Connor:  Oh absolutely I could not agree more again. This is our fourth year and we are now just starting to gain traction and to really you know, go out and talk to customers and folks like yourself right? so. Took us many many many years to to like you said filter through as many people as we could to find the right support system and the right cheerleaders that we needed and and I think a lot of it was you know we finally were able to get you know, clean energy ventures and that you know wonderful backing by them that led us to different mentors and and team members and so I think. Like you said you just have to really you get through that part. It is not easy I will say it was a really long 3 years but you know you get to that point and you find those people who who truly get and understand and believe in what you’re doing like it’ll just start to happen and it’s ah it’s a great time.

James McWalter: Absolutely yeah and I’m really excited for you know what end cycle is going to do in the future I suppose before we finish off is there anything I should have asked you about but did not.

Meghan O’Connor:  Um, well we are always looking for great team members. So if anyone is interested. Please feel free to to contact us on our website at Encycle Dot Com We’re looking for some really great engineers and some business development folks. So I would love to hear from you if you’re at all interested in in end Cycle’s mission.

James McWalter: And we’ll include your careers page in the in the show notes as well. Ah Meghan O’Connor:   This has been absolutely brilliant. Thank you so much.

Meghan O’Connor:  Thank you so much for having me today bye bye.

Responsible Venture Capital – E72

Great to chat with Zécca J. Lehn, General Partner of Responsibly Ventures, a PreSeed VC Impact Fund, backing remarkable teams in both sustainability and social good! We discussed the process to become an accredited investor, how VC can be aligned with sustainability, the general process for evaluating a company, the difference between venture backable vs venture geared and more!

Download Podcast Here:

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The unedited podcast transcript is below

James McWalter: Hello today. We’re speaking with Zecca Lehn general partner at Responsibly Ventures, welcome to podcast Zecca, brilliant I supposed to start, will you tell us a little bit about Responsibly Ventures.

Zecca Lehn: Thank you So nice to be here. Thank you.

Zecca Lehn: Ah, yes, so the fund responsibly. It’s a preseed vc impact fund align with both direct and indirect impact. I like to have every deal have an aspect of sustainability or social good aligned with the fund.

James McWalter: And what drove that initial decision to start the fund. Okay.

Zecca Lehn: Well, ah you know I’ve been I’ve been ambitious to be a professional investor for some 20 plus years and have invested in sustainability for a long time. And for me this was ah, kind of a natural step after having started as an angel investor or an impact focus angel investor a few years back and so starting a fund just felt like the natural progression I just love every minute of it.

James McWalter: Like absolutely and this was 1 of the kind of amazing like opportunities when you start a fund that is the types of kind of boat on the limited partner side but also the kind of founders side of things. So How you found you know, like building those relationships finding. Like really smart founders to speak to and what’s your kind of general process for that.

Zecca Lehn: Well I’m learning as I go and this is my first time to the rodeo as they put it and being a general partner a solo gp as an emerging fund manager to a first time fund is it’s a learning process. What I did first is I got engaged with the founder institute. They have ah an incredible program called the vc lab and it puts together a group of people around the world and each fund manager or group of fund managers helps build their thesis. 

Zecca Lehn: Ah, sort of pull the market get some feedback from potential customers or potential lps. They put you through this kind of brute force. Incredible! Incredibly difficult program that they kick people out if you just don’t hit certain benchmarks on a weekly basis and it’s I think it started maybe like five percent of us.

Zecca Lehn: Out of a thousand applicants got accepted of those. Let’s say 1 hundred and twenty funds or so I think there were remaining 10 funds after 2 months or 2 or 3 months and it was grueling. It was amazing though it was ah it was a great process. Probably 1 of the most difficult vc Boot camp style programs out there especially aligned with sustainability. Um, that’s kind of their their core their core goal right now.

James McWalter: It’s kind of this fascinating transition that I guess the venture world has gone through over the last kind of Decade or so where you know became very professionalized I guess in the ninety s you had you know the a 16 z’s and benchmark and into coas of the world kind of emerging as like those first kind of major funds. And then we started to see the kind of emergence of smaller mid tier funds especially ones that’re targeting either geographic regions or specific industries and that we’re seeing like this kind of a massive increase I guess in even more kind of micro-targeted funds. Um often driven by you know, solar gps or.

James McWalter: Ah, people who have you know particular perspective I’m thinking of the likes of Jason jacobs and my climate journey. You know, kind of I don’t think he ever had a right exactly he didn’t really have a kind of view when he started the podcast eventually be you know a fund manager but that’s kind of where he ended up and so yeah, it is this kind of fascinating.

Zecca Lehn: Rolling fund.

James McWalter: Period And so yeah I guess you know like when you when you were kind of looking at the space were you kind of like oh this is now changing in a way in a direction that I want to get involved in or I suppose what was that kind of thought process. Sure sure.

Zecca Lehn: Well okay I think it’s important to start like how did I get exposure to vc and sort of a lot of people use the term. How did you break into Vc I I kind of belly-flopped into Vc I I was actually working on in the quantitative finance side as a former data scientist I was working.

James McWalter: Right.

Zecca Lehn: For this proprietary firm that was investing quantitative strategies and I started engaging um with their division on a very very ad hoc basis to to dive into some more technical due diligence around the. Software the data platform etc and realize that venture Capital is quite fascinating and I tried to volunteer myself more for that and understand a little bit more about it and it just so happened that 1 of my colleagues at time gave me a.

James McWalter: And.

Zecca Lehn: Give me a book from Jason calacanis called angel um, and they said just read this book. You’ll love this book and I said oh I don’t know angel investing what that is and they just said you know, check it out readdit I ended up reading the audio book version 3 times and for the most part that that book gave me a great foundation in terms of understanding.

James McWalter: All right.

Zecca Lehn: What venture capital demands and what the landscape looks like and some of the signals that go into um what a founder may want to consider when they go out to raise early stage venture capital and um, it really just opened my eyes and and from that point I actually branched out and became accredited. It took a long time for. Myself and my family to get to that state and um and and just for those listeners that I’m not sure. But um, you know accreditation in the us is usually ah about 2 hundred thousand or 3 hundred thousand depending on your household for the last 2 years that’s the threshold Thecc sets. But then they also have an net asset. Basis of I think it’s a million plus they also have some new requirements which allow for finrabased brokers. Do someone to take the finra license for example and even be an unsponsored participant under finra I can’t remember the series number I’ll we’ll have to get that. But um. Yeah, you can become accredited now whereas for some 60 years the only way to become accredited was to have your corporation ah above five million net worth or your individual household etc. But it’s become more accessible long story long story short that happened just recently a couple months back.

James McWalter: Yeah. Very very exciting. Yeah, and I guess that kind of leveling or that ability for more people to kind of have access to what is you know and not an inconsiderable path to ah like wealth right that a lot of people have kind of taken advantage of because you know they had a high- paying job or them from family Welt and so On. I guess some of those doors have now opened a bit more for kind of a wider group and a more diverse group of people.

Zecca Lehn: Yes, exactly? yeah, it’s a good thing overall for the ecosystem. Ah, 1 thing that I have to say that’s positive about the move from the scc this this finra-based approach is that there’s. Quite a high ethical standard to you know pass these tests and there’s a lot of rigor that goes into financial modeling and all the rest. So the level of sophistication for those who choose to take a path say in the direction of finra are presumably going to not be dummies when they first get started. Whereas if you were to just say lower the bar all at once and say anyone can invest in any financial project. There could be unintended consequences I suppose if I had to just kind of look at it through the scc’s you know, lens for a moment. So I think the step that they’ve taken the. Pretty low barrier 500 dollars. Let’s say in a couple months of studying and you can if you’re really ambitious and you want to become a crowded investor participate in syndicates or funds etc. Um, it’s actually quite a good change in my opinion.

James McWalter: Yeah, this is hard balance because if you completely open to floodgates. You know you you have a ton of access to like really cool companies but you also have a ton of you know, pyramid schemes and all this kind of thing that are hard for I Guess a person who doesn’t have the time for due diligence to really process and I think that’s a lot of.

Zecca Lehn: Gap.

James McWalter: Piece and I’d love to hear you kind of thoughts on how you think about? you know the time or what’s I Guess your general process for evaluating a company.

Zecca Lehn: Oh okay, good question I was also going to give a shout- out to the reg cf side of things. The jobs act that changed made accredit they made access to early-stage deals available on these regulated crowdfunding platforms.

James McWalter: No.

Zecca Lehn: Which has also been a great advancement for the industry to allow retail investors to participate I’m not sure you know how much listeners want to know or know. But that’s also an avenue um, in terms of deals and in terms of way I’ve I’ve looked at my own angel investing over the last 2 3 years actually um, have invested about forty different companies I invested all through syndicates because I was a small angel investor to get started so I used that as an avenue because you can usually check kind of check less than say 5000 what they do is they pool these things together with other investors and you can invest with say 1 hundred and fifty. Plus people and maybe they raise 2 hundred thousand they have ah a fee on the the frontend. The the thing about these deals though. Just like you would get with regcf through a platform is you don’t necessarily have a deep view on diligence that the the manager the the platform gets when they select these deals. So you have to get kind of creative in terms of other deals. You’ve seen what’s in the marketplace you have to look at sort of reading more about the news of the company. You may be able to ask the questions to some of the the syndicate leads etc. But it’s not necessarily as involved as a fund manager would have in terms of looking at. Different deals. So what I chose to do instead to kind of level myself up to become an eventual venture capitalist was to work as a venture scout so working on an a non-exclusive basis with funds around the the us helped me to kind of go out into the marketplace and just.

James McWalter: And.

Zecca Lehn: Be able to talk with any founder that’s raising at any stage and say you know hey I want to learn about your company tell me about you. You know I do the you basically do the vetting and then as a scout the way that that’s going down a rabbit hole here. But. Ah, scout would basically take a percentage of carried interests under contract if there is an eventual exit so long story short that process of discovery from both the diligent side this more technical side but then also just from the the top level screen side. The market side. It’s it. Ever evolving process for myself. What I did is I I started out putting together about 30 different questions that were all very ah, kind of dry and very kind of force functioninges. We’ll say these types of questions there was 1 I would ask myself for almost a year looking at 1000 deals or something I would ask is this a.

James McWalter: Rise.

Zecca Lehn: Vitamin or is this a pain Killer or is this a pain killer with side effects and questions like this. They force your brain to kind of get realistic about what it is. You’re actually seeing like okay how big is this market. Um and write up a bit little bit about that. What’s what’s the defensibility of this actual strategy.

James McWalter: And.

Zecca Lehn: What are some attributes of the other startups out there and those types of types of questions help put yourself into a mindset where you become a little bit more skeptical about each situation to some degree and that’s a good thing in my opinion.

James McWalter: Absolutely and I I think going into depth is actually like super beneficial. You know to people you know we’re hoping to reach through the podcast and I say that because you know so many. There’s not that many like vcs in the world or Angel investors even in the world right? Like we’re talking you know hundreds of thousands of people. You know in a population of billions. And I feel like because it’s such a small group. You know there are like any small group ways of talking things that people in the group like just guess wears people outside the group. You know what was it.

Zecca Lehn: Yeah, it’s opaque.

James McWalter: It’s opaque and they’ll say the kind of embarrassing thing. It’s like going to you know the showing up at the party and everyone’s in you know suit and tie and you show up in ah or short or shorts or whatever maybe um, and so these kind of tradeoffs I Guess are this kind of lack of access to just.

Zecca Lehn: Patagonia vest.

Zecca Lehn: Yeah, it you can yeah it it can be. It can also be ah, a can. It can be a really good way into the space I wouldn’t disagree with you there. But I think.

James McWalter: Basic knowledge of how things work I think holds out way more people than we want because you know there’s a ton of smart people out there who would be amazing Vc scouts and I think that’s a great like route into this space and people are interested.

Zecca Lehn: Um, also just being working in a startup and understanding sort of like the operational side of a startup is also a tremendous way. There are so many ways that you can get exposure.. There’s not I think there’s it’s very unique to every person in my opinion I think it’s important to be open. And be accepting Obviously I get I Love going on podcasts and telling a little bit sharing knowledge I host host rooms on clubhouse all the time and try to be as candid about things as possible. But I think Also it’s important to recognize that everyone’s going to get a different experience on their way to where they want to go I don’t know that’s probably. Just my opinion I guess I think it’s also important what you said though too to be opaque less opaque if possible and and to be candid about some of the realities of of being a venture capital.

James McWalter: And absolutely and honestly like more you know people who’ve worked at startup who’ve been operators would in funds I think is generally in net benefit. You know there’s often I guess like this detachment between you know the founder trying to talk to. Ah, you know a vc especially like ah, an associate or junior associate who maybe you know is like 2 years out of their nba and so on right exactly and so I think I think again just having more ways of shared language shared experience I think is in general like this kind of net benefit.

Zecca Lehn: Someone that’s trying to impress the founder.

Zecca Lehn: Yeah, and back to your point I would say being a scout what that does do is it puts you into the mindset of what you don’t know very quickly and I think maybe junior vcs may sometimes get themselves into trouble where they. Want to sound smart. They want to impress people around them and they just don’t necessarily go in with that mindset of not knowing I have to say 1 thing I don’t think that that’s something you’ll get necessarily by being someone who’s scaled a company per se I think. Being inquisitive and being open-minded and being there to help on whatever regards it happens is a really useful mechanism or you know sort of strategy I think it’s a really great way to go and when I first got started as a scout at a particular I got a lot of pushback because I would go into meetings with. Founders who are you know? third-time founders telling me about what they’re working on and immediately asking about my background you know feeling that they’re a little bit defensive and um, that’s okay, actually it’s good because it put me into that state where I was having to be way more open to what I didn’t know and i. Consciously speaking I never put myself out into that position where I tried to pretend like I had advice to give and 1 thing about advice in general is in my experience is that it’s it’s easy to think that we’re. You know, adding value when we know something and that’s an immediate win to kind of suggestions but it’s it’s a lot harder and probably better to resist that urge to kind of like kind of put everything into a forcing function and give that quick advice etc and but rather to just ah set a point to. Statistics or point to broad ideas pointing people sort of in 1 direction versus the other without saying this is the direction you should take that aspect is something I had to learn myself and it’s been. Ah, it’s been a great tool and I still try to continue in that fashion just to. Just to be as supportive as I can and not go in with the assumption that what I’m going to say is should be steering someone towards something.

James McWalter: Right? I mean the hardest lessons are always aren’t true practice. Anyways, right? and so you know I think when I’ve managed teams and you know like ah that tookled me a while to be. You know, be somewhat of a a better manager to when you start off with but 1 of the things that I guess I’ve been learned. Managing different teams over the years is that sometimes I’d have like a direct you know Junior come and say okay I want to do this thing. Um, we we agree on the outcome that we’re looking for and they’re like I want to do it this way and as long as it’s you know it’s a week long experiment to kind of get there I would always be like yeah, go for it even if in the kind of back of my head I’m like hey i.

Zecca Lehn: That’s cool.

James McWalter: Pretty doubtful that this will work. But you know why not like like try it out and what’s amazing I think by giving that freedom if I just said like this is not going to work. They never learnt the underlying reasons why it didn’t work. They just had James given out and and and given an opinion and like it’s it’s disabling in some ways whereas if you give them the opportunity to grow.

Zecca Lehn: I Say either.

James McWalter: Like then the next time they’ll actually start to form the kind of thought patterns for why that first idea maybe didn’t work and like why the next idea has to be a little bit different.

Zecca Lehn: Right? That’s really wonderful. Yeah  I think that um I haven’t found that level of confidence in the founders because  I just try really again I just try to show as much support as I can and create ah but the only value I. Say that it can be generated just by being more open-minded toward the founders and is just creating a safe space where they don’t feel like they’re being judged and where they can just talk openly and freely and they know that your reputation is aligned with their outcome in a way that you know you’re not there to Judge. You’re not there to. Tell them what to do? You’re not there to give them. You know, quick advice etc. I’ve found generally speaking that the founders loved that. They’d love them when they can just kind of have a conversation disarm conversation. Of course sometimes you get some red flags when you create an environment like that so you could somehow use that in some sense. But. For the most part I just I just try to keep it all confidential and all very like very very cleanly focused sort of thing.

James McWalter: And in terms like the specific criteria that you use to kind of evaluate like ah like an opportunity at a particular company today with it with the current fund. You know what’s the kind of framework that you use to see you know as I’m sure you mentioned you’re seeing tons of potential companies to fund. Um. Why pick 1 versus the other What’s the framework you bring to bear.

Zecca Lehn: Well I wish I could say it’s always ah a very you know, like a perfectly aligned system that I have you know, clean, outcome. Ah, but I actually have to say that I think 1 of the things that is less discussed as ah as a professional investor. Is that we’re dealing and ah with Uncertainty. We’re dealing with probability pretty much in everything we look at Um, so what I think my job isn’t to necessarily nail down kind of what exactly is a process to get to this exact outcome. Is is more so how do I debias myself? How do I how do I look at um, ways that I may be getting in the way of finding value and generating value etc and that that goes not only to this the investment selection process but to the way I allocate my time the way I engage with of lps and things like that. There’s an element of of confidence and subjectiveness that goes into decision making that I think is kind of why there are even our vcs or or and professional investors. Um, we need to deal with limited information or. Bars information or confidential information every single day you know that I get ten twenty conflicts of interest and I need to know how to you know, navigate that in an ethical manner. Um, it’s not easy you you kind of have to lead forward with just being ethical first and to be there. Ah, as sort of as open as possible but you you can’t share. Yeah frank this is the funny funny part about this experience. You cannot be fully open about things because it will it will materially damage other parties you other founders. It’s their other people’s futures are at Stake and. You know, obviously um, we need to be selective ahead of time. We don’t want to like create scenarios where we get information and use it and that wouldn’t be ah my reputation would would be destroyed quickly if I operated that way. Um, you know so I think it’s just a matter of some ways. Um. But again more specifically your investment process. I mean we can talk about impact and those other things but generally speaking. It’s very situational. It’s very very unique.

James McWalter: Yeah, it’s interesting I mean it’s actually there’s a lot of these kind of overlaps with entrepreneurship or founding in general like 1 of my favorite definitions of what an entrepreneur is is somebody who like makes the opaque transparent because to start any business you’re like um, you know like is this going to work right.

Zecca Lehn: I Like that.

James McWalter: You know and and the bigger the potential outcome the more uncertain you are at the beginning right? and again that like goes into the world of vc-backed versus something more like a lifestyle business where you know you can kind? yeah.

Zecca Lehn: Wow. Well, we could talk about that. It’s maybe too contentious but I’ll go there if you want to I’m just yeah I think you pretty much summarized it I mean really? Well, I Love do you know? who said that quote about the opaque to the transparent is that your idea I like that.

James McWalter: Please please have to absolute comfort.

James McWalter: Know it was actually there’s a podcast I listen to because I definitely listened to a lot of what’s coming from the lifestyle entrepreneurship side of things but a podcast called the tropical and Mba and it’s a pretty interesting name and but these are guys who built you know a.

Zecca Lehn: I see Yeah, ah yeah.

James McWalter: Distributed team business. It was a physical product based in the us it’s valley podiums or something like that back in like 2000 four and then they sold it like 5 years ago or something um, but they but they basically are I think there are like a thousand podcasts and they talk a lot about you know the kind of.

Zecca Lehn: Awesome! Oh my gosh.

James McWalter: Bootstrap or mentality the kind of li lifestyle entrepreneur mentality. Um, how wealth is 1 prism to like look through success but also freedom and time and location or these other prisms and I actually do think I put a lot of people in the kind of vc backed startup space like onto them because I think they definitely inform. Um.

Zecca Lehn: Yeah.

James McWalter: You know the tradeoffs you make right? because very few startups even with the best will in the world become billion dollar companies and if you end up spending 8 years and you have very little to show for it and you know the relationships in your lives are damaged and all these things was that kind of worth the tradeoff and I guess it’s it’s. Bringing those to bear as you kind of think through what you really value? Yeah, go for it.

Zecca Lehn: I’m I’m getting into your head James watch out be careful I’m going to brainwash you I’m just joking I like your mindset. Um I have to say there were a lot of things there that I would like to try to address and I don’t know if I’m right about everything but I have slightly slightly different take on some things.

James McWalter: Enters.

Zecca Lehn: Um, ah I think 1 thing is this billion dollar aspect if you we just wanted to accentuate that for 1 moment. Yes, we we know that there’s a power law in in venture backed companies and that probably is true in all forms of. Companies in general, you’re just going to see failure rates higher higher at certain time slots, etc. Um point is is that ah the question is I think the question is why do we look at those things. It’s it’s important to recognize it’s it’s a cultural thing but it’s also a um. It’s also a little bit ah Structural. So ah, the aspect of returning the fund this idea of returning the fund and when a company does run and hits these great targets and they hit break out velocity and they they you know Peter thiel’s idea of kind of becoming the monopolistic player for some time. On their way to the public market. Obviously that’s ideal because there’s less friction etc. The the blitzscaling idea in general I think has an alignment toward venture capital especially this silicon valley version of venture capital in my opinion. Um. However, having said that um I have been exploring over the last couple few years, especially on Twitter this idea of I call it. The green unicorns. So um, it’s a little bit of um, a little bit of ah a play on like ah the binary you know dialogue.

James McWalter: And.

Zecca Lehn: Um, I do know that we have different forms of patient capital or like you said Lifestyle style businesses or even smbs and things like that I think that there’s a little bit more nuance to this to this aspect of venture capital and the unicorn story. So the 1 that I’ve been exploring and given that we’re a preseed fund. We can have this in our dialogue more often earlier the stage fund the lower the valuations now all all that really just means is that we can have similar types of returns assuming all lsql. You know, failure rates, etc. At a smaller exit but still get a tremendous multiple so we can still have like ah just it’s maybe a moot point but we can have a great portfolio return Even if the company exits let’s say it like a 200 million on average or or actually 1 fifty million on average because I think the the average us company.

James McWalter: Or.

Zecca Lehn: That is venture backed exits I think 2 hundred thousand or 200 million average I think that’s the average. So imagine just lowering that average for earlier fund. But then it’s you know, not to get too deep in the weeds. But basically it just your failure rates. Go up the closer you go.

James McWalter: And right? okay.

Zecca Lehn: To accelerate around so to speak Anyway, Long story short is that another thing about this idea of venture backable I don’t like it too much I like I think about this a lot and I use the term venture geared very intentionally because it puts so in the impact space. Um I see this a lot.

James McWalter: Yeah.

Zecca Lehn: Where certain founders have a mission that is very societally focused or mission focusedcused or environmentally economic impact focused and um, oftentimes the narrative surrounding Venture Capital is 1 where. Is my experience 1 where you know it’s like okay we don’t want to be a unicorn and we don’t want to go into grind mode where there’s nothing else, but you know month over month return and or else we just we just Fail. We want our mission to be accomplished for example and I say that’s great I Want to support that. Um, but what I do do as I focus on this venture geared aspect which to me just means that you understand a little bit about some of the tradeoffs that go into taking higher risk capital and some of the constraints of who your next competitor is going to look like and if that’s a non-impact focus company then you. You You know for me I Personally want to look for companies that have a defensible impact that drives additional revenue Potential. So I call it an impact Moat for yeah.

James McWalter: Yeah, no that that makes a to sense I mean I think on the impact piece specifically the best impact companies that I’m sure you’re seeing and and definitely I’ve seen are ones where the impact itself is contained within the business model where the every excess dollar or every.

Zecca Lehn: Um, right? Yeah, that’s it.

James McWalter: You know the growth itself like generates increased impact rather than it’s you know we’re doing this other thing and like this impact on the side or we if we don’t make money we actually have greater impact. You know the alignment has to be there and it’s quite difficult right? because a lot of things don’t align with the impact.

Zecca Lehn: Yeah, it is difficult I agree I agree and maybe that’s a event a lifestyle business and lifestyle impact business would be 1 perhaps where the company you know takes some of it. It’s like say it 1 that is. Over-indexing on all the external factors first. Okay, so just to paint a clearer picture I usually refer to impact first versus finance first or what I like to call it vc impact which is slightly modified. But. A finance first impact company is 1 where it’s aligned or geared toward venture in my mind and that just means that they understand that we’re presumably looking for a more aggressive growth pattern and that means also in my opinion. That external aspects that all positively impact positive impact focus. Let’s say you know community outreach or having um very deep layers of stakeholders that are intentional and conscious and good. But they don’t drive again back to driving value to the the the revenue you know revenue-based value. They may not be appropriately timed so those things would be you know less so inclined toward venture capital in my opinion only because. Because they’re delaying. They’re delaying growth for something that is intentional now and and good and costly let’s say something like that. Um those businesses tend to I think what you’d call maybe more lifestyle businesses perhaps and or lifestyle businesses. Also this is maybe a little tune and out nuance. But. Lifestyle businesses also tend to have more competitors and they tend to be more friction based they tend to be um, you know, lower total addressable market or even sizable markets things like that and and I think like a good example would be say like ah. You know, um, a restaurant chain. That’s a franchise you know in Southern california doesn’t really line up with venture capital the way it’s currently Structured. It doesn’t mean that it can’t it’s just that it’s not geared currently toward I guess hopefully that’s a useful example.

James McWalter: Yeah, no absolutely and and and I guess there’s these even kind of in between types of companies that have been emergent where there are these new types of financing around kind of revenue share and so on where there’s so potentially like a software ah a business that could scale.

Zecca Lehn: Yeah, exactly.

James McWalter: Um, potentially but um, you know, maybe some of the reasoning that you mentioned whereas farmers ah founders not even farmers but founders might be interested in scaling at a different speed. You know they might again might have like different criteria that they’re looking for things like revenue shared based funding are these kind of interesting new directions.

30:00.97 Zecca Lehn: Yeah, Blend blended finance. For example, as as well it really and jed emerson is 1 of the pioneers here and and I think it’s wonderful to see that those avenues for founders to have more tools to be able to scale their businesses the way they.

James McWalter: Yeah, yeah.

Zecca Lehn: Intend to that’s also I’m I’m a big supporter of this myself.

James McWalter: And you kind of mentioned. We’ve obviously been talking about impact I Guess how do you evaluate impact you know, are their Predictive Frameworks I think I saw the U n sustainable development goals as mentioned on your website.

Zecca Lehn: Yeah frame I don’t use the word Frameworks and I use the sustainable development goal Sdg is the seventeen s stgs as a proxy for ah like a goal set because they are goals for 1 I use multiple per deal. So What I do is I say okay. Is this a diverse team working in water impact and are they focused on um, some other social impact aspect. Um, you know, clean water. There’s a health overlap etc. That’s a top level screen for me like ah, kind of the the stakes are you know, have the a nexus opportunity set. Ah, sustainability focused in in its in its broadest sense. Um, That’s what I use initially and then I look I go down into looking at every individual deal and I say okay, ah you know what is the um Like. What does the team look what does the team look like are they focused on impact is there is this their objective. Usually that’s the case most of the deals we see are just like this and then I I just go in and looking you know what are what are the metrics look like um yeah I’m I’m not partial to putting. Constraints on founders and saying you know you have to have this clause at the other you need to go after this particular set of Capital etc. All I’m concerned about is whether or not this company has a scalability component and again like you said the the objective is to have. Impact that scales with the revenue. So you know take for example, um, Tesla you know the bigger Tesla gets presumably if they operate in a similar pattern. Let’s say they’re presumably going to create more positive impact I mean that may be too simplistic, but that’s that’s.

James McWalter: And not so and you know I had a couple other interviews today that that are coming out around the same time and 1 of the really nice things about other kind of founders I’m was talking to today are that they share that kind of tesla piece if they get big if more people use you know their seaweed-based plastic.

Zecca Lehn: More or less the idea.

Zecca Lehn: Yeah.

James McWalter: Um, we have less actual plastic out there in the world and it’s just like completely tied to the actual um you know amount of impact like you know the more skews that are that are sold like the better kind of thing.

Zecca Lehn: Yeah, it. Yeah, it’s it’s important to to see that but it’s also important I’ll say and where my where my expertise does come in is I’ve worked in the negative externality space for a long time ah in and in impact with within large renewable energy projects. And intermodal logistics and things like this I I think personally that it’s ah, there’s always going to be ah, there’s always going to be an externality and there’s always going to be a risk reward aspect to impact so I like to ask founders before I get started because I generally don’t know as much as they do. I so I ask openly can you list say 5 or 10 potential positive impacts and potential negative impacts and then you know then I go and I kind of reverse that do I look at well how could this negatively impact the revenue stream or how could this you know potentially be a ah. An impact factor. Not worth taking a risk on For example I could throw out some obvious ones like ah, a business model that has a very obvious positive impact. But then a very obvious negative impact or non-obvious impact negative impact such as you know something like. Crypto you know the mining aspect of layer 1 solutions being what’s currently used or what’s being planned to use I mean I’m just using that hypothetical I don’t mean to pick on Krypton per se but there there are a lot of nuances to it for sure. It ah takes time.

James McWalter: Yeah, absolutely, and just because you mentioned crypto. Um, 1 thing I don’t think I’ve done this on the pack before but I’d love to kind of throw out a couple of different you know sectors or that are out there and you know what you see as the opportunities for either existing startups or future startups in the space there we go.

Zecca Lehn: Sure I love it that.

Zecca Lehn: Oh you get to test me 5 years from now when we do this interview. Yeah, you’re wrong.

James McWalter: Yeah, yeah, um, so I guess first um, you know Regenerative ag is obviously this area where we could have potential you know change farming so that we have more carbon sequestration. Um, there’s some carbon credit marketplaces the norrris and in the goes of the world kind of moving into that space. There’s a lot of measurement technology being developed. What are your views on can region ag and the opportunities there?

Zecca Lehn: I’d like to understand more about it. We have a roundtable this Friday on sustainable agriculture and I plan to bring in so and I I would love for you to be there james um on clubhouse we do we weekly shows 3 thirty Pm Pacific time fridays we have these roundtables with vcs founders and other thought leaders like yourself.

James McWalter: Ah, great.

Zecca Lehn: Um, that get together and we just kind of go through this process and regenerative ag I think is 1 of these emerging areas which is really exciting I have I’m aware of a lot of companies work in this space I think there’s a lot of room for potential opportunities I don’t know all of them yet. So I’m still trying to kind of explore and if sustainability sustainable egg and or regenerative egg combined somehow and there’s going to be some nexus opportunities presumably within biodiversity banking or water mitigate mitigation or you know, clean streams or yeah. Other types of auxiliary ecosystem credits that I imagine could tie in well to these these subsidy models or these credit-based models that are voluntary, etc, Etc. I think we have a lot of opportunity there I just don’t I don’t know whether or not I see them as being quite yet ready to scale in certain markets I think maybe. Um, I mean I don’t like to give a times stamp because 1 never knows. But I think that there’s a lot of opportunities for the carbon, the biodiversity, the water quality aspects that we’re just going to continue to see a lot more fire mitigation all these aspects and I think that doesn’t necessarily tie right into sustain ah regenerative ag as you mentioned it. But I think you’re going to see opportunities that have overlaps machine that in my opinion.

James McWalter: Yeah I mean I think like because ah, anything that has kind of a land-based solution for climate I Think what we’re starting to see is more of an ecosystems-based approach right? which do take into account these things I Mean. Agriculture is very linked to things like migrant Labor. You already mentioned water. There are all these other elements and you know when I’ve talked to like large yeah large the biggest Ag companies in the world. Mike Brian Mccargill and and and then companies like this you know they’re They’re not always. Ah historically the best for the planet.

Zecca Lehn: Things.

James McWalter: Um, but it’s interesting talking to some of those companies they are now taking more of a kind of comprehensive view at least some parts of those companies about the approach and there are teams dedicated to figuring out the waterside of some of their you know products and then the kind of solutions. So.

Zecca Lehn: Yeah, and I also appreciate you bringing in the migratory labor and or just the labor component because I actually think that that’s a much-overlooked aspect of this regenerative agg discussions I Really appreciate you bringing that in.

James McWalter: Um I was pivot to a different kind of sector. Um, you know 1 view. That’s all griffiths talks a lot about in Electrify America’s like we need to electrify everything. Um, you know,? let’s let’s say wood the home as as an initial stop No more gas you know gas gas cooking everything needs to be. You know heat pumps rather than driven by Fossil Fuels and so on and what do you think about the opportunities within the kind of electrify the home electrify society type type thing.

Zecca Lehn: Yeah, it’s certainly interesting I don’t know a whole lot about it I haven’t read the article. Um I think 1 thing is just gri you know grid stability always an issue things like just personal risks associated with having things overly electrified could be. You know, depending on where you live in the world I think it probably depends I would I would just I don’t want to dip into the policy discussion because I’ll probably get everything wrong, but um, in terms of opportunities I imagine you were going to see a lot of that, especially you know voluntary markets that link payments to to that. Um, I actually am still even even though they’ll counter to a lot of discussions around offsets and things I’m I’m still very bullish on the future of of offsets. Personally I think we’re going to go through multiple iterations of of what more appropriate responsible offset mechanisms and and sort of. Markets look like there’s a really great book called good derivatives which I’d highly recommend you to read or anyone to read just it goes through the original voluntary markets and the regulatory markets in europe on the carbon side and again I won’t get political here but definitely worth considering just because a lot of those things will.

James McWalter: So.

Zecca Lehn: More than likely tie in both on the consumer side but also on the on the commercial side.

James McWalter: Yeah I mean it’s interesting so offsets and derivatives This is actually where a lot of my thinking has gone on the offsets markets I think in ah in general the there’s probably a not and a lot of people disagree across climate and these are dirty words I’m about to say but.

Zecca Lehn: Dot O interesting.

James McWalter: Feel like just not enough speculation I guess on the value of a given asset and so the the you know what are markets good for right? like ah 1 of the main things they’re good for is some sort of price discovery really right.

Zecca Lehn: Finding a price.

James McWalter: And so at the moment we have a ton of very very important companies who I think are doing a great thing. You know vertically integrated companies likehammer and Ori and and these kind of companies whoever you know who are deriving acred using some sort of measurement technology or using Outsource measurement technology.

Zecca Lehn: So yeah.

James McWalter: And selling that credit to a fortune five hundred company to offset some amount of you know of credits and where I guess the breakages happen right now is that once the offset is sold. Um, the price of that offset is kind of locked in but that offset might be 3 times more valuable or.

Zecca Lehn: Hey I was aware that.

James McWalter: Ah, third more valuable and if that value is like not captured or not traded the landowner who’s the person literally responsible for keeping the forest there not burning down or like doing the farming practices is not really getting ah rewarded and so this is like a wild idea that I’ve talked a few people about and decided not to go down that direction myself. But.

Zecca Lehn: Fifth.

Zecca Lehn: You’re pitching me right now like yeah I like it I Just endorsed you come on. Now you have to make me an advisor I Thought you’re good.

James McWalter: Umm of a not quite ah but if anybody’s listening to this and wants to do this I would happily riff on this because I think this needs to be in the world but some there you go absolutely but something a lot like like like a an exchange ah rather than a marketplace but an actual exchange right? where you can.

Zecca Lehn: Ah, yeah I like that.

James McWalter: Trade things and if you do take something like a blockchain as ah as your kind of underlying technology. You could link the traded value back to the landowner. So let’s say yeah they ask if it’s traded. It’s changing hands. It’s you know it’s 2 dollars and that’s twelve dollars and it’s Eighteen dollars if you link that back to the original landowner give the landowner seventy percent of the final traded price. That they’re always getting a fair share of the captured value from the trade.

Zecca Lehn: Now I would suggest you know you giving away your ideas for free is wonderful. But I would suggest you maybe edit this part out because you know it’s just amazing like you probably have a whole business here right now.

James McWalter: Yeah, and um, honestly I hope someone does that I think but yeah, but so as I’m happy to kind of throw out those ideas and I never feel where have people stealing things. It’s a good fun space. But yeah look I’ve seemed fascinating and you know I suppose before we kind of finish up.

Zecca Lehn: I Love it.

James McWalter: You know you have this podcast. Um, what have you learned most from like hosting your own podcasts in space.

Zecca Lehn: Well I I could say that I’ve learned how to listen better. But I’m not sure if that’s true I’m just joking. It’s um yeah I’m constantly just trying to just be a better listener because like what you just showed me as you showed me that you have this.

James McWalter: And ours.

Zecca Lehn: You know, the incredible idea this invention this um this passion and if I’m if I’m too busy hearing my own self speak I’m probably you know not giving others the opportunity to really explore and again that’s out of full appreciation having me here. It’s ah it’s been wonderful. Um, I’d say for anyone who is I I always like to encourage people to do more podcasts I don’t think they’re enough Frankly I I think it’s always great to just get started and try something experiment and as you know you’ve probably learned a lot of things along the way I imagine.

James McWalter: Yeah, absolutely honestly I originally started the podcast just to they’re just selfishly learning and you know I still am very very anxious those first five guests who just take a punt on some random guy reaching out to them on Linkedin or twitterter.

Zecca Lehn: Um, yeah, it’s fine. So cool. So good.

James McWalter: Um, but now like we’re up in you know we’re up in the seventh I think this is might be the seventieth coming out or something along those lines and is a lot of work. But I guess the um and then just gabby who’s is my producer I you know she does not ninety ninety-nine percent of the work of I just talk but I guess like.

Zecca Lehn: That’s a lot of work. Amazing. So great.

Zecca Lehn: The wonderful. That’s nice.

James McWalter: You learn something different from every guest but you also start to see the patterns and I think it’s this remarkable thing where you know where we’re more. We’re more similar than we are different. The differences are still important. But I guess when I think about what we need like the types of people we need to be working on problems. Um I get more and more excited I guess doing the podcast every time about like.

Zecca Lehn: Yeah, you.

Zecca Lehn: So still good. Yeah I think you and I are very similar in this regard I like to be fully inclusive in terms of.

James McWalter: And anybody could be involved right? and there’s a role for everybody in these kind of like global scale problems right.

Zecca Lehn: Making people feel welcome and listen to and just highlight it. It’s I mean everyone deserves that it sounds like you have a similar mindset.

James McWalter: Absolutely well Zaka This has been brilliant I Guess before we finish off is there anything I should have asked you about but did not.

Zecca Lehn: Thank you? Um gosh um, well okay, here’s my chance for an ask I think I would love to get new lps into our fund. We’re raising right now under 5 ah 6 c designation so public solicitation. Just.

James McWalter: Please.

Zecca Lehn: Any lps that care about doing good and want to participate in Venture capital, I always enjoy those discussions. Ah I appreciate you letting me do that and I appreciate you having me today. James has been tremendous. Wonderful.

James McWalter: I Thank you very much Zecca I’m very really excited to see all the companies before the company is coming out of responsibly.

Zecca Lehn: Thank you

Decarbonizing The Electric Grid – E71

Great to chat with Matthew Plante, President and Co-Founder at Voltus! Voltus is a distributed energy platform that accelerates the energy transition! We discussed bringing renewables online to prevent massive blackouts and reduce energy consumption, wholesale trade energy markets, opportunities for startups in the energy space, the importance of building a world class team and more!

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The unedited podcast transcript is below

James McWalter:  Hello today we’re speaking with Matt Plante president and co-founder at Voltus welcome to podcast Matt, brilliant I suppose to start with. Could you tell us a little bit about Voltus?

Matt Plante: Thanks for having me.

Matt Plante: Voltus is a distributed energy resources platform. Our job is to help make electric grids modernized which means they’re decarbonized. They’re reliable and they’re cost-effective and we do that by. Bringing to the electric grid resources typically customers who reduce their consumption of electricity when the grid needs them to.

James McWalter:  And what are some examples of those distributed energy resources.

Matt Plante: We help monetize resources everything from a smart thermostat to an electrical vehicle charging station to a wastewater treatment plant to a big industrial Factory Steel Mill. For example, a paper Mill For example.

James McWalter:  That fascinating and we can use the term the Er So just for the audience. The ers are kind of distributed energy resources. We’ll probably use that phrase as we go along and it’s basically just the kind of items that matches outlined and I guess kind of going back to the beginning. You know what drove the initial decision to start Voltus.

Matt Plante: My cofounder and I spent ten years together building Enerno which was sort of a version 1 point zero in the demand response space 10 years later the need for distributed energy resources has grown considerably. The market. Has grown considerably. You can monetize these resources in many more ways than you could ten years ago and so the market was growing at a time when we felt like the competition wasn’t doing exactly what we thought they should be doing and so that was the perfect combination starter business. Growing market and no 1 taking advantage of it.

James McWalter:  And so you already had that kind of existing relationship with your kind of cofounder. You know you decided this is the big problem to kind of tackle for the next decade or multi-decades. What are the kind of first like six months those early days look like.

Matt Plante: We got really lucky so partly because of the work that we had done in a similar space for a long time when we hung up our shingle a week later we were reached out to by an entity that needed our help and so right off the bat.

James McWalter:  So.

Matt Plante: We had a four hundred thousand dollars contract that we did not expect we said holy cow this is really really nice apart from that you know you’re hustling your we had spent time with customers making sure that our solution was 1 that they wanted and needed.

Matt Plante: But you’re hustling you know you’re doing everything you can to get the business up as running as soon as possible and we were determined from day 1 to get to profitability as quickly as possible I think there have been I used to pay attention to an event call that. National town meeting on Demand response. It isn’t since merged with a solar meeting but it’s still held in this was in 16 when we started the business if you looked at all the companies that had presented at the national town meeting on Demand response. 80 percent of them were no longer in business so you had these companies with great ideas. But who never found the right business model to allow them to survive to allow them to actually deliver on what they were trying to deliver on so from day 1 We were very very determined to make the business model work straight away. And so most of our early efforts were around making sure that we could do that as quickly as possible.

James McWalter:  And so those other 80 percent. You know what are the number 1 or number 2 things that like stops people getting up and running I know from my own research having looked and you know, starting at the early stages of looking at yeah, clean energy startup on my own side. It is could be a very difficult industry to break into. Um, they’re you know the graves of many many companies. Many startups are kind of strewn about um but it’s such a big massive industry. The opportunities are so large the shift in energy consumption is so large so there’s yeah lots of dollars there. Um, you know I Guess how do you think those companies could have kind of pivoted or you know made a better ch. Yeah, had better odds of success.

Matt Plante: I Think it is paying attention to the business side and creating a long-term sustainable competitive advantage that’ll allow you to be a healthy financial business and the good of our industry is that there are so many mission- driven people. We’re trying to solve climate change which as far as I’m concerned is the challenge of our time we’re trying to solve this big meaty Problem. So The wonderful part about that is that our industry is full of mission driven people that doesn’t always equate to people who are hardcore capitalists.

James McWalter:  Sure.

Matt Plante: And Greg and I are hardcore capitalists. We understand that our business won’t be able to attract the investment we need unless we create a very financially sound business. That’s going to make our investors a lot of money.

James McWalter:  And so you have on the business side. You know that that kind of core focus in terms of the product side. You know what are the earliest version of that product look like and what are the kind of pivots that you kind of went through to get to where you are now.

Matt Plante: I Think the question is can I rephrase your question.

James McWalter:  Please.

Matt Plante: When we when this industry first started largely as a result of the northeast blackout of 2003 we were asking commercial and industrial customers to reduce their consumption of electricity in order to prevent the next big Blackout. We had a peak demand problem fifteen years later than that the need for distributed energy resource was was entirely different. We’re no longer simply preventing Blackouts from happening though that certainly is a part of our business with whether it’s. Wildfired driven Blackouts in California or ice storm-d driven blackouts in texas or polar vortex driven Blackouts in Michigan that’s still a part of our business but increasingly our resources are used by grid operators to balance the grid. Having to do with bringing renewables online and so when that’s the case we’re no longer used 1 or 2 times every year to prevent a blackout rather we are called upon dozens and dozens and dozens of times a year to reduce our energy consumption oftentimes for very quick periods of time to help balance the grid when a power plant both thermal and renewable trip offline and so in connection with that change. You need to move the. Industry from largely manual based asking people to shut things down to a much more automated process where we are paid to quickly bring resources offline to keep the grid balanced and so now we saw these changes coming and. Invested in day 1 in a lot of product. There hadn’t been a company in the space where product was the competitive advantage previous I think to voltus it was largely marketing and sales and sometimes first mover advantage that created a competitive advantage. But. Said look when we want to think long term and here’s what is coming down the road here’s what we’re going to actually get paid for product needs to be the competitive advantage.

James McWalter:  And so that product just how is your product. You know that kind of next step on picking the kind of demand response space I Guess you mentioned there is this kind of ah you know low-tech you know, pen and paper type approach. How does Volt How is voltus kind of virtually different.

Matt Plante: In 2 big ways. The first way is that we wanted to be able to provide these resources across all markets. Lots of people had entered pgm in a manual way we wanted to enter not just pgm but.

James McWalter:  Okay.

Matt Plante: Each of the other 8 wholesale markets in North america that hadn’t been done before no 1 had entered the southwest power pool. No 1 had entered myso which is the second largest electric grid in North america and so we actually started there. Started in peoria illinois to bring resources to myso for the first time so that was 1 big way and the second way was being able to integrate with and automate lots and lots and lots of. Types of loads so that the types of loads we support and bring into these markets is very different than what was done 10 years ago we can support smaller loads via integrating with a ah building automation system. We can support residential loads through integrating with. Partners who manufacture Smart thermotats for example. Ah.

James McWalter:  And and so I suppose in practice. Let’s say you know I’m managing a ah you know, kind of a commercial building. Um, and I’ve you know, signed up for voltus. You know what? what is that kind of I suppose process like and what are the benefits to me as that building owner or building operator.

Matt Plante: The benefit to you is cash. That’s an easy question. The answer we are paying our customers for the right to help them reduce their electricity consumption a certain number of times per year the process is we. We understand what assets that commercial real estate owner has that will allow us to affect its consumption of electricity and by learning about that building. We can say aha here’s how we’ll monetize it. So we may go to Manhattan in 1 building they have the ability to reduce their energy consumption for several hours at a time great then we can monetize that in a certain program in New York city the building across the Street. Doesn’t have the ability to reduce consumption for hours at a time but can reduce energy consumption very quickly dozens of times a year great we’ll monetize that in a different way. So we learn about the building’s capabilities and then we say how do we optimize the amount of money that the customer can earn by taking a certain action. And then we put those practices into place.

James McWalter:  And so then I suppose the money then for you that comes from basically these kind of wholesale traded energy markets of various types who are the other players in those markets.

Matt Plante: Ah, so yes, that’s correct and the other players in those markets we compete sometimes with other curtailment services Providers. So Annell X C power. Sometimes there are regional players Texas has. Regional players California has regional players those are main competitors.

James McWalter:  And so you mentioned a little bit earlier that you know 1015 years ago there were actually more limited ways to monetize these types of resources I guess what changed like was it regulation was it. The tech has improved combination something else.

Matt Plante: The tech has definitely Improved. We’re able to serve smaller loads than we were a dozen years Ago. Regulation has changed dramatically and that’s been a big theme throughout my career is that there’s always. Lots and lots of money to be made in advance of or right on the heels of regulatory changes and so part of these ferc certainly has been involved in helping accelerate. The ability of companies like ours to participate in Wholesale markets to bring demand side resources to wholesale markets and have those resources be paid similar to how supply side resources are paid. That was a big regulatory change. Ferc recently issued an order call but that we call 2 by four ferc 2 2 2 2 which is almost a final barrier to unlock distributed energy resources. It’ll allow ders of all types to participate in all Wholesale Markets. And that’s going to unleash the resources we need in order to fully transition the electric grid to renewable energy to create the electric grid we want which again is is decarbonized resilience and cost.

James McWalter:  Yeah, ferc is this kind of fascinating organization which I just kind of got to know in the last few months you know this is the kind of federal energy regulatory commission I actually reached out to a few of their economists who worked on 44 I managed to give 1 of them on the phone.

Matt Plante: Active.

James McWalter:  And I straight up was like what are the kind of opportunities for startups in the space. What is the opportunity like basically what do you want to see happen. Um, and what he said to me was we you know have obviously goals like we want to completely have these things open up in ways that you know a thousand new companies are started um but he also was like. May well just be that it’s a kind of a nationalized version of what’s happening in California you know some states that are already kind of moved along to this kind of more giving the ers a little bit more access to wholesale markets I guess yeah when you yeah and I guess the book because they have to be written. But how do you think? just because the regulation I guess has started to move in that direction. Um, how it’s actually executed across these regions I guess a so little open question. So how are you thinking about that?

Matt Plante: 1 of the statistics that we pay a lot of attention to is the fact that most electric grids in the United States haven’t seen load growth for a very long time. But if you look at projections. We expect to add about forty percent. The total demand of this country over the next 30 years and there are four big drivers of that. It’s electric vehicles number 1 it’s the electrification of the home number 2 as heralded by organizations such as rewiring America it’s vertical farms. Number 3 and then its data centers connected to everything from google to bitcoin and so when you consider what everyone expects to be a huge growth. For the demand of electricity. We’ve got to figure out how to get supply to match that demand the combined capacity from all lithium-ion batteries. That will exist in electric vehicles by the year twenty thirty is forecast even by the most conservative forecasts for ev penetration to be 2 times that of existing power plants currently in the United States so take every nuclear plant. Every gas plant every coal plant every central power plant multiply that by 2 and that’s the estimate for the combined capacity of batteries driving around in electric vehicles. You have to figure out then how do we use these. Evs to help be a supply resource to the grid. It’s going to be a huge challenge. Everyone talks about the energy transition. It will not be smooth all the time there will certainly be bumps in this energy transition.

James McWalter:  No, that’s fascinating I guess you know 1 of the aspects of the energy system which you only really getting a sense of in the last little while is this kind of you know, big gap that sometimes called the duck curve between net load in the middle of the day when there was a ton of solar and you know the reasonable amount of wind. And then kind of early afternoon or sorry late afternoon early evening when everybody goes home turns on their air conditioners and so on and the sun isn’t shining it in the evening and definitely not shining at night and so you have this massive kind of dropoff and so that dropoff I guess to the listener is the reason why we have to keep. Dirty. You know gas and coal power stations longer than we would like right because you know building kind of solar and solar but solar doesn’t replace the type of energy we need at that point and batteries I guess are this kind of fascinating potential alternative. Um. But you have I guess 2 directions you could go with a theboan Batteries. You could have what they call utility scale where you’re building. You know, kind of shipping containers worth of batteries in the yeah, the desert somewhere and that’s your kind of way to balance the grid at that time of the day or the evs which which you mentioned and I guess if you think about evs you know there’s certain parts of. Country is still figuring out even to allow what they call ev to grid is it even going to be Allowed. How do you think about like that that transition you mentioned it’s going to be bumpy but I guess like what are the first steps you’re going you see as kind of emergent as we make that transition.

Matt Plante: Um, reliability has to be job number 1 and that’s not lost on us and I and I think sometimes it’s easy to ah to excoriate the. The coal miners and the coal plants I think it’s helpful instead to understand that our economy and our way of life was built on the backs of those coal miners and that we have the luxuries we have today. Because of fossil fuels and I think it’s a really helpful framing. We do need to transition to a fully decarbonized grid. We can’t sacrifice reliability to do that. So when we think about how to get there 1 ah. 1 thing we look at is Australia fifteen years ago Australia had a very peaky electrical grid system and it slowly began to bring on new resources and it slowly began to decarbonize its grid and it slowly began to add renewables and renewables and renewables and. Now the problems in Australia are not so much peak demand related but they’re intermittent related and so they’re 1 step ahead of the United States in terms of integrating renewal resources and figuring out how to not compromise reliability while you do that and batteries are certainly part of the solution. There. Distributed energy resources will be a big big part of the solution here.

James McWalter:  And so what the other kind of implications of of this shift is you know we have these physical assets out there batteries you mentioned or we talked about you know Smart thermostats and all those kind of things you know, solar plus a battery you know something like a powerwall maybe in the home and so. When you have all these different types of distributed resources. There’s different ways you could aggregate them right to have these positive effects in the grid and and also to make money of course and in theory things like fork twenty Two twenty 2 you know offers people the chance to make money off these things in new ways. Um I guess 1 question I think about in terms of like. What the landscape looks like from an innovation point of view is you know? will there be kind of mom and pop. Yeah know the er aggregators who can actually you know engage in the wholesale markets or are we going to see you know a dozen you know vol deceptures 1 but. The dozen or so kind of fairly large vertically integrated companies who kind of dominate in the space.

Matt Plante: Probably the latter but it’ll be fun to say you know there are certainly economies of of scale. Ah, and I think there aren’t many barriers to entry but there are barriers to scale and so I think that.

James McWalter:  Now.

Matt Plante: It’s likely that ah there will be a few large winners in the space.

James McWalter:  Yeah I actually agree and yeah you start with 20 then there’s some m and a activity and that’s a and then we have those 30 years going ahead.

Matt Plante: Her You do part of the benefit of being an aggregator is exactly that the more resources that you have as an aggregator. The.

James McWalter:  Five here.

Matt Plante: Larger the value to the grid from that aggregation. The risk of your portfolio sort of mathematically decreases as you add 1 more resource. Ah so that lends itself to a few large players winning.

James McWalter:  So when you mentioned the barriers for entry are not that high I Guess again as a outsider looking in I’ve actually talked to a ton of you know, smart software people Typical Silicon Valley type starter startup kind of person and a lot of them looked at clean energy and they like oh like there is a lot of opportunity here.

Matt Plante: We’ll see.

James McWalter:  And we’ll do a deep dive for a month or so and then a lot will just kind of turn away because when you start digging in to all the different regulation in particular but also um, yeah, some of the kind of challenges we were talked about it can be quite difficult and so how do you think about that piece. You know what are the I guess as a general question like what are the opportunities that. You know, smart people either within or outside the industry should be kind of taking advantage of over the next few years

Matt Plante: I think 1 of the particularities of the energy grid is that there is no standard market design across the wholesale markets that exist in the United States for example, the rules that pertain to the Texas energy market and. How you participate in that market are very different than the rules that pertain to the new England energy market we call them Balkan eyes but there’s no so 1 standard market design. So for voltis our software has to act and look. Differently depending upon which market we’re talking about that’s a cost a real cost to us and so that is a barrier of entry in a way because you can’t simply build software that works for. 1 sort of code that works everywhere for all programs for all customers. But it allows for really deep specialization and I think if I am a software engineer or a company getting off the ground. There is an opportunity to focus on a particular niche and do that niche very very very well and that’s going to have value to somebody.

James McWalter:  That fascinating. So you know there’s a ev charging ah battery management for school buses right? something relatively niche that that might be something that somebody could tackle and actually I think there’s a company called proterra that’s doing something similar. Ah, excellent and.

Matt Plante: I Think that’s a good example.

James McWalter:  Believe you had a reasonably large raise earlier in the year and you know that I guess always when I’ve or I’ve been involved in in those kind of processes. It always like that very much kind of concentrates the mind on like the kind of near future and the the kind of medium term milestones. Are we thinking about you know what? Volt like the next steps revolt is.

Matt Plante: We spent the first five years really building the foundation and that means a couple of things it means creating a product advantage. So we we say internally that it’s technology to make your life easier but there are. Very concrete ways in which our technology helps our customers do things they couldn’t do before and can’t do with others and the second foundational piece to us was existing in each and every market so that when we approach a national account. We are the ones who can serve them across North america that foundation is now set and so now it’s about really pouring fuel on the fire and so much of our rays is dedicated to growing the. Go-to-market team and allowing us to bring on many many more customers than than we than we have currentlyle in an effort to scale. So we’re looking forward to that. It’s a huge part of what we’re doing the second part of what we’re doing is accelerating our product roadma roadmap with regard to international efforts.

James McWalter:  And that’s kind of secondary piece. Ah yeah, in the same way that the us has a dozen different ways or more of um, you know selling and buying electricity depending on on where you are. I’m from ireland originally ireland has a very different structure to the United kingdom which has a different 1 to france and and so on around the world. Um, how are you thinking about that internationalization piece and I guess what have you learned from the you know navigating so many different jurisdictions in the us that kind of gives. A insight into how to expand internationally.

Matt Plante: It’s a good question. It’s not entering a place like Ireland or the uk or Japan or Korea or or south africa isn’t that different than how we think about entering Ontario or California. There may be a language difference obviously but the market works differently. In fact, the market in Japan may resemble texas more closely than the market in California resembles texas so in some ways we’re very prepared to enter these markets because we’re used to them being different I think. That with international expansion. There’s always the question of how do you do it right? Do we acquire local talent to help us grow. Do. We replicate the success we had here and and move those teams somewhere else to do it all over again and that answer will probably. Look different depending upon where we’re talking about.

James McWalter:  And fascinating and you mentioned earlier. Yeah, these kind of the need or the how the energy grid itself is going to I think you said something like forty percent over the next Decade or so um through the kind of different aspects. You mentioned you mentioned vertical farming you mentioned some other aspects and then there’s also the. Ones that you didn’t mention which I Also think you know are more maybe kind of moonshots but things like direct our capture. Um, you know, carbon sequestration The cost of that is very much a function of cheap electricity things like long duration storage in the form of hydrogen through electrolysis or some other kind of processes are also very dependent on. Ubiquitous, clean electricity and so I guess you know 1 of the tensions in the energy space is a lot of these things have to get energy to such a level of cheapness to enable these other aspects and so near your but definition that’s squeezing margins elsewhere. How do you think about the business model and business case for the need for these, you know this kind of ubiquitous cheap electricity but also potentially squeezing margins for the actual energy managers aggregators and producers and.

Matt Plante: I’m not sure that it affects my business but it certainly affects the ecosystem writ large 1 of the reasons we started voltage and that 1 of the reasons we do what we do is because we can have. Impact now we have in 1 of our markets 1 percent of system peak enrolled in a quick response program where we are called to reduce our energy consumption when. Thermal power plants trip offline that has removed the need for 2 peaking power plants in the region. It has helped make the grid cleaner while suppressing prices that are. Passed on to a commercial industrial customer so it makes the whole region more cost competitiveive. There’s no subsidies involved. There’s no need for the cost drivers down that business exists right now today and so that’s why we chose voltta when when we think about the ecosystem. If you look at wind batteries solar all these costs have come down much more than was anticipated ten years ago and so there is a sort of a learning curve. Before you can get to the point where those costs come down but they are coming down dramatically you know there is a reason that 80 percent of all new capacity in the united states last year was renewable. It has nothing to do with subsidies. It has everything to do with the fact that the economics of wind and solar are better than the economics of thermal generation right now and so you know ultimately, it’s going to be. This is an economic driven decision. We’re going to get to a 100 percent renewable energy ecosystem not because of regulation but because that’s the cost effective way to build a grid.

James McWalter:  It right? and it’s really just you know is it a like 25 year project or 50 year project right? You know regulation can help at the margin sometimes it will often hinder at the margin. But yeah I mean when ah ah we I think we both seen the same charts where you know, very smart people. Predicted lithyyon. Ion battery prices or solar pat prices and they were way off in terms of how much cheaper they got like by a factor of tanoff I was 1 of the aspects that kind of underly this and you mentioned at the beginning as ah, kind of very core to the missionion of voltus is a.

Matt Plante: That’s right.

James McWalter:  You know, zero carbon the carbonized grid. How do you kind of look at that or track that internally are you having a sense. You know you mentioned 2 specific peaker plants. But you have a sense of like you dont have to give specific numbers but you do you have a sense of the amount of carbon that’s being saved by Voltus yeah voltus expanding out.


Matt Plante: Of course so that figure is important to our our teammates. It’s important to our investors who whose mandates are to invest in decarbonizing solutions and increasingly it’s important to our customers. Who fact of the Matt Plante:er have larger esg goals than they had 10 years ago. So it’s a really important metric for us to track for those 3 reasons.

James McWalter:  And for you I Just personally you know you you’ve been in the industry a while um I guess you know that now Voltis and and the kind of Eu success that Voltus is having what is the kind of biggest thing you’ve learned at voltus that was kind of new to you relative to your kind of previous experience.

Matt Plante: Everyone ah I think I’ve known for a long time that the importance of team and to surround yourself with great people. But I think that message has been hammered home and voltage more so than anywhere else I’ve been where. We are a more ambitious company today than when we started 5 years ago and that’s not because greg and I suddenly found drive that we didn’t have but it’s because our teammates have delivered. Think more than we thought we were capable of doing in a short period of time and they have lifted up the ambitions ah of the company. They’ve shown us that we can do more than we were capable of they act with an urgency in order to solve climate change that’s inspiring to everybody. And as we continue to hire and bring people onto the team who feel this way. It becomes a force multiplier and so I I didn’t anticipate that happening but it’s probably the most wonderful feeling I’ve had in in business.

James McWalter:  Yeah I Really do think that this kind of talent issue is going to become ever harder for you. Just even non. You know, not dirty, not clean, but just kind of in the middle type industries or companies people. Yeah the best talent want to. You know, wake up feel very very proud of what they’re doing every day. Um, you know we all we all deceive ourselves to a certain extent right? But ah, it’s very easy if you have like a big number on the dashboard up there with yeah carbon prevented or carbon sucked out of the atmosphere. Whatever it may be you I guess have more of a skip to your step kind of going in. And you’re more likely to tell your friends who are also you know potentially very very talented additions to the team as well.

Matt Plante: Absolutely we most of our folks are hired actually from referrals and it’s easier for us to hire now than it was 2 years ago partly that’s because of the network effect and so each of our. Teammates now has a network that they can call on part of it’s due to this fact that we’re having some success but most of it is due to the fact that increasingly everyone and maybe it’s this pandemic. But. Everyone wants to feel a great connection to their work. Everyone wants to have great purpose. So we’re seeing a lot of flight from traditional tech companies into voltus and we would have had a hard time attracting that talent.

James McWalter:  And and absolutely.

Matt Plante: Just even a couple of years ago.

James McWalter:  And it’s fascinating even when I talk to you know people the fang and like the big tech companies. Those tech companies are now starting to have you know climate-related perks to try to keep those people and you know they’re potentially you know installing Smart thermostats at at their at their employees’ homes. Ah, in a way which you know is also like a ne net net positive for the lexa voltas.

Matt Plante: I Would tell those people there’s a more direct way to to work on that.

James McWalter:  I no absolutely um and let’s say I was you know a young person I’m yeah, 20 year old maybe I went to college. Maybe I didn’t and I’m wanting to have a big effect. You know what kind of advice would you give to that person to try to get involved. Ah. You know in the kind kind of climate in a positive way.

Matt Plante: Couple things come to mind jump in. However, you can. And develop some deep subject Matter Expertise I Think because of because there are so many niches it’s easy in a sense for it’s it’s possible in a sense through hard work to develop. Skills and know how that that aren’t common.

James McWalter:  And yeah, I definitely can echo that I think especially when we have so many emergent new industries right? and so ev charging infrastructure. There’s absolutely to too many you know, maybe a couple thousand single digit thousand experts on that in the world today. There’ll be 1 hundred thousand of those right in the next five to 10 years but you could kind of be you know a top ten percent in the world person just by dint of there’s ah not that many people pretty quickly in some of these spaces and so there was a friend of mine came up with this idea of um, you know, climate madlibs. You know come up with a emergent industry. Like a region of the world and a basic concept of making money and just like read aton talk to a ton of people and in six months you’re kind of a world expert not not in everything but in a lot of these areas. There is that potential.

Matt Plante: I subscribe to that thinking very much so traditionally the way of hiring is yeah who has done this job before and has the person demonstrated the ability to do do the Job. We don’t hire that way at All. We hire for potential. Partly because we’re in an industry that’t hasn’t existed before. So No 1 has had this Expertise. No 1 has actually done this job before and so we don’t look for experience doing the job we look for what we call break reading good and there are sub bullets that under pin those words. But it’s not experience that is going to move the needle here.

James McWalter:  So yeah, I’d love to hear a little bit more about that phrase you? What are the kind of some of those bullet points that you look out for.

Matt Plante: We look for people who are nimble and creative. We look for people with intellectual curiosity I think when I think about our engineering team I’ve been on very talented engineering teams but the. This 1 is different because our engineering team they see the forest for the trees. They understand how what they do contributes to why we win they’re connected to our our mission very much. So. And that’s due to their intellectual curiosity to understand the space to understand our position in that space again to understand how we win. Ah we look for folks who are man eyefully self-initiated. We look for people who like to win as a team who are Supportive. Who are loving in an effort to at the end of the day create an atmosphere that allows people to do their best to do their best work.

James McWalter:  No Absolutely and I think those are just you know, phenomenal ways to kind of build a team. You know the best teams are those greater than some of their parts where everybody is not just kind of pulling together but like they feel great right? and I guess 1 thing that I think a lot about when have managed teams that. Like I’ve been incredibly proud of you know, like just they’re they’re surprising every day right? They’re just bringing something.. It’s like oh I would have done it something way different, but what they bring bring to you is like way better than what you ever could have come up with yourself.

Matt Plante: So I think that’s the absolute best part about being a founder because in the early days right? going back to the early days where you asked me about you had a say in every single decision. The color of your logo to what market you entered right? There was nothing that escaped you.

James McWalter:  And.

Matt Plante: And then over time you sort of seed some things and then when you start to have some success. There are things that happen that you had absolutely nothing to do with and that’s the best failing in the world.

James McWalter:  Yeah, yeah, and absolutely will echo that Matt this has been really great. You know I really enjoyed the conversation I suppose before you finish up is there anything I should have asked you about but did not.

Matt Plante: You know we didn’t talk I’ll say 2 things. The first is that it we do feel an increased urgency to act. Um, partly because. Of real world events like the wildfires in California like increased hurricanes like what happens in new orleans and so that makes us want to move very very quickly to solve some of these things but the other. What else is happening is that we have bipartisan support to actually act and do things that’s rare. We have corporations with esg girlss who also are thinking about their company’s resilience. And so we have right now an incredible amount of tailwind that isn’t always the case in business. In fact, you’re often swimming upstream but when the opposite happens which is happening right now. That’s when you have to go you got a poor fuel on the fire you have to take advantage of that and so that’s what we’re looking to do it. And volt is in connection with that we are hiring across all functions and so we certainly would love people who are committed to our cause to join us.

James McWalter:  You and we include your careers page in the show notes and absolutely I think that’s phenomenal kind of I think like this is a you know once in a lifetime opportunity and obviously like a massive problem that like we all have to pull together to solve and but the opportunity level. It’s like you know it’s a trillion dollar. Ah, you know opportunity to solve across all the different parts of of industry. Sorry but ah, but across all the different parts of society because climate affects everything and so yeah I guess I’m always encouraging people I’m always envangelizing with people get involved in some ways as you’ve kind of said yourself.

Matt Plante: Thank you James! Thank you very much I enjoy this.

James McWalter:  Great. Thank you so much for that.

Sustainable Plastic from Seaweed – E70

Great to chat with Julia Marsh, Co-Founder & CEO at Sway, a company that is building a plastic-free future with the regenerative power of seaweed! We discussed the carbon sequestration power of seaweed, the negative environmental impacts of single-use plastics, how to alleviate guilt for the shopper, the reality of compostable products and more!

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Thanks so much! 


The unedited podcast transcript is below

James McWalter: Hello today We’re speaking with Julia Marsh:   cofounder and CEO of SWAY. Welcome to podcast Julia!   brilliant I suppose to start could you tell us a little bit about sway.

Julia Marsh:     Hi James nice to be here. Absolutely so sway is tackling 1 of the biggest challenges facing our planet which is the plastic crisis which directly feeds into the climate crisis and how we’re doing this is utilizing this beautiful regenerative material which is seaweed. And creating ah replacements for packaging that are compostable that turn into healthy soil while simultaneously replenishing Ocean ecosystems I’m really excited to dive in with you.

James McWalter: And yeah, absolutely and so what drove that kind of initial decision to yeah, you know, basically use seaweed to develop a plastic substitute.

Julia Marsh:     Well a little background I’m a designer by trade and really looked at the plastic problem as a design challenge and I thought let’s look at every single. Alternative to plastics and specifically thin film plastics because they’re the most difficult to replace they gum up recycling machines. Um, they’re very difficult to find ah reusable solutions for wrappers and chip bags and and poly bags et Cetera. And let’s find the best possible alternatives and then improve them further and what I was seeing is that bioplastics have this immense potential but they are costly. They’re incompatible with existing infrastructure and they’re dependent on resources like corn and sugarcane. Which actually don’t make the planet a better place or are really necessary as a food crop. So let’s push beyond the existing you know limitations of bioplastics and find something better and that’s what led me to seaweed.

James McWalter: And so those kind of existing limitations. Um, you know you say they gum up to works and I guess I haven’t heard too many use cases of those other kind of alternatives who are using those or is that much of a market today. Um, and yeah, what what does that space look like.

Julia Marsh:     Yeah man, the Bioplastics market is enormous. Um, mostly you see bioplastics either used in rigid applications like cups and utensils. Maybe you go to a sweet green or an adjacent company and you’ll see that the. Fork is labeled as being compostable the other most common use case is for things like maybe the grocery store you know produce bag that green bag that’s labeled as being compostable when you order clothing online. Maybe it comes in a poly bag like 1 of those. Thin film bags sometimes and they go straight into the garbage. Yeah maybe the amazon mailer would be a great candidate for where you might want to use bioplastics and then all food packaging really struggles to find compostable replacements.

James McWalter: That that goes straight into the gar garbage every time right now.

Julia Marsh:     And these are the primary interest areas for me more so than the Rigid ones because there’s yeah, there’s very few solutions that can do it right.

James McWalter: And so you kind of came upon seaweed I suppose What are the kind of what was that journey like to find seaweed as a potential solution for the problem.

Julia Marsh:     So I became enraptured with this idea of regeneration. It’s like an age-old practice. It’s nothing new but increasingly brands and activists are focusing on the idea of regeneration that we can restore and replenish life on earth. And integrating that into new systems and products and so I wanted to understand what are the most powerful regenerative source materials on the planet and how can I integrate that into a new material a replacement for plastic packaging and so when you do that.

James McWalter: Sure.

Julia Marsh:     Kind of survey you land on trees you see mushrooms and you see algae and you get micro algae and Macro Algae and I grew up next to the ocean so immediately I’m into seaweed I understand generally how ocean ecosystems work and I knew there was some beautiful poetry of taking something. From the ocean and helping the ocean live and thrive by creating this new material.

James McWalter: Absolutely and I guess when you’re kind of going through that survey and you’re looking at mushrooms you’re looking at you know clium out of trees and and so on like what was that process where you talking to academics where you kind of talking to people within supply chain. Yeah I’d love to hear a little bit about how you research that.

Julia Marsh:     Yeah, 1 of the beautiful things about this industry is everyone’s so friendly and wants to talk about the work that they’re doing because it’s so dependent on collaboration. So whenever I would reach out to either. Yes, academics in the space material libraries like the folks at material connection in New York or just reaching out to the heads of these companies themselves. They’re more than willing to share what their journey was like what the stumbling moments were and what I might need to do in my position as a designer kind of entering this space to be successful.

James McWalter: And yeah I found that as well and I’ve mentioned a few times in the podcast that because these people are so friendly. Um, mainly because we’re just trying to get more people to work on these problems. Um, that people you know there’s a bit of vulnerability involved. But.

Julia Marsh:     Right.

James McWalter: You know having ah guess a little bit of an impetus to kind of reach out cold sometimes to people on Twitter or linkedin um, you know very rarely. You’ll you’ll never may never say never but you’re very rarely you get like a negative reaction. Um, you might just not get ignored but a lot of the time you will have people from pretty big companies say yeah I’d love to have a.

Julia Marsh:     Absolutely and I feel that oftentimes there’s this misconception that you need to be a materials engineer or you need to be a scientist to enter the climate space and that was not the case for me as ah at all outside of maybe.

James McWalter: Twenty minute chat.

Julia Marsh:     Leaving my ego at the door and acknowledging when I Definitely don’t know things and am underqualified to fully understand me to the chemistry but you know there’s a role that everyone has to play in the climate crisis and designers are especially well equipped to make these impossible. More novel futures visible for people and make them Attractive. So actually I was welcomed into these conversations because folks kind of recognize that.

James McWalter: Yeah, and actually if you go to this way website and we’ll link it in the in the show notes. Um I was very much struck by like the design aesthetic of the of the website. No absolutely and and and mainly because like when I think or the average purse I think thinks about like raw materials.

Julia Marsh:     Ah.

James McWalter: Um, and there’s just something to be I suppose ignored or in the background or something not thought of you know we have a disposable culture in many of these particularly around like single use plastics and so in general the people who are creating those don’t really want to like yeah highlight them right? as ah as a use because they just wanted those things that disappear and for people to forget about.

Julia Marsh:     Right.

James McWalter: The negative environmental impacts of those things and so I think you know I’ve seen a couple companies ah you know again? what what I think you’re doing from design point of view is really interesting. Um, but a few who are trying to like put make them make things look nice make things look you know like fascinating make things make people more curious about the actual things that go into.

Julia Marsh:     And.

James McWalter: You know as so as the the things we buy every day.

Julia Marsh:     It’s a wonderful design opportunity because all of a sudden especially during Covid when we’ve all been receiving so many packages to our homes and we’re inviting all these materials into our house for a brand to say to their customer. We care about you. We realize that.

James McWalter: But right? okay.

Julia Marsh:     You’re inviting these materials into your home. We’ve gone the extra mile and chosen a material that actually creates life that actually employs you know in our case in Sway’s case employs coastal communities and. Sequesters carbon and regenerates ocean health and encourages biodiversity. Oh and it’s going to turn into healthy soil at the end of its life what you’ve done all of a sudden is not just created a beautiful sort of tool to alleviate guilt for the for the shopper. But you’ve also enabled them to become a part of the climate movement and materials like plastics these basic building blocks of modern society are I think 1 of the best opportunities we have to do that to to make people feel like oh hey I can be It’s it’s not this inaccessible thing I can be a part of it too and I feel really good about myself.

James McWalter: Yeah, absolutely and I guess so you’ve kind of identified like seaweed. Um, what was that kind of initial you know Mvp or like starting to develop that mvp and what does that process look like.

Julia Marsh:     That was me in my kitchen mixing up seaweed extracts with various sort of plant-based additives and making really really horrible. Smelly films they were. They were ugly um, they curled up they smelled bad.

Julia Marsh:     I very quickly realized that I needed to bring in material engineers. It’s quite obvious in retrospect um and we partnered up with ah the usda as well as folks at the Berkeley school of Green chemistry to create more advanced prototypes.

And as we constantly constantly iterated we were able to get a really beautiful crystal clear film. That’s Odorless. It’s stronger than Ldpe. It’s got amazing heat ceiling Properties. You can adapt the opacity etc so it actually was quite a quick evolution of bringing in the right talent. Unfortunately I can’t go into too much detail because we’re currently filing a provisional patent for the formulation. Um, but yeah, it was. It was really quite ah, a beautiful and and rapid process going from.

Julia Marsh:     This ugly ugly film to something that’s perfectly clear and really high performance.

James McWalter: But I think like I think like that time spent in the kitchen right? I’m sure was invaluable right? because even though you know some very well-qualified people in a lab. You know it’s ah it’s definitely a more sophisticated process. It’s pretty similar process right? We’re trying to heat up things and cool down things and move things from different types of vessels.

Julia Marsh:     Right.

James McWalter: I Think especially you know I’m also coming from like a non-technical point of view and like starting technical companies like getting into the weeds like on my side. Yeah trying to do some coding and your side like in the kitchen you know, stirring some pots I think these are really important because you have to be able to engage with the with the technical team that you’re building and and I think like I Absolutely yeah, think that it duffly stands to companies and and. And to non-technical founders to get their you know Roltra sleeves at at times.

Julia Marsh:     I definitely empathize and admire that the skill set needed to do it Professionally yeah.

James McWalter: Um, so those 2 organizations you mentioned were they like looking for people and wanting to kind of work on these type of things or did you kind of reach out to them.

Julia Marsh:     Yeah, the the wonderful thing about especially the Usda is that they’re set up to help facilitate american investments in new materials or specifically the usda offices in Albany. Looking you know there are adjacent companies to ourselves who have gone through that program including Mango materials which is a ph a company and corramat which creates ah a corn-based foam.

James McWalter: Um, and so you know so seaweed you have this kind of formulation. You’re developing what are its kind of the pros and cons of it versus let’s say conventional. Um, you know film plastic.

Julia Marsh:     Right? So the wonderful thing about seaweed is that it is extremely abundant. It grows on every coastline in the world. 24 7 3 hundred and 65 days a year there’s seven million square kilometers. Seaweed growing today which is roughly equivalent to the size of the Amazon reed forest I think that’s a nice comparison and they’re roughly equivalent in their environmental contribution to the earth as well seaweed sequesters an insane amount of carbon some papers from harvard say seaweed can sequester up to 20 times more carbon.

Julia Marsh:     And per acre than trees. Um, but they also do all these beautiful ecosystem services. They encourage biodiversity by creating habitats for hundreds of species. They mitigate the effects of ocean acidification actually reversing the effects of climate change the more cwed plant. Healthier the ocean or the quality of the ocean will be. They are ecosystem architects as Well. They they help combat um erosion and they’re this amazing source of employment for coastal communities that have maybe been affected by overfishing or by climate Change. Seaweed itself is just the definition of a regenerative resource. It’s doing all this work. Um Fray of charge while also being wildly abundant and growing more quickly than land-based crops so seed grows twenty to 30 times faster than corner sugar cane and you don’t need land.

James McWalter: Right.

Julia Marsh:     You don’t need fresh water. You don’t need pesticides you just plant it and it grows So it’s a fantastic resource compared with the Fossil Fuel industry.

James McWalter: And in terms of let’s say the different types of seaweed. Um, you know some are I’m sure like more you know evolved to work within tropical waters versus Colder waters etc. Um is there particular types of seaweed that work. Best for the kind of process you’re building out.

Julia Marsh:     Ah, right. There are so we primarily work with 3 different species of seaweed and we’re always working to expand the the varieties of seaweed that we can work with. We never want to be too dependent on 1 species. We want wherever possible to encourage the diversification of ah farming practices. Because that creates a healthier ocean. There are beautiful regenerative ocean farms popping up all over the world. We primarily work with farms based in North and south america and yeah, you have. Well over ten thousand species of seaweed to choose from. So we’re just scratching the surface of what might be possible with with seaweed bile palmers.

James McWalter: And so let’s say once it kind of goes through this you know this process that you’re building out. That’s you know the core to your Ip and we have let’s say you know a conventional plastic film and and the sway plastic. Yeah, the seaweed-based film. Um, how do they so differ you know would somebody notice to the eye like what what does that kind of comparison look like so.

Julia Marsh:     Yeah, so visually. Our film looks basically identical to a traditional piece of plastic which can be a beautiful benefit because for instance, If. Ah, cosmetics company wants to sell their extremely gorgeous products. They want the customer to be able to see the the product in the bag and maybe if it was opaque or had some sort of tint that would be a hindrance to purchase. However, we’ve learned actually that customers respond or shoppers respond really? well. The material when it looks like it’s made from seaweed So when it’s tinted green or it has a texture because it gives a little bit of I Guess Social clout or there’s like a social reward for saying I’ve chosen a better material look at me, you know.

James McWalter: No absolutely it that that social pressure piece I think is something that is definitely underwede in a lot of climate startups trying to think through go-to markets. You know we.

Julia Marsh:     Letter.

James McWalter: You know we’re we’re human beings We We express things through what we wear and how we you know what we buy and all those kind of things and because so many things are now just like a pure kind of emar Ecommerce Play. Um, like. People don’t if they’re not getting the social like kudos right of having the book up on the wall or whatever it may be um I think sometimes we struggled and so I I think that makes a ton of sense in terms of having something that you know has the the look and feel of seaweed more so than conventional plastics.

Julia Marsh:     Right? It’s like it’s a great design Opportunity. There are so many different colors and textures that we can play with utilizing. What’s naturally found in different types of seaweeds and then in addition to that we’re looking at the different messaging that we can use to make again. Make people feel really great about this choice whether that’s being able to track exactly where this seaweed bag came from maybe the farmer who grew the seaweed that was used to make the bag again kind of reaffirming that connection between the person and the material they’re using or. Humans and nature and then also really assuring them that this is not some attempt at greenwashing that we’ve gone through the necessary actions to get this material properly tested and that it is in fact, home compostable such that you could mix it in with food scraps in your backyard compost. And it’s going to turn into healthy soil.

James McWalter: Yeah, that was actually the next question because we have you know, definitely on the production side. You know see we is this kind of net sequester of carbon relative definitely relative to petrochemicals going into pastek and then on the disposal side as you mentioned it’s this kind of home compostable. Um I guess 1 of the things with with any sort of kind of material science.

Julia Marsh:     Um, as a.

James McWalter: You know the the more composable It is the more I just open it is to ah degradation through the supply chain and and so how do you think about that balance I.

Julia Marsh:     Right? Man it’s such a fine line to walk. Yeah, so we are constantly treading this line and trying to find what are the absolute best applications for this material where it’s okay that when it’s exposed to heat. And moisture. It’s going to degrade very quickly. We found that retail bags and poly bags are a great first starting place. So that’s why we’re focused on working with brands like Target walmart and cbs to help replace the retail bag and we’re also focused on working with Apparel brands to find really great. Yeah partners who want their customers to engage with plastic- free packaging. Um, so that’s that’s a focus at the moment. The the degradation timeline is quite quickly right now and so we’re also constantly improving the formulation so that it can withstand higher humidity. And temperatures while in shipment but that when it does enter a compost environment. It’s going to degrade extremely quickly.

James McWalter: Yeah I could imagine this kind of a wedge of potential products that could be wrapped right in the in in the sway material and you you start at the at the area. That’s you know pretty high turnover. You know, used very rapidly and then over time as the formulation gets you know more stable. Um, from degradation point of View. You can kind of move into that like that that larger wedge of like every product in the world kind of thing eventually there you go.

Julia Marsh:     Exactly every product in the world. It’s an ecosystem we never would claim to be the Silver bullet or the 1 answer there are so many cool materials out there in new systems. A lot of the best climate solutions are just related to efficiency and and common sense.

James McWalter: And.

Julia Marsh:     So wherever we we make the most sense that’s where we want to deploy ourselves.

James McWalter: Understood and I guess yeah 1 of the as was difficulties with new materials is there’s typically a pretty sophisticated and well-established supply chain to move that material through so you know from constructing plastic to its molding.

Julia Marsh:     The.

James McWalter: And then being delivered on ships to you know the manufacturer and all those kind of things. How do you think about? let’s say fitting in versus disrupting parts of that supply chain to I suppose that have the greatest impact. So.

Julia Marsh:     Right? We want to create the lowest lift transition to using our material. We want to make it extremely easy for brands to work with us and that means we’ve designed our material to plug into existing plastic infrastructure and plastic. Companies a lot of them really are dying. They’re itching to bring in more sustainable materials that are compatible with their machinery plastic production is a well- oiled process. It’s ah that was a nice little pun I inserted there the actual you know? ah. Production of plastics from from pellet to film is quite efficient and and can be very low energy and there’s actually a path to decarbonizing that process. What’s missing is the material itself is not. Good for the planet at either end of life and so that’s how we kind of fill out this system um to be eventually fully decarbonized as well as fully regenerative.

James McWalter: That’s interesting. So you mentioned both the brands. But then also the I guess the plastic Manufacturers themselves and so are you you talking to? both? are you interested in potentially licensing to the plastics or working with brands who have more maybe of a vertically integrated model. How do you think about those kind of tradeoffs.

Julia Marsh:     Yeah, at least to start. We’re just again focused on getting our material in the hands of brands and and in the hands of shoppers because we really want to get that data back about how people interact with the material are they Composting. It does any of this seaweed Story Resonate. Um. So to begin with. We’re going to be working with contract Manufacturers in the future. It may be the case that we do vertically integrate and either we work directly more directly with seaweed farms to refine and extract the useful parts of that seaweed or we produce our own um resin that can be distributed to plastic Manufacturers and that’s sort of a ah. To be determined decision.

James McWalter: Absolutely and I just what are those kind of next you know next 1224 months time you know Milestones that you’re hoping to can reach.

Julia Marsh:     We’re focused on pilots we we were the winners at the Beyond the bag challenge which is how we’ve come to. Thank you really amazing experience. It was sponsored by ideo closed loop and then the consortium to reinvent the bag which included Target walmart cbs and a number of other global retailers.

James McWalter: Congrats.

Julia Marsh:     So what? that’s enabled us to do is really understand in ah in a micro level what these brands need us to achieve in order to adopt our material so over the course of the next couple of years. We’ll be working for pilots with those folks and then we’ll also be launching smaller scale pilots with apparel and cosmetic companies. And then the other big thing is we always constantly want to be achieving the highest level of certification. Not just related to the compostability of the material but also the nutrient quality of the material this idea that we could actually add again benefit to. Soil when the material decomposes and how well the the source material is certified as important as well. So there are all these emerging standards around ocean forestry that we’re really excited to hit partake in such as. This sort of fsc certified equivalent for ocean forests called the asc msc seaweed standard and expanding fair trade practices for the seaweed industry which is like very quickly growing so those are 2 focus areas I would say.

James McWalter: On that latter point. So what are the other kind of use cases for seaweed and I guess is there enough supply on the seaweed side. You know if were more and more different types of use cases are now turning to seaweed that we need to see a massive ramp up. You know the Amazon size you know area. Do we need. More than that. How do you think about that.

Julia Marsh:     So currently seaweed is primarily used in food or as a thickening agent in different pharmaceuticals or cosmetic products. There is more than enough seaweed seaweed is not the issue. Challenge in the bottleneck that we’ll run into is the processing capacity of those yeah existing seaweed processors so we will eventually you know at least in our current projections in about five years we’ll need to see growth with our current network. Expanding the capacity of yeah processing the seaweed but there’s quite a lot of ocean and the main limitation is yeah, not the seaweed.

James McWalter: No. Yeah, it’s interesting because you mentioned the carbon sequestration power of seaweed and I know there are a few companies who are looking at just seaweed as a pure carbon sequester so grow a ton of seaweed cut it allow it to sink to the bottom of the ocean. Hopefully it’ll stay there for at least a few decades and that’s a potential method. You know.

Julia Marsh:     Here. And.

James McWalter: But that’s to be honest I think that’s the big question right? It’s like we don’t we know so little about you know what happens you know below a mile below the surface that you know do these things kind of stay down there. Um, and so it is interesting where you have a number of people kind of re-looking at something that you know people have been using for.

Julia Marsh:     Is it.

James McWalter: 10000 years for different types of materials in these kind of new ways to combat you know the the climate crisis.

Julia Marsh:     Yeah,, there’s wonderful opportunities eventually for us to develop simile systems or to partner with farms that are trying to build out you know Kelp or seaweed related carbon Offset Programs. Science is constantly evolving and of course we would also want to focus on the farmer themselves benefiting from that um system. So It’s something we’re keeping our eye On. We’re also want to maximize the amount of carbon sequestered by our material itself and. Creating the best pathway for it to actually be composted so that we’re not sending it to landfill and further contributing to other sorts of emissions. Um, but something cool that I didn’t mention before is that when our material goes to landfill if it does it emits and these are based on our just our initial projections. But it is. It’s projected to emit eighty eight percent less C O 2 equivalent emissions in a landfill than paper which is something I thought was so wonderful and unexpected because you know whenever we’re considering any of these replacements for plastics 1 way that plastic does win is in the C O 2 equivalent emissions.

James McWalter: Right? It just stays there forever right? And so it it never actually goes into the atmosphere.

Julia Marsh:     In landfill? Um, so yeah, right? So that was 1 kind of great if you’re comparing paper to seaweed we win in that category.

James McWalter: Yeah, that’s fascinating and and super interesting and I guess you know there is this kind of balance between um, yeah, personal and I guess institutional or or commercial behavior around where the material ends up going right? And so.

Julia Marsh:     Um, ah.

James McWalter: Yeah, there’s a lot of cool companies, comassing companies and so on and so we also have to I guess Collectively have a lever around changing behavior to actually you know.

Julia Marsh:     You have.

James McWalter: Put it into the compost or learn about how to kind of dispose properly of these things as we kind of add materials that just don’t go into a landfill or shouldn’t be going just into a landfill and.

Julia Marsh:     Yeah, it shouldn’t feel at least composting behavior shouldn’t feel alien or like an exclusive process someone in a city can compost. You know in their own home with ah with a bucket and a carbon filter. It’s actually. Ah, quite easy to do and the wonderful thing about it is we divert. Yeah, all this food from landfill and all those additional carbon equivalent emissions and there is increasing compost infrastructure. It’s sort of an inevitability. You know, recycling infrastructure’s only really been around since the Seventy s compost infrastructure is. Inevitably going to scale and be more accessible to more people.

James McWalter: And you mentioned a bit earlier about you know during Covid we got used to a lot of packages of various types showing up at the home and besides that you also have this kind of um, you know because of fears of cleanliness and so on people I think got very used to or begin more positively. Came to more positively view disposables of of various types right? kind of a health point of view. How do you think about that like is that going to be something that’ll take a little while to go back to what have been before which was like a kind of ah a move towards us disposables. Um, and yeah, how do you think Covid I guess changes The space.

Julia Marsh:     A.

Julia Marsh:     That’s an interesting question I think more than anything we are programmed to desire convenience and who can blame us and I think that what. Solution We’ve developed represents is a pathway to still provide a very convenient solution to the shopper. Not necessarily asking folks like yourself or anyone else to do anything wildly outside of the ordinary but to engage with composting behavior and. Make it as easy as possible for you to do the right thing just by swapping out the material and I think that’s a great opportunity that brands have like I was mentioning before that brands have this great opportunity to enable guilt free shopping by by subbing out their plastic packaging. Um. But I don’t think it’s impossible that we might return to the milkman and always have you know, reusable packaging for our bottles and and our bags I think that’s entirely feasible.

James McWalter: Yeah, and I guess I goes into this concept of circular economy nearly by definition circular economies become more localized right? because the transit is such like ah becomes a larger factor the more circular the the economy I guess and so if you can make that transport piece tighter.

Julia Marsh:     The earth.

James McWalter: Um, especially if it’s going back to the same place from where it began. Um, you have this kind of you know your like scalability kind of reverses in these interesting ways.

Julia Marsh:     Right? Yeah and I think just another piece because you hinted at it when we talk about circular systems or closed-loop systems so often we focus on mechanical recycling and I think oftentimes we we forget about biological recycling and that’s what compost infrastructure represents.

James McWalter: And.

Julia Marsh:     Opportunity to feed into other aspects of the regenerative movement by creating healthy soil more nutrient-rich soil which is responsible for like all life on earth.

James McWalter: Absolutely yeah I guess I guess even the way I was describing. It was very much a literal circle right? like the same thing starts an end in the same place and with a few different kind of steps but it’s definitely something much more akin to you know, rebuilding an ecosystem of sorts right? where you have tons and tons of inputs and tons ons of outputs become inputs.

Julia Marsh:     As a.

James McWalter: And basically ah like an interweb of yeah things like ah, any ecosystem whether you know it’s a field in the west of Ireland or the rainforest or like you know, ah seaweed off the coast of Carmel Um, you know, ah like yeah right? So like if you look at those like all the inputs and outputs are constantly kind of like interacting at each other.

Julia Marsh:     Right.

Julia Marsh:     Isn’t it.

James McWalter: And I guess I also fall into that kind of engineering mindset of a circle being a circle and not a lot else outside of it. Yeah.

Julia Marsh:     It’s a multi-ringed Venn Diagram Probably I love solutions for the climate crisis that tackle multiple issues at the same time and what I love about our solution in particular and many of the emerging sort of benevolent materials in the space is that. We’re addressing not just the climate crisis not just the plastic problem. But also all these social injustices that have emerged as a result of the climate crisis and so the more we can find solutions that democratize access to benevolent materials I Just think that the more we bring it humanity into the conversation. Which again is also very often overlooked.

James McWalter: Absolutely and you mentioned kind of going through some of these certifying kind of processes and I guess 1 of the difficulties that the average consumer has I guess is figuring out what all these potential labelings or you know is fair trade. Okay anymore we don’t know anymore you know like all these kind of things.

James McWalter: Um, how do you think about like the balance of give oversupplying information to a consumer who often are making a relatively snap judgment and really at the end often. The consumer just is like is this the guilt-free decision or not right. And so I myself couldn’t go back and forth. But yeah I’d love to hear your thoughts On. Um yeah, labeling and of packaging and things like that. So.

Julia Marsh:     Well specifically with packaging and specifically with compostables. There are some very frequent yeah confusing labels that make it really difficult for someone to do the right thing if something says it’s 1 hundred percent compostable that does not mean that it’ll degrade in your backyard. And it doesn’t mean that it’s made only from plants. It just means that it’s industrially compostable and composting is binary. It’s either 1 hundred percent or it’s not at all so saying it’s 1 hundred percent compostable is not a further like reassurance. Um, and I think. Yeah, oftentimes the materials that we’re interacting with that are available to us that are labeled as being compostable are only part biobase. They’re not even 1 hundred percent dependent on plants. They can still have petroleum-based binding agents integrated in them which means you’re not actually breaking free from plastics or the fossil fuel industry. Um. There’s also yeah, this opportunity to yeah, better label the actual time span that a material might degrade in ideal conditions. So increasingly I’d like to see labeling that very quickly tells the shopper without them having to think too much about it. This is going to decompose in 4 to 6 weeks. It’s. Ah, carbon-neutral or its carbon Negative. It’s made from x y and z materials. In our case, seaweed and plants. Um, and maybe even if they do care it was it was you know, cultivated or produced under fair trade conditions and those are the four major. Points I would look out for although we can we can add more the more information I generally think the better.

James McWalter: Sure on just that um and so I guess you know if I think about ah the more people and we talked about this little bit at the very beginning but like you know we want more people working on these problems while more people doing interesting things often. It is there are these barriers. Entry both real and often perceived right? We talked about you know this perception. You need to be scientists or this perception that you need to yeah have worked in the industry for 30 years or whatever it may be um, let’s say you know I was a next or there was a person who’s like the next generation analog of you know what? you’re what you’ve been doing over the last few years.

Julia Marsh:     Um, here.

James McWalter: And what’s kind of advice. You tell that person get started.

Julia Marsh:     I would say that the network that you have available to you multiplies so quickly as soon as folks learn you’re trying to make the planet a better place from a practical. Perspective. So I think the more practically grounded and the more intersectional your solution is the more likely folks are to help you and the biggest thing that I learned early on which I hinted at earlier was i. Need to to become very good at admitting when I did not know something or fully understand something that humility made it much easier for me to learn and to bring in the right people to help and then the other thing I would recommend is that you bring in talents which really well complement yourself. So. I’m a designer I love to make beautiful objects I love to communicate stories. But I don’t necessarily have a granular understanding of seaweed chemistry. So I brought in the talent and the skill set as quickly as possible to round out my own skillset. Have 2 amazing co-founders who complement me very well. My co-founder Matt has a background in sustainable Development. He’s worked with public and private companies expanding their triple bottom line has a really robust sense of what needs to go into a lifecycle assessment my other co-founder leland mashmere was the former chief brand officer at Giboni he’s built. Global brands. He understands executive leadership. He understands how to you know, build a massive company that’s going have massive scale. So I’m really thankful for those skillets and I could go through the whole team but we won’t do that now.

35:32.79   James McWalter: And yeah, no, and it’s great. It’s great to to kind of mention those cofounders you know it’s it’s so such an interesting kind of set of relationships and how those develop over the years and you know all the best companies like have really strong like early relationships and and that kind of trust that kind of goes from there. Um.

Julia Marsh:     Over.

James McWalter: I mean it is you know I guess the thing that I find ah people which kind of touches upon your your previous point. Um that I find catches people up is that either people you know don’t talk enough about what they’re thinking right? or are talk so much. They don’t listen.

James McWalter: Right? And like these are 2 kinds of spectrums are 2 2 side of the same spectrum I guess and so on on the first point which I get your man like like I tell people all the time if you have an idea like just tell tell people about it just hey I have ah you know do you know anybody who knows anything about seaweed.

Julia Marsh:     Um, yeah, that happened. Um, let a.

James McWalter: It’s like oh you know my cousin Susan like has ah you know she was ah a Ph.D. in seaweed like in Norway or whatever maybe and like all of a sudden you have that connection and if you keep it to yourself or um, yeah, you don’t get there but equally on the other side I think like asking those questions like.

Julia Marsh:     Ah, address.

James McWalter: You know when you actually then get into the room with the expert. It’s just asking questions. It’s like really you know you can give your 1 minute spiel or your 1-minute pitch and so on. But I always find that it’s so helpful to just like go in and you know be but well prepared with like the 5 questions like you would love to have answers with and like. If you knew the answers those they would move you 1 Step forward to like having a real product or a real company.

Julia Marsh:     Yep, absolutely and then walking away from that conversation saying or maybe understanding what ah you know the 3 things that this person I’ve just met really loves to do and would be willing to continue helping me with and having this. Network of advisors that you can just immediately call on is really really helpful because building a business especially in the climate space can be very isolating sometimes and I drive so much comfort from yeah, connecting with other founders and yeah and with another climate. Enthusiasts and cried, enthusiasts. It makes you feel a lot less alone.

James McWalter: It just on the kind of aloneness then I guess do you think kind of climate is lonelier than some of these other spaces or how do you think about that.

Julia Marsh:     Well I don’t know because I I guess I can’t compare it to anything else. No I think that it I misspoke The challenge is so great and the potential and the urgency of these solutions is so great that it can feel at times Like. You’re you know, working on a never-ending problem so seeking out these kinds of friends and and and advisors yeah can help you feel less alone in the fight against the climate crisis.

James McWalter: Right.

James McWalter: Yeah I guess that’s why I think you know you mentioned this earlier but like why people are so friendly. It’s like I think you go through this process of like oh no like semi despair. That’s just too big for 1 person and then it’s like oh I literally need everybody I need competitors.

Julia Marsh:     Ah, right.

James McWalter: Right? Like you know I need at every point like we need 20 million people like changing their lives like tomorrow to work on some of these things just have a chance of um, you know something close to success and so yeah, go on. Yeah.

Julia Marsh:     Um, is a. Oh It’s yeah, it’s very freeing actually that I can approach most if not all of our competitors and say hey let’s be friends you want to figure this out together. Um, but that’s overall been the theme. Especially in the seaweed space. But I imagine throughout the climate space as well.

James McWalter: No absolutely and I was working on a kind of agtech idea like a year year and a half ago and I just contacted every ah competitor in the space and like ninety percent of them got on a call me I was like I’m competing with you you know? and so on I ended up not working on that idea too much longer, but it was fascinating how yeah open people were because.

Julia Marsh:     Enter.

James McWalter: Pretty much everyone was like all right? We just you know even if we become a billion dollar company. We need a hundred more just to to like tackle the problem Julia Marsh:   does but absolutely brilliant I suppose before we finish off is there anything I should have asked you about but did not.

Julia Marsh:     Right? This is.

Julia Marsh:     Oh boy? Well, we are hiring currently. So if anyone listening happens to know an incredible Ph.D. Biopolymer scientist. We’re looking for a very senior role to help.

James McWalter: Bright.

Julia Marsh:     Expand our engineering team and we’re hiring actively at this moment. So our job descriptions are listed at our website Swayfuturecom/careers would be the biggest help.

James McWalter: Absolutely and we’ll post that link on the show notes as well. Julia Marsh:   Thank you so much has been brilliant.

Julia Marsh:     I Really appreciate it. Great to meet you and great to have this conversation.

Can your boiler generate electricity for your house? – E69

Great to chat with Tony Pan, CEO of Modern Electron, a sustainable heat and power technology company that helps buildings and homeowners save money, reduce carbon emissions, and increase resiliency during power outages! We discussed energy efficiency, technology that converts heat into electricity, the carbon footprint associated with heating systems, decarbonizing buildings and more!

Can your boiler generate electricity for your house? – E69

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The unedited podcast transcript is below

James McWalter:        Hello today we’re speaking with Tony Pan: CEO at Modern electron welcome to podcast Tony.                                                                            

Tony Pan:       Hello everybody.                                                                                                                      

 James McWalter:        I suppose to start with. Can you tell us a little bit about Modern electron.                                                                                                

Tony Pan:       We are an energy technology company based in Seattle USA and we work at an interface of sustainable heat and power.                                                                                                       

James McWalter:         And and what drove that initial decision to start Modern electron.                                                                                                                

Tony Pan:       So I’m trained as a physicist and it’s been very clear with that kind of educational background that energy is a single best predictor of quality of life and was really the driver of human civilization that was what the whole industrial revolution was about and so yeah” as you can. Literally plots a quality of life with energy and as the quality of life increases. Basically, the difference between us and our ancestors in the time of ah Queen Elizabeth is that we now use a Hundred times more energy per person and yet we’re. Toasting the planet and so we need to find a way to use pretty much the same amounts of energy for everybody on the planet to enjoy the same quality of life and somehow do that in a way that does that doesn’t destroy the environment so that was the founding goal right about specifically how the company got started was. I worked with a deep tech incubator I was very interested in energy in Seattle and we decided to look together at the problem of heat into electricity conversion.

James McWalter:         So that that point about the link between energy and the prediction of kind of quality of life. ” this is like a kind of fascinating topic. It was why the west won book that ah kind of has these incredible charts about the amount of energy that the average human being used 2000 years ago 1000 years ago ah ten years ago etc and how that kind of exponential curve occurred and you also sometimes see people kind of have these quizzes. would you go back 500 years ago and be the Queen of England or whatever may be versus ah like a middle-class person in the west today or a middle class person and developed country today and. Very few people want to go back because for 1 thing you didn’t even have hot running water I was just like ah  the center living which is so so different even for the very very wealthy and so that kind of great equalizer that yeah know more ubiquitous energy as brash is this kind of fascinating kind of aspect of Underer society. So that makes a ton of sense. Did you mention the? Ah yeah this kind of deep tech piece. Yeah so I suppose  what is the kind of core science that you were working on and when you started in the lab. So.                          

Tony Pan:       So we actually started with the problem statement first which is 80 percent of all electricity generated on the planet is generated from heat when you think about some fancy part plant whether it’s ah old coal-fired power plant. There’s also gas ones and even if when you think about something advanced like nuclear and there are lots of nuclear fission power plants around the world today and people are working on nuclear fusion which is supposed to be 1 of the holy grails so wides span of different technologies some using the most advanced tech that humanity has right like nuclear fusion. People trying to make that work at the end of the day. All they’re doing is generating heat from their fuel source and then what happens in a park plant is then you use that heat to boil water to generate steam and that steam ah basically pushes on a big fan and spins a big magnet. And that part of the technology is a steam engine which you are probably familiar with from the all the history books on the industrial revolution. well the steam engine is alive and well today the modern example is called a steam turbine which was invented 1 hundred and 30 years ago and the steam. Turbine alone generate eighty percent of all electricity on the planet. So that’s that’s why we decided to look into this and say hey is there any new technology that would work better in several attributes because anything that does that would be a civilizational skill contribution to humanity.”                                                                                                         

James McWalter:         And every single 1 of those steps that you mentioned like the efficiency issues are massive right? So you start with ”          ? let’s say a pure energy ah in the form of Electron ah like as potential energy and by the time you get to the end this conversion to heat and back and forth heat to steam to all these kind of things. How much efficiency is left at the end like how much energy is actually still retained at the end of that entire process and.                                                                                          

Tony Pan:       On average the power plants efficiency is about One third so you put 3 units of fuel in you get 1 unit of fuel so energy out as electricity. The remainder 2 thirds escapes as heat up the smokestack. Of the power plant. But here’s the irony and this will get into what modern electrons specifically does. But so when we do this conversion right? We produce both heat and electricity at a part plant. We actually use a lot of heat in our civilization you use heat to heat your homes in winter. You use heat in your industrial plants fifty percent of final energy demand as heat and yet we’re throwing all this heat away apart plant 2 two-thirds of the energy. We just throw it away. Why is that because heat cannot be transported long distance so we built these large central park plants. But we throw away all the heat and then in our homes and buildings. We still burn additional fuel such as gas would to generate that heat again. So we’re doubling up because of all this efficiency loss.”                                                                                                           

James McWalter:         Yeah” and people suppose want to have a picture in their mind of   an example of this massive heat Loss.      a lot of people think about nuclear power plants as having these big kind of Chimneys with things kind of spearing out but the entire purpose of those Chimneys is just to dissipate dissipate the excess heat. Basically right. And so we have  any major power plant.. There’s just a ton of ah mechanisms set up a machinery setup just to dissipate the heat and get the heat basically into the atmosphere where can   just not be utilized by anybody at all. So yeah   and absolutely this is a kind of a massive problem.     and so how  you kind of zoomed in on that core problem.    what were the initial kind of  initial ways you sought to solve that problem.

Tony Pan:       So we surveyed a bunch of existing technologies out in the world. They’re generally called heat engines. But basically things that converts heat into useful work or useful electricity and in particular we look at technologies that what people consider solid a state. So not the mechanical engines that were first invented in the industrial revolution but things that are closer to material science. Ah semiconductor technology that directly converted heat into electricity without any moving parts without any motion. So not like a mechanical engine. We looked at a bunch and then eventually ah chose 1 that seemed right for our. Write for a breakthrough that was the thermonic converter which is this actually pretty old technology 50 years old and it used to be used in satellites in space. They used to par defense satellites because they had this magical attribute that they can produce a lot of power. From a very very small vole so it fits very well with satellites that needed to be small but somehow needed a law of electricity. So they’re the most par dense heat to electricity converter known to mankind. Plus they never require any maintenance because they have no moving parts.”                                                                                                          

James McWalter:         And so that so that that kind of core piece of technology.   what were your kind of initial experiments around that to potentially build a product out of.                                                                                            

Tony Pan:       Yeah” so if you can crack heats into electricity. This can be used in so many applications not just part plants right? but actually 1 of the things that we were most focused on is we don’t believe the future is going to be power plants a centralized park plant. Whenever you do that necessarily It’s inefficient because there is no local user of the energy. So. That’s why you first have to build a trillion dollar transmission grid to get electricity where it needs to go right? We have I think 6 million miles of transmission and distribution lines in a usa alone and also because you’re not next to the end user. You have to throw away your heat even though the heat is valuable because there is no way to transport heat. So we believe the future is going to be distributed generation which means you want a lot of small mini power plants where people already are and so some of the key things that we had innovate is to make sure that this technology. Would be able to integrate with the fuel sources that are already ubiquitous in our buildings where people will live and work like we spend ninety percent of our time of the time we are alive within buildings and in particular for example         most of us already have a half a par plant where we live. Especially if you’re in a ah    cool or cold climate in winter you have half of our part plants because you have a boiler a hot water heater or a furnace. You have the fuel coming in oftentime. It’s natural gas some people use ah fuel or wood but you already have the fuel. You’re already burning it. Ah you have already half of the park plant infrastructure. There. All you need is a way to convert heat into electricity locally and so a lot of the work. We’ve done with the technology is figure out how we can be compatible with those existing ah heating appliances and those heat sources from these fuels.                                                                

James McWalter:         And okay”       this this is fascinating so  let’s say I’ve ah  I have a boiler  I have ah my own home.  I have like a boiler so  ah I’m the only person you really have to kind of I guess deal with and I am like my electricity bill is way too high and        especially in in different times a year and I am using  wooden coal I have a wood burning fireplace I have a boiler. Whatever may what? what would be the process. What would be the I guess the onboarding to get kind of get the let’s just talk with the boiler piece but what would the onboarding to kind of get the most use out of a modern electron. Yeah.                                                                             

Tony Pan:       Yeah” so there’s the business model side and there’s the technology side. Let me just cover the business model first to give us yeah simpler contact because the tech gets into nitty grity details. But long story short we are working with the major heating appliance companies in the world. So we have partnerships already underway with major furnace makers and boilermakers to integrate our technology within their appliance. So think this is like an intel inside model. Ah they will incorporate our technology sitting completely inside your furness and boiler. So that as a home user there is nothing new from the outside. It takes the same footprint There’s no additional maintenance. There’s no additional install. And basically whenever you replace your future fer a boiler the next generation that comes in it just behaves like a normal furnace and boiler from your standpoint except for the fact that whenever you turn it on ah produces you bonus electricity and that means you no longer need to buy as much electricity from the grid this saves you money. And because it’s more efficient it lowers the seal to 2 footprint plus you have but you have some energy independence now right? since you’re producing a bit of your own power. This gives you some blackout proof capabilities and in fact  this is pretty important in the usa in particular because our grid is not. Super stable. You’ve probably seen this other news nine million homes in the last winter season lost par for more than a day straight and the irony is even though as you mentioned right? You run most of your heat from these fuels whether it’s wood or natural gas but for a lot of these heating appliances especially natural gas furnaces. That’s the. That’s by far the most common appliance even though the gas is still there if you have a blackout you lose your heat because the the furnessce right? It’s ah it’s still of appliance like all our players at home. It needs electricity to run too. So when you lose your electricity you lose your heat. A hundred people died in texas if you remember the last winter season they froze to death when the electricity grid wents out just just this last winter and ah even if you that’s very tragic. But even when that doesn’t happen way way more homes have massive damage right? like where water pipes freeze they burst. And then that’s ten thousand dollars in Damages so our tech can prevent all that and that’s sort of how we’re bringing the technology to market by basically working with the furnace and Boiler makers. So that our techs already inside whenever you go and buy a new 1.                                                                      

James McWalter:         Understood and in terms of I suppose let’s get into technical bit and then I have a few questions but there was this model but I think I think learning a bit but the technical bit would be helpful and so ”      how does it I guess then gets the convert yeah electron electricity in a way that  .                                                                                  

Tony Pan:       Yeah” yeah.                                                                                             

James McWalter:         My my home could actually benefit from so.”                                                                                                         

Tony Pan:       Yeah” so what’s really going on is that we are converting the high grade heats. That’s currently being wasted within your furnace and boiler today into electricity and then ah we come that conversion results in some. Lower temperature heat but our lower temperature heat is still hot enough to be completely transferred into your home and still hot enough to heat the rest of your home. So what’s really going on is if you look inside your furnace. Ah there is some fuel being burned and let’s say it’s a natural gas furnace. Ah that fuel is burning at a flame temperature of think 1400 to 1500 celsius it’s this incredibly hot. It’s what ah people in thermal engineering called high grade heat. This is the heats that normally in a park plants would be used. To drive our steam engine to to move things and learn to generate useful electricity. That’s high quality energy right? there the real big problem we face in our civilization today. The real big waste is that that flame is. Very hot right? but actually infernace is a boiler today lay let that high grade heat degrade and lose most of its useful energy content by cooling down until it’s much below 1 hundred celsius before it goes around to heat your air and hot water. That temperatures drop is typically what’s using in power plant to generate electricity but you can’t shrink a steam turbine in a power plant down to the size of something that fits inside your furnace and Boiler this is why we’re letting that high- grade heat going to waste today. It’s not some kind of conspiracy is because we don’t have tech. To puts a power plant inside your furnace but the magical thing about the thermonic converter is we make it we can make it work even when it’s small james can’t see me although you on the videoca but I’m holding 1 of our prototypes james can see this but it literally fits into the palm of my hand this is something that is. Very small can generates a lot of power from a small device and that’s really 1 of the magics of this new technology. The fact that it’s small. That’s why we can enable this when no 1 else has tried. This has been a holy grail for like a century but we basically just put this right next to the flame inside your furnace. Absorbs a high temperature heat and converts some of that into electricity and then the rest goes into lower temperature heat. But ah        we’re still rejecting heat at about several hundred celsius so over Heats is still useful enough to heat your home heat your water.                                                                

Tony Pan:       And therefore the combined efficiency is a hundred percent.”                                                                                                      

James McWalter:         Its”     Fascinating and I can confirm for the listener that yes it definitely fit in Tony’s palm of his hand.         it was kind of the size of like a like a snickers bar or something that was coming along those lines.      okay  that’s that’s fascinating and and then so it’s it’s kind of it’s taking in that heat. It’s.  you’re going from thousands of degrees to hundreds of degrees So you’re still getting that benefit for your home and that differentiator is being converted or some portion of that differentiation is being converted into electrons and electricity and how did that electricity then get into my actual home and do I need a smart thermostat or what is that kind of Mechanism. So.                                           

Tony Pan:       So we are intentionally targeting electricity generation below a baseload electricity meaning that we’re trying to stay below the the the usual ah bottom curve of your electricity demand. And that means we are not selling electricity back into the grid and that’s very important because that means your your furness already has an electrical plug usually going into the electrical main panel. So we can actually just use the same war and feed electricity back at your home through that circuit. Because we don’t need to sell electricity back into the grid we’re trying trying very hard not to ah first of all”     you don’t get paid a lot to do that nowadays. What is called feed-in tariffs the the price you can charge your utility by sending electricity back in the grid that used to be very high when folks were subsidizing solar all that has dropped by a factor of 10 so we. We’re not goingnna monetize that we’re just going to shave off to the man you need to buy from a grid and because we don’t need to do that. You don’t need to install what is’s called a 2 wo-way meter anymore. Ah your panel and so this greatly simplified install. So think your furness usually already has like a wire that goes into the circuit. And we’re just shipping electricity to reverse direction back into your home.                                                                                              

James McWalter:         And so in that moment Let’s say I turn on my toaster.  and my energy usage in the home just slightly bps up a small amount.  are the electrons that are coming back from the boiler through your device are those potentially being used by the the toaster in that moment or.”                                                                                                             

Tony Pan:       Yeah” potentially     let me clarify a few things. So definitely any energy you produce in your own home is going to be used first. Ah        that’s the electricity that’s used first. Ah by the home this is the same for solar panels.                                                           

James McWalter:         Ah”    yeah I guess I’m so a little bit unclear about that. Yeah.                                                                                    

Tony Pan:       Ah”    to our technology combined heat and power furnaces and it’s that ah happens almost automatically it’s it’s like a water flow analogy where I think the power plant is let’s say it’s water as a very tall dam and then we’re much closer to you and we’re like a water reservoir much closer to you. And so whenever you turn on your tab. You’re going to draw watchher from like us ah us at any closer source first and anything that we don’t fill. Ah it’s going to come from the power plants the Dam a higher energy potential. So that that that process happens automatically. I do want to clarify due to the fact that modern electron we are targeting to serve and shape off your bas old electricity generation. We can keep your heat running. We can keep your lights on your refrigerator running. Ah the the things that occur all the time right. We’re probably not. We’re intentionally probably not going to help when you plug in your hair dryer your vacu cleaner. We’re not serving the Peaks so that’s still coming from the grid or if you have a home battery with some solar. Maybe it’s coming from that.                                                                     

James McWalter:         And so in that’s an scenario you outlined earlier where you actually had a local power outage. You could basically just have a situation where  Maybe you’re not using your hair dryer but you can ? still                    use your laptop. You can solve the lights on .                                                                

Tony Pan:       Yeah” from what we understand the nber 1 thing people need is heat because that’s life threatening and then apparently second is like wifi on your laptop which of course like we can do a land and then fridge right? and some lights.                                                                                                 

James McWalter:         That kind of thing.”                                                                                                                  

James McWalter:         So there. We go. I on just and said and you mentioned yeah the kind of current go to Markete is and business strategy is to have these installed in new furnaces and boilers and so on.”                                                                                                                

Tony Pan:       That’s we we keep we keep you alive.”                                                                                                           

James McWalter:         What about retrofitting have you looked at that at at all up from the existing kind of build out of these devices right.”                                                                                                          

Tony Pan:       Technologically it’s possible but we decided that was it was more elegant as a startup for us to work with these big companies and have them installed in ah and into their new products that they’re manufacturing and it just comes down to the fact that. Ah” we were go to door to door down your neighborhood right? The furnace you might have a furnace that’s 5 years ago your neighbor might have ah firmness that’s ten years ago and the insides will look a little bit different and as a startup now we have to carry a bunch of different skews to fit into all these different furnaces and that just going to increase the complexity. And early cost. So it’s much more elegant for us to make this as part of new heating appliances and by the way 85 percent of heating appliances roughly speaking go into. Ah what is called the retrofits of the home. So. It’s not going so it’s going to existing homes to replace. Old appliances that have stopped working and you need to buy a new appliance that’s the majority of all heating appliance sales so that’s really what we’re targeting existing buildings that are replacing their heating appliance.                                                                                               

James McWalter:         And what about. How do you think about some of the other kind of emergent technology in the kind of home heating space things like heat pps that are kind of much more ah well are fully kind of electricity-driven.   for those who aren’t familiar with it. It’s kind of like ah”          an inverse air conditioner that ah can blow blow boat cold and hot.            with varying kind of degrees of efficiency. But that’s kind of basic principle. How How do you think about those types of touch technologies compared to yours.                                                                                    

Tony Pan:       Oh they’re great. We basically see that the market’s going to bifurcate so this is a topic I’m pretty passionate about because we had to think a lot about this and our go-to market strategy and of course this is also a top of mind of or our partners so our partners there they h fact of plans makers they make both but basically this is what’s going on if you have both heat a reasonable like look basically your winters are not cold and your smers are hot and you need to buy our air conditioner anyways”      then a heats pp technology. Especially the modern kind that is bi-directional which means in smer it can cool and the same appliance can reverse direction and do heating in the winter then you get 2 birds with 1 stone and if you’re in a warm climate. This is pretty awesome. You should get that the retrofit costs can be a bit expensive. But if you’re arizona and you can stomach the payback period it works out great. Also if you’re frankly     if you’re in a new building. So if you can build a new building with a lot more electricity going into the panel.             and it’s a modern building built with modernulation which reduces your overall cooling and heating needs because it’s better insulated. Ah and ah       you can just because it’s a new building. You can be to build it just for heat pps. So there’s no extra retrofit cost then the math also works out great. So so that’s awesome and we should do a lot of that. But here’s a fun stat. So there’s there’s a sort of ah another holy grail which is we should use more heat pps as well and 1 day when our grid is very clean. We will fuel the heat pps with green electricity and that will help us decarbonize so europe europe is usually 15 years ahead of the usa in terms of regulation. They’ve been pushing that for 15 years and they’ve kind of given up and are starting additional approaches. So the statistic is that say germany germany if you remember energy gang wind. They were ahead of the entire world and pushing green energy technology. And after all those subsidies for 10 years for heat pps. They have reached the awesome milestone that fifty percent of new buildings now are installing heat pps. However       ah as I mentioned earlier right? like most heating appliances get sold into existing buildings. In fact. 80 percent of all buildings that are going to be here in 2050 have already been built existing buildings is the elephant in the room and even after all subsidies heat pps have reached about 5 percent of existing buildings and that means there’s ah  there’s a few challenges.                       

Tony Pan:       1 of course is the retrofits cost of heat pp technology into existing building also because existing buildings have poor and so ah”  poor insulation. Ah generally speaking heat pps can’t can’t like they can’t deliver enough heating during the coldest times of the year which is that it’s it’s. It’s most useless when you need need heat the most it’s an unfortunate fact of the intrinsic physics of the heat pub technology that it reaches highest efficiency with the temperature gradients between inside and house site is low and it reaches its lowest efficiency. But the temperature gradient between inside and outside is high so and so that’s sort of the issue that folks have realized and that’s why places in europe they’re trying hydrogen they’re trying of course our technology with combined heat and power they’re doing also district heating. They know they need a lot of extra solutions. Ah     this is why heating is 1 of the hardest areas to decarbonize.                                                                                

James McWalter:         And so if we think about  then let’s say this kind of 2030 year time horizon and that we’re looking to get to  net net net zero in a lot of different areas including kind of residential heating and so on ”   as is how how kind of much how much more carbon efficient I guess is.  the kind of boilers would your technology engage versus the status quo type of boiler when it’s deployed. So.                                                                                                 

Tony Pan:       Yeah” roughly speaking a wheel shave off about a third of the carbon footprint that is present associated with your heating system the nber varies because it depends on the climate right? Like if you use a lot more heat. We’ll use a lot more electricity will generate a lot more electricity and so forth. And it depends on how clean your electricity is and your grid because we’re essentially we’re we’re generating electricity out of energy. That’s already wasted. So overall the power plants need to generate less electricity. So we’re shaving carbon. Basically that way. Ah           but ah. Ah      the way europe is going is that there’s going to be also Hydrogen now introduced and mixed into a lot of the gas grids. So as a fuel gets cleaner. This is a way to also get to start getting to zero for the overall system and frankly our technology is actually fuel agnostic where heats into a electricity converter. So whether it’s a dirty fuel or a clean fuel. We make it more efficient. Yeah.                                                          

James McWalter:         I And said I mean I haven’t looked into this space at all Indep but is there kind of work being done on residential cited Hydrogen boilers or is it. Yeah”         there is very explosive.                                                                                    

Tony Pan:       Yes”   yeah so ah it’s very ambitious and frankly  it’s ah yeah   ah      a lot of things have have to go right for that to happen but ah major players in europe already pilot testing this There’s like Hydrogen mini towns in europe already. It goes back to the. The system up the question of how do you decarbonize building heating so bluntly speaking. Ah this might be a bit real politic but building heating is not going to be decarbonized by 2030 this is 1 of the ah like like we’re going to get ah or vehicles 1 hundred percent electricity before this happens. It’s 1 of the. Hardest to decarbonized sectors along with things like agriculture or long distance planes to could you another sense of scale right? The why is electrification failing so we’re both in a usa when we half of us homes use gas for heating in their homes. And it reaches its peak energy right? of course in winter at night when the sun has set and it’s getting cold and that’s also when people return home from school and work when that happens the peak power from all that gas just in homes exceeds 1 terawatt which is greater than all electricity generated. From the entire us electricity grid from every single source so all electricity we have which we’re already using right? That’s not for homes not for home heating yet all that doesn’t even match out to just gas used in homes and only ten percent of our grid is ah solar and wid so. We don’t have enough generation. We also don’t have enough transmission and distribution grid right? if we had to fully electrify all of that our current grid can’t handle it and it takes about 100 years to build this our grid. Ah and so it’s a massive challenge. This is why modern electron is emphasizing efficiency. And this is why europe which is trying to build the stuff they need in 2050 is even doing things like hydrogen because you’ll need additional fuel carriers in addition to electricity.   

James McWalter:         Yeah I guess  in terms of timelines.  I would I’d say yeah electrification of all like the  the all griffiths type approach from right wiring America and and similar approaches which is  basically because once it’s in Electron form. It’s just more efficient than moving in and out of of heat and so on. Think as you as you mentioned earlier you fully agree with but it’s like if the heat already exists in some context. Let’s just Adopt. Let’s just grab as much energy out of that heat that we can and convert to electricity. ”   so I agree with that I mean absolutely .                                                                                     

Tony Pan:       Yeah” the electrons way more valuable than the heat right on average I think is four times more valuable.                                                                                                       

James McWalter:         Absolutely and so it’s so that I suppose I’m completely kind of align on that I guess from my perspective  for any sort of ”    1 point five to 1 point 8 degree warming trajectory like basically the U s grade will triple in size from ah like electric generation point of view I think to your point earlier about  this more distributed. Like energy resource these the Er type type situations or  mini power plants. distributed much more kind of widely I think that’s definitely going to be a large piece of the picture I’d say potentially 55 percent of total energy generation will be very very localized and that does dramatically cut down in transmission. . I Also think that we’ll probably overbuild quote unquote from ah        a purely technical point of view things like solar and wind unlike a 20 year time Horizon but like that over build will will be so cheap relative to the status quo of building so wind.  I think it’ll still allow us to get to yeah like a 3 X grid probably in yeah or 2021  20 years I’d say well. But 3 times the size the electricity grid some current kind of curves.                                                  

Tony Pan:       I agree with generation I don’t agree with transmission and distribution I think yeah we can build generation plants with solar wind cheaply and it’s got to get even cheaper. But ah”    you need to get an energy where it needs to go and that’s the elephant in the room.                                                                                                     

James McWalter:         Yeah” no     that’s I suppose.         ah I was a deeper kind of conversation I agree like when I talk to utilities and and kind of some of the projects I work on they are building a ton.     but they’re still not building to the capacity that’s needed and interterminment mission across different states and and regions is quite difficult.                                                         

Tony Pan:       Yeah” yeah yeah it’s hard right? It’s crazy if you look at it electricity costs that it’s builtills into what we’re paying in homes today. It’s funny right? Have you seen your utility bill go down I’ve talked to many people I don’t think this has happened and the reason.                                                          

Tony Pan:       And that’s weird because we have cheap renewables now. So generations should be cheaper right? So why isn’t electricity cost going down. Well ah Ford I think forty 3 percent of your electricity bill is now generation. Ah sorry”   not generation. But it’s transmission and distribution and it’s only gonna get higher.                                                                                          

James McWalter:         Yeah” and and just just for for the kind of layperson. Basically the amount of wires that are built to get energy from 1 place to another.      those’s big kind of high voltage power lines that people drive by sometimes     basically they can only carry so much electricity and at a given points of the day they’re basically just full.                                                                  

Tony Pan:       So yeah.”                                                                                                                     

James McWalter:         It’s imagine like a water pipe full of water and you just basically can’t get the water. You can’t put add anymore water to a water pipe as’s similar to energy like if  a city like Seattle needs a ton of energy. ”  there may be a ton of energy being generated like outside the state all ready to go but the transmission lines. Are fully full and so that you just can’t get anymore into the City. We need to vote a ah hundred percent and you couldn’t mentioned this and I think this kind of goes into both the transmission piece as well as  different types of how the home is affected.  you mentioned some of these kind of european efforts.                                                                                   

Tony Pan:       Yeah” we we need to build a lot more and we just start now.                                                                                      

James McWalter:         What is the kind of regulatory and the  permitting process looks like in the United States  I I know there are some states do have kinds of programs around energy and efficiency in the home and so on. ”  what are you seeing? What are you kind of excited about from the regulatory picture and.                                                                                         

Tony Pan:       Oh so this is kind of funny in europe when you do when you do this kind of waste energy capture to code generates heat and power. Ah our our products right? boilers with our technology inside. Will be rated at above a hundred percent efficiency and of course of the I’m a trained as a physicist right? like ah so I’m like that’s stupid. That’s impossible. Nothing can be above 100 ah hundred percent efficiency. But this is the way the math is written in the books.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Tony Pan:       Because everybody recognizes electricity is more valuable than heat. Not just from an economic value standpoint. But because if you produce electricity locally. It’s a lot more efficient. Ah because you don’t have their transmission and you don’t have the one third average power plant efficiency. You don’t have to deal with that anymore. So they multiply the electricity by. Factor of 2 point five before it they added to also the heat generated within your boiler so because of the way that math works ah boilers with our technology will be rated above 100 percent efficient which is kind of cool and of course that makes us happy but it’s just again as a former physicist. But I I sort of roll my eyes out that but just take my blessings.”                                                                                                                        

James McWalter:         Absolutely and and then in terms of like the other ah  standards I know new york has some pretty strong. ”   new building standards.           I think it’s the ny c and ninety seven law which is affecting  greenhouse gas emissions. Although I think that’s more for like larger scale than like single-family homes. .  how do you think about?  the importance of regulation.  you’re already talking to a lot of the boilermakers or you’re already have partnerships with a lot of those   are they like do they need a continued push right either from the regulation side or maybe more on the conser side or do you think  just the pure economics of. Technology like yours makes sense for them right now.                                                                                  

Tony Pan:       Bluntly It’s the pure economics and value prop of the technology. Ah Usa regulation ah is not the same as Europe to put them milly. So the major Usa companies are working with us. They’re relying on the fact that they think people are going to love this right.”                                                                                                                      

James McWalter:         Sure I.”                                                                                                          

Tony Pan:       If you first of all”           even if you didn’t care about energy savings. Ah if you’re living in a blackout pro blackout prone area. This is 1 of the best things that has ever happened to heating appliances. It can basically give you backup power. And make make your life a lot easier save you save you pain save you tens of thousands of dollars in damages and your only other alternative is like a fifteen thousand dollars generator installed outside of your home taking extra extra real states and additional maintenance.                                                                                                    

James McWalter:         Or or a similar like cost for a ” solar plus battery array. If if you have the space for that as well. Right? like  you’re right.                                                                                               

Tony Pan:       Oh yeah”         like a solar plus battery array would be even more expensive right? But that that 1 has energy savings unlike a generator generator so that that’s good           but ah  the issue is wintertime right? The the winter time Blackout. You don’t have enough solar. And a battery will run out. It will not last you through like the multi-day multi-day blackhouse that you saw ah in this winter season whereas we have a generation technology. It will never run out during the blackout or just keep going so they’re they’re seeing this primarily just from an intrinsic value propp standpoint in the us.                                                                      

James McWalter:         So right.”                                                                                                                      

Tony Pan:       But I actually would love to see more governmental action here. It’s it’s a little bit absurd. Ah what we have in a us aid regulations are quite behind where I think they should be to give you a sense. Ah. Let’s set aside modern electron right? like ignore our technology exists there are there was a technology called condensing technology within heating appliances I won’t go into how it works but basically condensing technology is mandated has been mandated in europe for . 15 years now because it raises the heating appliance efficiency from about 80 percent to ninety plus not big change but enough to be significant and it was invented like 40 years ago so 20 years ago you’re pretty mandated it ah in the usa it has never. Been really mandated. Ah”  despite the efficiency improvements and so today seventy percent of the usa markets is still the previous generation technology from like the nineteen seventy s and 80 s it’s crazy. Ah.                                                                                             

James McWalter:         Right? And so the massive opportunity to like skip skip ahead to the kind of level that of what what you’re building. ”  that’s super fascinating.  I suppose just before we kind of finish you up here?      I was like looking into your background and I believe you’ve grown up in  combined Taiwan Scotland Korea and now you’re       living in seattle.                                                          

Tony Pan:       Yeah.”                                                                                                            

James McWalter:         What is the kind of moving between those kind of quick culturally different places kind of impacted how you build a startup.”                                                                                                                 

Tony Pan:       Well I think it impacted the mission. So first of all I moved around. Ah fortunately because my dad was in the navy right? So ah”          what’s better than you join the navy yourself as your your parents join the Navy you see the world and they do the work.                                                                                               

James McWalter:         All right? sure.”                                                                                                         

Tony Pan:       Ah”    but ah  it was the taiwanese navy I’m ah I was born in taiwan and ah I think how would I put this I have a little bit of ah allergy to some of the Silicon valley approaches which I like to say it as akin to let them eat cake which is come up with a fancy and expensive solutions. And I think that comes from the fact that I didn’t to be clear I grew up very privileged I grew up in a middle class family in Taiwan which is a pretty developed country but it’s not the United states. It’s just not especially when I was growing up I was just not that rich. And I’m I’m like 1 generation from poverty like real poverty not like and this sounds kind of brutal but like I there’s real poverty in the usa as well. But it’s not the real real poverty and and out there in the rest of the world right? Ah to give you a statistic right? like.                                                                                    

James McWalter:         Like like like dollar ten dollars a day type poverty. .”                                                                                                           

Tony Pan:       Yeah” like my mom. My mom was the fourth child to be born in her family. She was the first to survive past age of 2 right? and I’ve  I’ve she grew up in like sls I that’s still like my grandparents home but or that they pass away very early because you also don’t live very long but like I visited those places right? it’s.                                                                                               

James McWalter:         Or yep.”                                                                                                                       

James McWalter:         Sure sure.”                                                                                                                  

Tony Pan:       It’s horrible. This is what most of the world live like right? So I just can’t I can’t ah I think our company founding mission was to make energy both cleaner and cheaper I sorts of intrinsically refused to just say hey climate change is important so work. No matter what we should just use green technology even if it’s super expensive. I just don’t believe that and I think that has a little bit to do with my background I don’t think that’s fair. So that’s sort of why we take the we’ve spent ah many tens of millions of dollars doing breakthrough technology at Modern electron because of the intrinsic belief that frankly”     a technological miracle is probably. Not only like morally the right thing to do. But I think it’s necessary because we think to get to scale a lot of the world like this has got to be like purely superior to then than current tech right? like the better greener solution has to be superior to the current solution. From an economic standpoint and all these other things. Even if you didn’t care about c o 2 because that’s what a lot of people on the planets are going to be like because they they’re not as fortunate as us.                                                                                            

James McWalter:         I think there” there’s a huge amount of kind of value in that and that perspective  I think we’ve done collectively as people in the climate space either technology or policy a pretty bad job of painting like this incredibly exciting future that the the tech we’re all working on is actually going to produce like it’s a cleaner. You turn not just from a c o 2 point of view but  a smog in the air.          yeah I’ve spent a ton of time in the developing world over the last  11 years and in some of the countries you mentioned and and countries like yeah earlier and I suppose the development kind of cycle and  just just breathing is just very very difficult in a lot of places and we kind of as we introduce like. Technologies that through either electrification or the reabsorption of heat in the way that  modern electrons working on those all those kind of things.    that’s like a net good but it also has to have price parody right along all the way through that kind of value chain.  because  it’s all very well I guess for developed countries to ah decate certain things.                                                              

Tony Pan:       ”          yeah.                                                                                             

James McWalter:         ”          from a particular kind of advantage in terms of like living standards.  like I’m I’m a few more generations ireland’s a little bit further behind the the us than than yeah other developed countries.    but but not not to the same level as your and  there was yeah my I guess I’m like a. Grandparent away from like not having tvs and refrigerators and all this kind of thing I mean be a four generation away from the kind of level of Poverty. You’re talking about but like it’s still I guess something that irish people are obsessed with is this idea that  I want to have ah a sense of safety in the home. A sense of like these these products have to.                                                                            

Tony Pan:       Yeah” yeah.                                                                                             

James McWalter:         Give safety around heat safety that I can eat safety around those kind of things before you get the nice Tv and all those kind of additional add-ons.”                                                                                                              

Tony Pan:       Yeah that’s exactly right right? I think ah there is real suffering in the world and before you ask folks to save the planet. It’s a lot easier to ask them hey use this new product because it’s gonna make your life better and it’s cheaper and incidentally it’s better. For your environment and I think that’s got to be the way that the real big solutions will happen across a planet if we really want to move the needle because yeah I mean  this right? most of the growth in c o 2 emissions is not going to happen in ah in the developed world anymore. It’s going to be the developing world that’s going to have the Fastest. Ah c o 2 contributions and if if we don’t things that work there. It’s sort of at moot points even if europe and usa gets to zero.”                                                                                                                 

James McWalter:         Oh absolutely And and ah all all the charts that I looked at recently like showed that very well.  Tony this has been great. ”      but really kind of enjoyed chatting is there anything I should have asked you about but did not.                                                                                                 

Tony Pan:       Oh yeah.”                                                                                                                    

I’d say sort of the nber 1 thing. We’re pretty proud of with our solution is it’s a drop-in solution right? because of this intel inside model. You’d be able to adopt this new appliance. That’s more efficient. It will save you money. It will reduce your overall climate footprint at like no extra hassle. This is just this is almost invisible sitting inside these heating appliances that just makes them better and therefore we think this is a way to go to scale quickly and yeah” so when it comes out in the Market. Ah consider that and also by the way model electron is growing like crazy. So we  we we have a wonderful team there I’m the spokesperson at this point our our our team we have like 14 page ds 14 masters doing deep tech cool work. Great culture and they’re the people that make the magic happen. And so we’d love for folks to join us in in the climate fight.                                                                              

James McWalter:         So very good. Yeah”   and I’ll include link links to your career page I think you’re doing a ton of hiring at the moment.          thank you Tony It’s been great.                                                                          

Tony Pan:       Okay” thank you keep up the good fight.                                                                                                        

How to Make Green Financial Decisions – E68

Great to chat with Bonnie Gurry, Co-Founder at GreenPortfolio, a company that helps you know the climate impact of your finances! We discussed

ESG standards, greenwashing, finances as a powerful way to fight climate change, the need to direct people towards fighting climate change and more!

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Thanks so much! 


The unedited podcast transcript is below

James McWalter   

Hello today we’re speaking with Bonnie gurry co-founder at green portfolio welcome to the podcast Bonnie brilliant I suppose to start with. Could you tell us a little bit about Greenportfolio?

Bonnie Gurry

Thanks for having me James I’m so glad to be here. Green portfolio is a financial management platform that offers personalized insights about the climate impact of your money so we screen your investments car transactions. All of the different financial products you use so that. You know where you stand are you backing Fossil Fuels or are you investing in a clean energy Future. We Want everyone to feel empowered to make impactful changes that will actually make a difference in the fight against climate change and so.

James McWalter  

 And and so what drove that initial decision to start the company and just how do you identify? This is such a big problem.

Bonnie Gurry

So all of this began. Ah quite some time ago.  I worked for new york state ah quite a bit ago ah helping them develop renewable energy projects. and I saw the kinds of deals that institutional investors were getting and I wanted to add that kind of ah project to my own portfolio I wanted to take some of my money and make sure it was in you know helping to build a clean energy future and I found it pretty hard to do. . Started doing research building spreadsheets. and this was a long time ago. It’s something I’ve kind of kept track of over the years and then in the end of 2019 I actually applied to the nrdc the national resources defense council for a grant just to start to build. Ah. Public resource for people to kind of try to do the same analysis of their money and it’s slowly turned into what is now Green portfolio. so we we began more of ah as a kind of reviews educational website and now we’ve we’ve pivoted into being a. Ah software product for consers. So we’ve we’ve kind of changed our focus over time and I’m I’m happy to talk a bit more about that as well. Just.

James McWalter   

And just I supposed to go back to that beginning piece. So when you say projects are we talking you know what kind of projects were the types of projects. You wish you could have had some sort of investment access to.

Bonnie Gurry

So at the time we were ah we had put out an rfp for wind farms was 1 of the major projects I was working on was wind farms across new york state and these were ah projects that were being essentially backed by new york state so they probably weren’t going to. Even if they failed the state would be there to kind of back up the investment. as long as the wind blew they generated electricity. and and you know I could see the banks were getting a very fair return on this almost very low risk investment. and I found it really frustrating that at that time especially. I couldn’t do the same thing in my portfolio that you basically had to be a large bank  or other kind of and you know institutional lender to have access to that kind of investment I mean so some time ago. Ah climate finance climate fintech has really evolved in the last you know Decade. Ah. So and even esg all of this has changed a lot. The landscape has changed ah but but that was the kind of thing I wanted to be able to fund and was really frustrated that I wasn’t able to do so.

James McWalter   

And if we look at the kind of massive growth in clean energy companies some of them driven by Sps some of them driven by more traditional methods of financing. yeah there’s basically a ton of returns that have been generated in the last ten years and and that is. You know probably going to accredited investors only at this point.

Bonnie Gurry

I would agree with that I think the average investor has not had a lot of exposure to this market which if you believe that ultimately we need to adjust our entire infrastructure to stop climate change the fact that. Average person doesn’t have much exposure to this to me is is really unfair and so that’s 1 reason why we started green portfolio is because we think everyone should not only be able to stop funding fossil fuels if that’s what they want to do but also have exposure to green assets actual. Green assets if. That’s important to them as well.

04:15.0 James McWalter   

I Guess as it goes as kind of emotional took a war that people in the climate space are constantly kind of dealing with between you know I suppose outlining the downsides outlining you know basically fear-based messaging versus like hope-based messaging like the the positive upside.

Bonnie Gurry

We have.

James McWalter   

And absolutely Agree. You know divestment from fossil fuels is like a necessary but like not sufficient condition to make major change whereas it’s the actual investment in you know the clean technologies of today and of the next kind of couple of decades which gets people excited right? You know people are going to have evs in most parking lots pretty soon people are going to you know. Be able to build a house and and know that the concrete is coming from. You know carbon to value concrete and all those kind of tech is coming along. But I agree like if I don’t think we do as good a job explaining the upside as ah overall climate community as we might.

Bonnie Gurry

I would agree with that and I I also think on occasion we get a little bit stuck in looking for perfection as well. like I’ve had some people be frustrated because you know so there are some you know bond funds that we think are very green but hold treasury bonds. And like treasury bonds are not a green asset. Well but that’s just the reality of how financial products work. Of course they’re going to have to hold something in something more liquid. but the majority of it is and you can still you know add some of that to your portfolio diversify a bit  and and still make a difference even if it. You know we’re not saying that everyone should take all their money and invest in only Green assets but we think it should be part of a ah ah reasonable diversification effort.  for the average person.

James McWalter   

Sure. Absolutely and so you mentioned this kind of pivot from more an informational product into more of a software product and so what is the product today and I suppose what you know how is that working. So.

Bonnie Gurry

So right now we’re essentially mid-pivot. so ah you caught us a kind of ah ah I hate to say but a pivotal moment. where so while we were building out this kind of informational reviews-based site.

Bonnie Gurry

We did a lot of customer interviews. both with people who knew a lot about green investing and people who knew very little and we found that especially the people who knew a lot about green green investing ah had been doing ah very similar to exercises that I had been doing which was tracking their finances in excel. And doing all this legwork to figure out which of the funds had Fossil Fuel assets which ones didn’t  and many of them were frustrated and ah you know they wanted to do it but they who has time who has time to do that. and. On the other hand we found that there were a lot of people who on the whole don’t enjoy managing their finances green or otherwise found it find it a bit daunting but really care about the environment and just wanted to essentially press a button and say what’s Good. What’s bad. Can you just tell me. . And so that’s when we say you know we need more than just information people Really There’s a real you know open space for this kind of product. No 1 else is really doing this people really want to do it. and we think this is a service that we could provide  and so that’s really what. Changed our focus was hearing from potential users that this is what they really Wanted. Information was great but they were kind of overwhelmed.  what they wanted was analysis and insight particular to their finances.

James McWalter   

Absolutely you know I think about some of the products I use for my own just personal finance. Nothing to do with green portfolio but things like mint or personal capital or these kind of products you know they they go into my you know savings accounts or you know my brokerage accounts. Whatever it may be they s it up and they say Okay you know you have this amount of equities this amount of bonds and you know a little bit of more information besides that and it would absolutely be phenomenal to know you know I’m holding all these etfs and how dirty are those etfs right? But you know I’m trying to be green and in my day today but I have no idea I might through some my etfs just be holding a ton of coal. Ah.

Bonnie Gurry

You will.

James McWalter  

Power plants that I’m not even aware of.

Bonnie Gurry

You you probably are and that’s 1 thing people don’t realize even if they have gone to the trouble of say buying an esg fund or using only esg funds ah because of the way esg works and first of all there’s no standard for what and.

James McWalter   


Bonnie Gurry

What esg is there are many different people who have many different ratings that call themselves esg ratings. There’s no government entities saying here’s how you should or should not do it. But in general it’s done on an industry basis. So ah a. Exxon for instance tends to have a very high environmental rating because compared to other oil and gas companies. They are cleaner in Theory. Ah so they are very likely in an esg etf. Ah which most people don’t think is going to happen.

James McWalter   

Here here. Right now.

Bonnie Gurry

Ah but the reality is that esg was not developed for individuals. It was developed for institutions professionals. But now it’s really being used as a marketing tool in my opinion to greenwash things for a conser. Ah who doesn’t have the time to dig into all of the ratings and to learn how they are developed and used.

James McWalter   

Let’s chat a little bit about greenwashing. You know it is something that I think people are becoming more aware of but this was yeah how do you define greenwashing and what are the? ah. I think there’s a couple different flavors of green washing some way worse than others. But how do you think about that as a kind of general concept.

Bonnie Gurry

Ah for us greenwashing is pretty much anything being done to trick a conser into thinking what they’re using. Actually it’s helping the environment and many products in this space in.

James McWalter   

And then.

Bonnie Gurry

Financial many financial products in this space I think are guilty of that. if you start digging into certain carbon offsets if you start really as I mentioned the esg funds it it can be really frustrating to try to actually find products that are making a difference. If I see another credit card that is compostable that that 1 drives me up a wall like fantastic I’m glad you’re using compostable plastic I suppose but what do you think you’re actually doing with that. That’s not really moving the needle. But they understand that people are emotional. It makes them feel good when they swipe a card that is compostable but there needs to be more behind it and our finances are 1 of the most powerful tools we have to fight climate change and almost no 1 is using their finances to fight climate Change. . Where we as a society spend our money matters and our society is made up of people who have money and investments and collectively if we start to adjust it. We can start to change How things are invested.

James McWalter   

Yeah I think yeah on the greenwashing side the in 1 and 1 respect I think it’s just it’s in s total of han you know existence. It’s a net positive because just the fact that people care enough about it. The green to be washed is a positive right? that companies are making sort of response to and.

Bonnie Gurry


James McWalter   

You know for first twenty thirty years of like an environmental movement that was being kind of translated into conser action. It was just completely nonsense right? It was like you know we’re just doing this tiny little thing over here and just burning down a ton of rainforest over there and you know don’t don’t look at over here. You know just focus on this 1 little project that’s happening locally. Whatever may be I think what we’re kind of. Starting to see is and I think the the movement on the financialization of esg and the adding you know of like large index indicess that are starting to bring in these kind of metrics to evaluate your different kind of companies means that the the actual like responsibility for sustainability at the company is moving from. You know some side team to the cfo.  And I think that shift is kind of really driving it from ah yeah sustainability slash marketing team to actually the financial cfo team who has more of a I supposed see it at the board for a lot of these dirtier companies.

Bonnie Gurry

Ah hundred percent I agree with that and and even though I on the whole don’t love esg I think it has been a ah ah net positive by even even if the the calculations and the the metrics used can be misleading at least for measuring something. you know at least it puts companies on notice that people are paying attention and they least have to try to maintain some effort of reducing their impact on on the world and climate in Particular. . So I so I agree that it. Well once again it’s back to that the concept before we you know we’re not going to find perfect right now we have to use the tools we have the resources we have to to make the effect the greatest change we can. So yeah on the whole I think greenwashing is frustrating to the end conser but at at least.

James McWalter  

 Absolutely and 1 of the things you mentioned earlier. It was a little bit more tactical but I think I’d love to dive into it. A little bit is the kind of user research and the user interview process. You know I talked to a ton of startups but on the podcast and elsewhere.

Bonnie Gurry

Companies are starting to care more.

James McWalter  

 And I would say if I had to pick like a nber 1 sign of a startup who are increasing their chance of success. It’s like the nber of times they talk to users especially at the earliest days you know I suppose tactically what? what was your process to get in front of the kind of people you needed to talk to.

Bonnie Gurry

Well so for 1 we really put it at front and center of what we were doing ah for quite some time because we realized we hadn’t quite something wasn’t quite fitting perfectly and in the in the product we were providing to users. And so we really wanted to dig into that to try to understand ah different users problems and so we on on 1 hand just like reached out to people we knew and asked them hey can we talk to a random cousin anyone anyone like because everyone has money. In some sort of financial product. So that’s kind of where we started.  and then we slowly got introduced especially to companies that had sustainable investing groups. Those are really great for being able to talk to people who cared about this subject already.  we started keeping our ears open for companies that had internal employee sustainable investing groups and asking ah can we you know? can we do a lunch and learn. Can we set up a time to talk with a few of your employees and over time we I mean we’ve done hundreds of interviews and it absolutely helped us better understand. People’s needs and concerns.  and shaped how we are going about not only designing the product but then also how we’re going to go about selling and deploying the product as well. So I do highly recommend. Ah customer interviews.

James McWalter   

Yeah and like I said ah I think on the podcast in the in the past yeah I reach out to a couple hundred people a week no matter what I’m working on just cold warm like you can’t nearly can’t do enough kind of conversations and maybe only 2 people reply to. But. You know that that is all part of you know kind of startup and iteration. so when I think about this kind of product that’s kind of emergent at the moment you know it sounds like there’s kind of 2 pieces to it. There’s a software piece on it. There’s like a data piece and so software piece I’d imagine some sort of interface where I can log in I can maybe potentially add the assets already have or.

Bonnie Gurry

But yeah absolutely.

James McWalter   

You know and you can correct i’ wrong potentially ah purchase other types of assets or or link different kinds of assets together and then it’s the actual data to give insight into whether these are how how green how climate positive how you know impactful these different investments are you know I suppose. James McWalter   Where are you where you how you try to tackle both of those problems and what’s your general approach.

Bonnie Gurry

so we are in the beginning at least working with some third party tools to help us just start to scale up and part of that is because we want to do more than just. Ah. Help people see the impact of their finances. We also want to give them real time information on the companies they’re investing in what are they doing in this space day-to-day. you know no 1 has time to go and google every single company that is in their investment portfolio. So we want to be able to ping people and tell them you know. Here’s what Apple did today that has an environmental impact. We also want to connect them with the means to offset their purchases if that’s important to them if that’s something that they want to do we want to be able to provide them both a very. High level understanding of the climate impact of a particular financial product but then for kind of the super user if they want to click through and read about where that nber came from how we calculated it why we are judging a certain fund or company to be rated a certain way. Ah we want them to have that transparency because I think people are tired of having to ah you know trying to read the methodology of all these different esg ratings companies that they have access to so we want to make it really transparent because people are really frustrated with. You know being greenwashed to this point. Ah so we don’t want to contribute to that problem. so so there is a fine balance there though because we also want we don’t want it to be a chore right? We want this to be almost. You know kind of fun see how much money you have has your climate score gone up compare you to other users.

James McWalter  

 So absolutely.

Bonnie Gurry

 see what other users are up to we want to be able to provide like anonymize like user information. Oh twenty percent of our users drop this fund this week do you want to we think there’s a lot of engagement we can do as well. . Building on the data sets that we are developing and utilizing.

James McWalter  

 No absolutely and I guess like the value trust right becomes so important because a lot of what you’re doing is translating a lot of ah hard to understand concepts into some sort of relatively simple set of metrics and that translation like it necessitates a ton of trust on the user and I guess when I think through like est in particular and you know that’s the basis for so so Much. What’s happening. You know there’s 3 aspects of esg right? There’s the environmental social and the governance. you know a lot of The. Organization a lot of organizations will have a very good you know governance rating because you know the the founders don’t own forty forty 2 percent of the company or whatever it is and they have a decent board. whereas again they might be burning down right for some daily basis or doing other kind of terrible things with ah you know twitch shops and all this kind of thing.

Do you think about the other elements outside of the environmental piece and will those also be kind of incorporated into green portfolio.

Bonnie Gurry

So ah the data that we’re pulling in does have some of those external like s and g ratings as well. They we envision that it will be something that users will have access to seeing but because our first and foremost. Ah Metric is climate impact. We’re really stay focused on that. Ah but because also I want to mention we’re not taking anyone’s money right? So we’re not managing people’s money we can’t tell you exactly what funds that swap out things like that. So we do understand that people have different value systems. Ah but for now we’re really just focusing on the environmental climate impact risk of a particular financial product.

James McWalter  

 And and I think that makes a ton of sense you know focus especially early days. Super important. You know it’s better to have ah like ah a great skateboard than you know kind of half-filled car across all these different metrics. you mentioned that you’re not going to have a fiduciary duty. You’re not going to be directly kind of managing money. Makes a ton of sense is a Saas model is that the kind of current plan to to monetize. Okay perfect. Yeah I think that definitely aligns because the better the experience the fund all those elements you bring to the user.  the more they want to stay with you and so I think in this space. . Like that that that makes sense to me from a monetization point of View. So.

Bonnie Gurry

Yeah and we also are really seeing a lot of interest from companies actually who and this kind of goes back to where we a lot of our work in the beginning was in these sustainable employee groups. Ah. And and there are companies who are really feeling pressure from their employees to be greener do better and they would love to be able to provide a tool to their really proactive employees ah to help them to manage their climate anxiety Honestly ah people have a lot of climate anxiety with with good reason. And so we we see this as something that ah employees are actually employers are actually very interested in providing as a benefit as well. So we’re We’re really excited about that.

James McWalter   

I love that that point the perk space I think is this kind of remarkably interesting b 2 b to c kind of opportunity and I’ve talked to a few friends of mine who are kind of exploring kind of opportunities in that space. So 1 is but. Kind of adding electrify your home as a perk right? So the company would give you know twenty percent of any home renovations that you know you pull out the gas stove and you put in you know induction or whatever it may be and but rather than trying to go knock door to door and find all those individuals you offer it as a perk and like that’s a much easier sell right? because you only have to sign up.You know 3 hundred companies to be part of the pers program versus you know the 1 hundred thousand employees that they have collectively and so yeah and also to your point like the amount of competition for high end. Ah yeah people for for talent is getting hotter every year and

Bonnie Gurry

It is.

James McWalter   

And people have more of a care about the the impact that they have and so you know I like I feel we’re moving from like a world of like foosballs and free lunch to a much kind of greener set of perks that that employees are after.

Bonnie Gurry

I think that’s true as well. I think especially after covid people are starting to reassess what really matters and ah also during covid a lot of people in the last year have felt climate change affect them personally in a manner that wasn’t happening ten years ago five years ago even 3 years ago and and I think people want to start to assess their climate risk and we are a useful tool for that to help them start to understand you know what portion of your finances are invested in different facets of the you know. Clean economy. So that people can start to actually implement changes that matter to them. So so yeah we we see ourselves as part of that as well.

James McWalter  

 Yeah the glass here I Definitely feel is a bit of an inflection point and it’s hard to know when you’re in the middle of an inflection point like maybe things you know slow down again. but mainly because  so many people in places of power whether it’s you know Silicon Valley Capital Vc capitalists or You know members of government. Not only were they kind of stuck at home and weren’t able to do things that had always been an easy set of choices or they’d literally see their you know backyards or their homes at on fire. you know when I look at the vc like the amount of money pouring into climate vc this year I think it’s greater than the previous 10 years combined it’s absolutely like booming at the moment especially for seed and pree levels and so and to get this kind of early stage but you know as you kind of talk to the investment community. You know what are the kind of things that they find compelling about what you’re working on.

Bonnie Gurry

I mean we’ve had some really really great conversations. Ah with a nber of investors. We’re actually going to be opening our first round later this year which we’re really excited about? yeah so we’re starting to you know start making some warm intros and and start having some conversations.

James McWalter   

Its exciting. Yeah.

Bonnie Gurry

And you know they they see that this is a real gap in the Market. because there is just this flood of new green financial products. it’s part of what part of what we do at Green portfolios try to track all these new products and. Since the beginning of 2021. It’s just kind of exploded whether it’s bank accounts credit cards new investment funds ah mortgages insurance companies ah payment systems like there are so many new green financial products out there that it can be very hard to keep track of. And I think they realize that if as an investor who’s in this space day in day out. They’re having trouble keeping track of this ah from an you know from their firm’s point of view. Let alone their personal point of view I think they recognize that this is ah a problem. A lot of people are having and it’s a problem that. Particularly environmentally focused people are having so so yeah we’ve had a lot of really great conversations and we can almost tell immediately when we start talking with an investor ah 1 if they care about climate change like if it hits them in their heart and then. Then the conversation’s incredibly easy. They’re like oh I get what you’re doing this makes a ton of sense I myself would use this product or it’s someone who thinks climate change is well important. It’s not part of their core investment thesis and I think people who recognize how fundamental a change we are about to. Take part in because of climate change have they’ve built that into you know where they think they need to be investing and and and I think that’s smart I think a lot of our you know none of us envisioned how much covid was going to change our economy and society and we’re. Only now starting to understand how climate change is going to to change our our society as a whole  and I think the fact that the financial markets have quickly been adapting to this is is a sign of what’s to come.

James McWalter  

 No Absolutely and you know I think I’ve had some these kind of similar conversations and absolutely there’s this ah some get it more than others. but even the ones who don’t seem to get it as much 1 of the things I was got to ask them is like and even in your non you know climate focused Investments. . Should probably have a climate slide right? Even if it’s in the Appendix You know how are they going to react when a lot of their staff. Can’t come to work because of forest as fires. Whatever it may be so even just from ah like a risk profile. yeah even if you are a crm for you know hairdressers or whatever it may be ah you still need to care about. You know the downside risks that are going to just get worse in the next couple of decades.

Bonnie Gurry

Yeah I would absolutely agree with that. It’s It’s going to affect things in ways we hadn’t imagined and and I think it’s smart for any business and especially from a portfolio management point of view to at least have it on your radar of how things. How things might be affected and what what your downside risk is because I think a lot of people don’t know.

James McWalter   

Absolutely and I believe you also kind of came through like an accelerator in New York could you tell us a little bit about that experience.

Bonnie Gurry

Ah sure so we most recently went through the colbia ibm launch accelerator. Ah which was a really fantastic experience. It was run ah by staff at colbia university in conjunction with ibm so we had access to. Ibm watson and all of their kind of like internal data tools that they had as well as a lot of the key ibm staff that most of whom were sitting in in New York State some outside new york say but mostly new york and it was for somewhat recent graduates from new york. Ah schools. Ah but the the staff homey was just fantastic and really took a very focused approach in making sure that we were talking to customers understanding their needs just kind of real fundamental things that. Now that we have built it into our general practice have made such a difference. So ah so it was ah it was a great experience with ah a lot of really interesting startups most of whom were not with a green focus. Ah but in some ways we’re dealing with data so that was the core premise of all these different that the core. A factor that we all kind of had in common was we all were in some ways using data to and provide a better product for consers.  see it was a really great experience and we were 1 of the teams actually got a follow on funding which we were really excited about.

James McWalter   

And that’s very exciting. It is this kind of interesting kind of relationship between you know a corporate capital versus kind of more conventional kind of Vc Capital. it can definitely be this kind of. Boost to understanding how certain types of companies think and can kind of enhance the startup from there and yeah so sometimes actually you do see green washing in the space I know the shells of the world have a ton of ah you know Capital armss and so on and I’m not sure if they’re investing in a ton of clean energy. But.

James McWalter   

 and so it is this kind of balance. But yeah it makes sense that that was a great experience.

Bonnie Gurry

Yeah and I think a lot of these kind of smaller accelerators. Don’t get the same you know fanfare as the Y combinators or tech starst etc. but I I think they shouldn’t be overlooked at all you know they.

James McWalter   


Bonnie Gurry

Can provide a lot of value and really especially at pivotal moments provide the kind of insight and support ah that you know it can be hard to access if you’re not 1 of the very few companies that like makes it into 1 of these huge accelerators.  I I have been. Since the beginning of this whole like startup journey I’ve been just so warmed and surprised by not only from the colbia team but just by if you go and ask people for help. How many people are willing to help you how many people are willing to open their rolodex or just you know give you time or advice and and I Think. Ah that kind of ecosystem ah can be tapped into a nber of ways and 1 of which is going through 1 of these smaller accelerators.

James McWalter   

Yeah and I’ve I’ve talked to somebody recently who was basically approached by a wesi partner to you know apply for their clean Very cool clean energy startup and they were just like like weissi’s great but like they don’t know enough about clean energy and what is particularly needed to get to that next level. But. Particular company trying to get to in terms of you know heat pp applied to buildings and so on and so they were definitely just more looking at kind of corporate Partners. You know theiemens of the world. This kind of thing to like really get into understanding of like supply chains. All these kind of things I think they joined I think Semens accelerate or something similar. So makes a ton of sense I Guess like you know you’ve kind of in this kind of community or you know at an accelerator you’re talking to other kind of companies that are tackling different aspects of the problem. You know you kind of look across the the climate space. You know where do you see kind of large opportunities that not enough people are looking at not enough people are trying to solve.

Bonnie Gurry

So  I Still think that there is a lot of potential out there in tapping into people’s willingness to personally fight climate change. You know you look at the data.

James McWalter   


Bonnie Gurry

Especially for Gen Z and millennials and you know the the kinds of decisions people are making about their lives because of climate change where they live if they have a kid how how they go go to work I mean these are major lifestyle changes right? Not having kids is ah. A pretty big deal. and and the fact that we could be asking them to do other impactful things in a way that could make a difference I think that really hasn’t been fully. Ah. Utilize in some way. Yeah and I’m not quite sure. That’s something we’re trying to kind of tap into saying you know there’s other things you could be doing but I still think that in kind of the amount of work we need to do to remake our society ah to to fight this kind of existential problem. There are lots of people willing to help they just don’t know what to do and and I think that that there there’s something there that we haven’t fully ah you know utilized yet that the energy of people who who want to make a difference and and it’s not a small subset of the population. It’s a lot of the population. Ah. Want a better life for themselves and their kids and ah and I think there’s a lot of opportunity there I Really do.

James McWalter  

I agree fully with that I think of Saul griffiths who wrote rewiring America here’s this line about you know even just the is looking at rezoning and all the legal issues there. He’s like there’s a job even for the lawyers right in the future of of climate change and I think that.   I guess I think we have a pretty poor filter as of right now.  to get people to where they need to get to.  you know there’s these ah great emergent. You know online communities. You know my climate journey is 1 air miners work on climate you know a few others I’m sure people are shouting out at the podcast now because but. You know collectively these are maybe about thirty thousand people across all these now. These 30000 people are doing unbelievably phenomenal things and it was only three thousand last year right and so like the uprow has been just phenomenal. Even since I got involved in these communities. but like I feel this is an earth.

Bonnie Gurry


James McWalter   Easy 2 or 3 million people in the United states alone who would very very happily dedicate some or a lot of the resources not just at work. But you know in their spare time to things that moved a needle and some of that’s activism but some of it again. Is you know I guess the lawyer example but like pro Bono work around. Ah you know getting a solar plant. Ah. Permitting process and cutting that process from 6 months to five months you know even that extra one month has such a profound effect on the scale of decades and I guess you know what are the?  and I also struggle with this but I guess what are the kind of improved filters that get people into the right places to do things. You know government is a pretty blunt instrent. Yeah there’s obviously a few bills that do some of this stuff kind of in congress at the moment you know startups are trying to make build cool things but also have to make yeah direct money out of it and then activism has its own ups and downs as is philanthropy. it does seem like there needs to be this other thing that directs people.  I guess ah you know what are some of those programs you know like you ah you work for America for a year the foreign foreign these kind of things so something that maybe like that for climate specifically might be needed.

Bonnie Gurry

Which I believe is in the current legislation that has not yet been passed  is ah you know ah allowing younger people to to work for a year for the government. Ah. And different capacities fighting climate change. But I think a lot of it is also almost educational I think a lot of people don’t think that their job or their skill set could be applied to fighting climate change because I don’t know they’re not an engineer or who knows what? . But that’s not I mean 1 ah 1 of the things that we are first hire is probably once we we are really up and running is is a copy editor right? like you wouldn’t think of that as someone who is fighting climate change but but they can be so you know there’s a lot of different jobs available in this space and I would I would say.

James McWalter   


Bonnie Gurry

Almost every job could have a climate aspect to it. and I and I I think just there is a lot that can be learned from the 1 I hate to keep going back to covid but when you see the nber of people that dropped everything they were doing to say I am going to work to fight this disease so that millions can can live. If we could have that same kind of mindset change that you know your whatever you’re researching right? now your knowledge could be applied to to fighting climate change. You know I think that that is just something that’s going to take a little bit for people to learn and understand and. Every time I meet someone who says they don’t know what to do with their life. Yeah I’m like I’ll tell you let me tell you? Yeah whatever you’re doing just start digging and figure out how you can start being a part of the solution to this this huge problem.

James McWalter   

It’s also you know when I look at online places online and obviously data is getting too deep in some of these things but is a tremendous amount of ah or tremendous lack of hope sometimes from comments. It’s like you know the world’s on fire like it’s already done. We’ve already done those things.

Bonnie Gurry

We have. No.

James McWalter   

And you know sometimes in an anonymous or less anonymous way I’ll be like well you know this is working and this is working and they’re all small things right? but there are literally like so many people working dedicating their entire lives to those things and like in the nicest possible way I’m like you know you too ah could also join these efforts and again doesn’t have to be a private company.

Bonnie Gurry

And he.

James McWalter   

 again I think like the role of activism and and and you know people on the streets and all these things are also super important. But the only way I guess to get past the spare often is through action and maybe the action is not perfect and you’re slightly moving. You know you want to move North and you’re slightly moving Northeast and you know might not be perfect.

Bonnie Gurry

 despairing Yes always always and and there is a lot of hope in action and you know that the chapter has not been written yet about.

James McWalter   

But it’s little better than kind of just sitting in the middle you know sitting on the ground and like not feeling it and despairing and so yeah so always action above despair I guess.

Bonnie Gurry

What is going to Happen. We don’t fully understand Ah how our climate works We have good models to estimate that things could turn out to be better than expected. They could also turn out to be worse I’m not going to lie. But if we don’t try you know where are we going to be at so  and. And I think we at least need to try and so I think there there is a lot of hope and in joining these types of communities and learning that you do have something to contribute or even just trying to do something small like making sure that your money is not contributing to the problem.  those actions matter and they add up to. To a larger movement pushing the entire. You know the entire solution forward.

James McWalter   

No absolutely. yeah I mean and that that’s a phenomenal place to kind of ended on so before we finish out you know is there anything I should have asked you about but did not.

Bonnie Gurry

I’m trying to think of that we I think we really touched on everything we’re working on right now I would love to just say that we will be ah launching kind of a beta version later this year ah but then for general users and 2022 we will have a. Ah live version. You can join so. We’d love if you joined our waitlist greenportfolio dot com back slash waitlist and shortly as I mentioned before we are hoping to start hiring soon for a variety of roles some financial some technical  but also some not. So we’d love if you’re interested and love what we’re doing to join us.

James McWalter   

Absolutely and we’ll include those links in the show notes. Thank you very much bonnie. This has been great.

Bonnie Gurry

Thank you so much for having me.

Stopping Batteries Catching Fire – E67

Great to chat with Brian Morin, CEO at Soteria Battery Innovation Group who make lithium-ion batteries dramatically safer! We discussed battery safety, how battery explosions lead to major recalls of EV batteries, what certification and safety tests are needed, licensing consortium models and more!

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The Epic Quest for Cheap Solar Energy – E66

Great to chat with Matt Campbell, CEO and Founder at Terabase Energy! Terabase accelerates the deployment of solar power plants! We discussed the advantages of rapid characterizing the site for solar power plants, the use of GIS, the exciting technologies that cheap solar energy enables, the relationship between local developers and big players in the energy sector and more!

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Plastic in Concrete?! – E65

Great to chat with Sebastian Sajoux, CEO at Arqlite, a recycling technology company developing high-efficiency materials, made from 100% recycled plastic! We discussed how they create Smart gravel from hard to recycle plastic, how a focus on local solutions avoids CO2 emissions for concrete, regulations to remove the plastics from the environment, the need for government incentives to speed up the process to help the environment and more!

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Net-zero energy communities – E64

Great to chat with Sean Rodrigues, CEO at Sky Blue Impact, Sky Blue Impact develops and arranges the funding for net-zero energy social housing communities in the USA and large scale net-zero energy communities in Africa! We discussed how to provide affordable housing addressing major climate issues, advantages the developing world has by starting with new tech from scratch and more!

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Thanks so much!