Today's guest is Dawn Lippert, CEO of Elemental Excelerator. Elemental Excelerator is a clean tech accelerator program incubating the next generation of companies tackling various environmental and climate-related issues. In operation as a nonprofit for nearly a decade, the program invests across several key sectors: mobility, food & agriculture, water, circular economy and energy. Each year it backs 15 to 20 companies up to 1 million each to improve systems that impact the planet and people's lives. Beginning her career working in the alternative energy space at management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, Dawn eventually went onto leading innovation and community at the Emerson Collective, the investment and philanthropic platform led by Laurene Powell Jobs and also a key partner of Elemental. We had a great discussion about the areas Elemental has invested in and the multifaceted ways it supports its portfolio companies. I learned a lot and I hope you will as well. Enjoy the show! You can find me on twitter @jjacobs22 or @mcjpod and email at email@example.com, where I encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and suggestions for future topics or guests.
In today’s episode, we cover:
Links to topics discussed in this episode:
Elemental Excelerator: https://elementalexcelerator.com/
Emerson Collective: https://www.emersoncollective.com/
Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative: http://www.hawaiicleanenergyinitiative.org/
CarbonCure Technologies: https://www.carboncure.com/
Zero Mass Water: https://www.zeromasswater.com/
Cyclotron Road: https://www.cyclotronroad.org/
Trove (f.k.a. Yerdle): https://www.trove.co/
Jason Jacobs: Hello everyone. This is Jason Jacobs and welcome to My Climate Journey. This show follows my journey to interview a wide range of guests to better understand and make sense of the formidable problem of climate change and try to figure out how people like you and I can help.
Today's guest is Dawn Lippert, the CEO of Elemental Excelerator, which is a nonprofit startup organization formed in collaboration with Emerson Collective, which is the investment and philanthropic platform led by Laurene Powell Jobs. Elemental has become one of the most active funders of startups solving urgent climate and environmental challenges. Each year they back 15 to 20 companies up to 1 million each to improve systems that impact the planet and people's lives across energy, water, agriculture, transportation and beyond. Elemental seems like a great organization; I'm particularly intrigued by the fact that they are primarily working with companies at the deployment phase. So companies that tend to be more established and working with them on specific, substantive infrastructure, heavy projects to bring to life.
I also think it's fascinating that they have carved out specific areas around Hawaii, California, and Asia that almost serve as test beds, where they can, uh, look to implement these projects in those areas that can both do good in those regions, but also be MVPs of projects that they can then roll out in a much broader way.
Around the world. It's a great discussion. I learned a lot and I hope you will as well. Dawn Lippert, welcome to the show.
Dawn Lippert: Thank you so much for having me.
Jason Jacobs: Thank you for making the time. Elemental Excelerator is one of those organizations that as I've made the rounds the last year or so has come up seemingly zillions of times.
Yet we were only recently introduced, and I'm so glad that we finally were.
Dawn Lippert: Likewise, I know you've talked to many of our friends and partners, so happy to be on.
Jason Jacobs: I always say this as if I'm going to start differently each time. It's like, well maybe, we'll just take it from the top. Even though I say that every single time.
Well, maybe we'll just take it from the top. What is Elemental Excelerator?
Dawn Lippert: Elemental Excelerator is a nonprofit organization. We fund startups to demonstrate technologies that we think are really important and we surround them with customers, policy, and lots of other tools to go farther, faster. So we know we're in a game against the clock on climate and urgent environmental problems.
And our role at Elemental Excelerator is to help unlock innovation to get there.
Jason Jacobs: What's the thumbnail sketch of how long has the organization been around? What's the state of the organization today in terms of employees and kind of the different arms of what you do.
Dawn Lippert: We're originally started here in Hawaii where I am now, we now have two offices in Hawaii and California, and I'll just share maybe a little bit of the origin story of why we're in Hawaii.
Would that be helpful?
Jason Jacobs: Oh yeah. I was going to ask you that next question. That's great.
Dawn Lippert: So I was actually living in D.C. right after school, I'd done some graduate work that brought me to Hawaii. And when I moved to DC, I worked for Booz Allen and they had this really interesting project called the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.
And basically the idea was how do you take an entire state at that time Hawaii was really dependent on fossil fuel, about 90% of our energy from oil, and how do you take an entire state, entire economy and transition it to clean energy? So that was the project that I worked on for a couple of years.
Essentially, commuting back and forth from DC to Honolulu, and really kind of learning the ins and outs of the policy and regulatory scene and how you would make that shift. And then at the same time, I was also actually working on the first RPE open fella was the same period of time. And so seeing what was happening in the world of innovation and that very first FOA funding opportunity announcement was open to the entire country for any kind of technology in clean energy or really energy in any kind of capacity. And so seeing these two things in parallel was a really interesting experience because here in Hawaii, we were trying to reconstruct the entire economy from fossil to clean. And then on the RBE side, we were seeing what was happening in terms of the innovation space more broadly. And so when I had the opportunity to move out to Hawaii, uh, work with one of my mentors to essentially start a fund is about 10 years ago now, that has now through many iterations, turned into Elemental Excelerator.
It was this really interesting opportunity to say, okay, in policy, what we're actually trying to do is unlock deployment and all these innovators, what they're trying to do is figure out how to get their stuff into the real world. And here in Hawaii, we could actually create a fund and a mechanism to help make those things happen faster.
So we can create the policy framework that says, here's the clean stuff we want. And then we can start funding the technology that will help us get there. So that was the birth of Elemental Excelerator and the problem that we're really trying to solve. And then as we've been learning and iterating over the past 10 years, we've been funding projects and learning a lot about how you really build companies in this space.
In 2011 - 2012 and we were funding companies, we just were not seeing them get commercial traction in the ways that we wanted. And so I spent about six months actually traveling around the country doing something similar to what you're doing with My Climate Journey. It's sort of like my accelerator journey or my tech commercialization journey, talking to anyone who would talk to me about how you actually move tech into the market.
And so I met folks from YC and all kinds of different investors and folks that were doing this in tech software. And so thought that there was something we could learn from those folks. In the tech software business, they knew a lot about building companies. People in the government and our side knew a lot about energy, and so people said, well, they were crazy.
You can never apply this sort of accelerator company building model or ethos to energy and clean tech. That's not going to work. But there are actually a lot of things that we could learn from each other. So we started testing that and deploying it in late 2012 early 2013. You know, essentially the first people that were doing that in hardware and clean tech, and then we just iterated and grown from there.
So now today, as you asked, we're about 28 people, half in Honolulu, half in the Bay area, and it's just grown from there.
Jason Jacobs: And so you talked about many iterations. What are some of the differences between the thesis when you started and the thesis today, and with the benefit of hindsight, what were some of the kind of key transition moments or chapters, if you will, from then until now?
Dawn Lippert: So originally when we started the program and funding companies, we fund companies up to $1 million to do projects. In this sectors of energy, water, agriculture, mobility, and circular economy. So sort of the key emitting sectors and the ones that we think really need to be transformed as a system to address climate.
And when we started funding these projects, we saw that there were a lot of technical milestones the companies had to achieve. But what, as soon as you got past the technical milestones was really about driving commercialization. And so we essentially started a couple of different tracks where we bring in customized coaches for companies, and we've learned over time how to do that coaching.
We have 99 companies in our portfolio now, so we've found about 15 to 20 companies a year. And I think what I've learned is that with 99 companies, there's 99 stages. No two companies are seeing the same problem at the same exact time in the same way, but there are still commonalities. So we've developed really accustomed coaching model where we bring in people that companies couldn't afford to bring on full time, but we bring them in, you know, really specific acupuncture type ways for specific problems companies are seeing and then help companies over multiple years grow. So that's something that we've learned over time. It used to be much more of sort of a batch, like these are the kinds of things we think companies need to know around sales and growth. But then over time it's been much more focused of what exactly is the problem you're solving today and tomorrow and next week, and then how can we help you get there faster?
Jason Jacobs: Is cohort the right word? Do you think of it like a cohort?
Dawn Lippert: We do. So we're on cohort nine, so nine years.
Jason Jacobs: So these cohorts that come in is the program timebox? And are they, do they tend to be onsite over the course of the program or are they situated in Hawaii or California, or are they geographically all over the place?
Dawn Lippert: Yeah, I'll take you through that. Our year process is kind of the easiest way to understand it. So in Q1 we recruit for companies. We're doing that right now. We're recruiting companies until March 26th so we're looking all over the world for companies. Usually talked about 2000 companies in the course of a year, and last year, 800 companies officially applied for our program.
So that's Q1. So those companies actually come from 66 countries. It's pretty broad. We have a pretty broad lens on what's going on around the world in this space. And then in the next quarter we're into due diligence, so it looks very similar to VC even though we're a nonprofit, and in addition to that sort of a normal VC data room, but we're also looking for as a project fit because we actually want to fund a project that is transformational and really differentiated for the company.
There's lots of dollars out there for companies in this space. Not enough, but there are, what our dollars are specifically good at is deploying in the places where we are. And then. Using those places to pull through technology to the next stage. So in that next one or two quarters where essentially getting to know these companies in a pretty deep way, and selecting our cohort, which is about 15 to 20 companies, and then the offers go out usually in August for companies.
And then they all come to Honolulu in October and we kicked them off together in what we call kickoff week. And so there's a really heavy sort of cohort element.
Jason Jacobs: I was just going to say, I would make a joke about how torturous that is, but that would be like a dad joke that probably everybody makes. When you mentioned that you bring them to Honolulu, so I won't say it.
Dawn Lippert: One of the toughest requirements of the program, but yes, we essentially kick them off in October.
They all come meet each other. We pick companies that are noncompetitive in their industries and then that kicks off their engagement with us. In our tracks, we work with companies from anywhere from one to three years intensively, and then they stay alumni and part of the network. And for example, every year we have our CEO and leadership summit.
We just had it two weeks ago in Hana, Maui, and other very difficult location, and we had 60 plus CEO and company leaders there. And the purpose of that is to try to share learnings as quickly as possible across companies and help them accelerate and find community with each other.
Jason Jacobs: And what was the thought when you were getting going in terms of nonprofit versus for profit?
Was it a hard decision and why did you end up choosing the nonprofit path?
Dawn Lippert: The nonprofit path? It makes sense for a number of reasons. I mean, we have two goals. One is to help companies succeed, and the other is to really transform the places where we're working. I would say those are really two halves of our mission and through this to address climate at a really meaningful scale.
So I think the nonprofit choice is important because it's not just about helping companies get to scale. It's about doing that to solve a problem. And we can use lots of tools as a nonprofit to get there. So we have a whole policy and community building effort that we surround companies with while we're working with them.
So I can just give maybe one or two examples if that would be helpful of how that works. So for example, CarbonCure one of the companies in our portfolio, they inject carbon dioxide into concrete and you can use less cement and have good, strong concrete that works and is essentially sequestering carbon at the same time.
And so, CarbonCure we funded a project with them and the Hawaii department of transportation to use this concrete at one of our highway interchanges out on Oahu and to test it so the Hawaii Department of Transportation could actually test it and show that the performance is exactly what they needed for the highway.
And then we worked with our mayor of Honolulu on our policy side to pass a resolution to support the use of carbon infused concrete and carbon sequestered concrete across all city procurement. And government is a huge user of concrete. Concrete actually is the most abundant manmade material in the world.
So this is one of those things that really matters from a climate perspective. And then we worked with our mayor to actually pass a resolution with the conference of mayors for a couple of hundred mayors around the city to take a look at the same kind of resolution. So it's really saying. How fast are we spinning the wheel of deployment of technology policy that supports it, showing that we can deploy technology and doing more policy that either removes barriers or supports it and just spin that faster and faster. And I think from that perspective, we have a lot of flexibility as a nonprofit to use a different leverage points.
Jason Jacobs: And so it sounds like there's three kinds of test markets, and that's Hawaii and California and Asia, which is a little broader than Hawaii and California, but is it anywhere specific in Asia or is it just kind of Asia overall?
Dawn Lippert: Yeah, we're pretty broad in Asia. We have projects primarily in Australia and New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Thailand. We've also worked quite extensively with the Philippines. So for example, in Australia, I mean, Australia is a really interesting market right now for companies. So we have about a dozen companies that are active either with offices in Australia or projects in Australia.
One example is our project with Zero Mass Water that we've funded and is now complete. And so they have essentially solar panels. Instead of making energy, they make clean, fresh water. We structured it as a joint venture with us, the community, and zero mass water. And it's sort of an interesting new model for how to deploy water in these regions.
So we see Australia from an energy market perspective, a water perspective as a really interesting market for companies to deploy in. And so we want to support this kind of growth of companies across Asia.
Jason Jacobs: So it's a weird question about why are you so broad in Asia and so narrow to a couple of specific states in the U S?
Dawn Lippert: We sort of started in Hawaii, and the reason that, why the really interesting market to start in is because about 10 years ago when we started this work, the clean energy was much cheaper in Hawaii and the delta wasn't as big in other geographies, so it just made a lot of sense to deploy clean energy here. We were seeing a huge acceleration of clean energy in the past 10 years since I've been working on this, we've gone from about 8% renewable energy to almost 30% renewable energy statewide on our grid on Kauai, we've gone from about 10% to many weeks of the year using a hundred percent renewable energy. So we're just seeing that kind of opportunity to then test technologies to integrate renewable energy and storage and all kinds of things before other places we're seeing it. So it's a really interesting place to start. So that test bed, and I would say test bed, not in the sense of where it sort of experimenting our community, but we're actually using it as a canvas because we're seeing these problems first.
So companies can come here first to solve them. So then as we started doing that, we had a lot of companies are based in California that were coming through our ecosystem. And we also got to know Emerson Collective and Emerson Collective was really interested in how do you take this model that we've developed in geographic islands and apply it to economic islands in California.
So they actually have a lot in common. If you think about, some of the challenges we have in Hawaii with cost of living, cost of energy, and access to mobility. All these kinds of issues are somewhat similar to the issues we see in California in frontline communities that may have been left behind by kind of the tech boom and some of the prosperity there in California.
And so as we moved to California, this isn't just about three years ago now, we basically came in and listen and really work with communities to see what we could apply of what we were learning here in Hawaii to the work in California and the challenges in California. And so we've been doing that work for about three years.
And across this whole period as we were deploying technologies and working with companies, the whole idea is we're basically deploying things on the front line, getting data, getting customer information so that companies can scale. And we have a lot of relationships in Asia. And we saw asian companies as a really key market in the battle on climate.
And so we wanted to support their growth into that market and thought that by working with them with elemental support, it's an easier entry than it otherwise is, which can be difficult to go international for some of the companies at this stage we're talking about.
Jason Jacobs: And just for context from an elemental standpoint, you mentioned just before we recorded that there one of your funders, I believe.
So. Could you talk a bit about that funding mix overall, just kind of what are the key buckets that are funding your work and also their relationship with elemental specifically since I think you mentioned you kind of wear a dual hat.
Dawn Lippert: So Emerson Collectives is one of our key partners, as you mentioned, and I have a dual hat. They're really focused on taking some of the lessons we're learning and applying them across broader sectors Emerson Collective. And our funding mix it at Elemental Excelerator. I said, we're a nonprofit. We're really seeded with government funding, helping solve a problem for the Navy in how to commercialize technology that was really important and clean energy, and so we serve as sort of an experimentation arm and partner of the Navy in that way. And that they're really one of our initial funders, along with department of energy. We also have funding from philanthropy, from people who are really interested in how to work at tech that's really focused on deployment. I would say that I feel really strongly that a dollar spent now and a system deployed now is more valuable than one deployed next year.
We're really running against the clock, so if you think of Cyclotron Road and Prime as funding some of the really important innovation and science that's seeding this space and creating a pipeline of really interesting technology. We sit right after those kinds of organizations, companies usually come into our accelerator around Series A, Series B sometimes, or Series C events, and we're focused on deployment and getting things out into the world quickly as possible. And again, with a preference for this year over next year. So we work with philanthropists and foundations who are really interested in that deployment story. And then the third that we work very closely with is corporates. So we have about 25 corporates that we work with. And the corporate story has been really important in terms of keeping us really close to the market so that we know what kinds of problems they're solving. I think in general with what we've seen in corporates is that there's these two huge forces hitting them. One is technology, one is climate, and they're both moving much faster. Our friends really feel like they can integrate into their planning and into their world, and so by working with us, I think they're basically trying to like turn their headlights on bright to see a little bit farther in front of what's coming and to get their arms around some of these major fast moving forces around both climate and technology.
Jason Jacobs: And then all of the investments that you're making, do those take the form of non-dilutive grants or how does that work?
Dawn Lippert: So originally when we started, it was all the non-diluted grants. And then as we started, companies said, we actually want to give back, we'd like to donate warrants or equity to you.
So, over time, we structured that into it because we're working with somewhat later stage companies. This tends to be a really good way for them to have skin in the game with us. And so companies donate between one and 4% of their warrants, essentially to Elemental Excelerator. And then we have a couple of other financing mechanisms as well.
I would say at its core, we're highly experimental platform that is trying to constantly learn and figure out how we can most quickly deploy technology into the market. So because of that, we have grants, we have investment vehicle, we have a number of different ways that we actually engage with companies.
They all involve the companies putting some kind of skin in the game, but we're really highly experimental or really focused on how do we move tech into market as quickly as possible.
Jason Jacobs: And then when these pilots do roll out, given that, I mean, you've done a number of these cohorts now, I think you did you say 16 did I get that right?
Dawn Lippert: Yeah, we're on cohort nine.
Jason Jacobs: Of cohort nine I'm sorry, I don't know where I got 16 from, but I mean that nine cohort in, you've done quite a lot of pilots, I would imagine. What does success look like for those pilots and how those pilots perform versus how you would have hoped that they would?
Dawn Lippert: Success looks like a 10 X scale up of the pilot within two years when we're scoping pilot and when we're scoping projects, that's what we're looking for.
So from a financial perspective, from a technology perspective, from the constellation of partners and customers, we're putting around, something can have scale 10 X in two years, maybe three years but in that timeframe.
Jason Jacobs: What metric should scale 10 X?
Dawn Lippert: It depends on the company, but it might be number of deployments.
It might be the size of the system. It might be in terms of revenue in the sector that we're opening up for them. So it can vary depending on what it is we're really testing with the pilot. With the different companies, there's different pieces that we're testing. Sometimes we're testing a new business model iteration.
Sometimes we're testing something on the technology scale upside. So it really depends on what the company is trying to drive toward. So a couple of examples to illustrate what we're looking to do. So in Hawaii in particular, we have a couple of interesting opportunities for technology. One I mentioned is the integration of renewable energy and how you do that at scale.
So on that note, one of our early portfolio companies from 2013 was STEM when they were series a company. And so they're a distributed battery company. And what they really wanted to test was how do we take our distributed batteries and tie them together as one whole asset that the utility can then draw on, which seems really sort of obvious now, but six years ago they were really, or seven years ago, they were really on the bleeding edge of this and they had a handful of distributed batteries.
Deployed across California, but they hadn't been able to connect them all together in a framework and sell those to the utilities so that it looked like one battery or one asset. So they came to us. We put that together here with Hawaiian electric, who was a key partner utility. We worked with our public utilities commission to structure a rate that would pay them for essentially grid response, which is one level deeper of services, grid services than just demand response. Just turning something on and off grid response because these are batteries. You can actually charge and discharge and we're able to deploy about a megawatt of batteries across a Oahu and test that model. And then STEM was able to take that same playbook and to Southern California where they won about 80 megawatts contract to scale that up in that case, ADX. So that's essentially what we're trying to create is use the systems and assets that we have to demonstrate something that then companies can scale up very rapidly in other markets.
Jason Jacobs: Got it, so you kind of answered it, but just for to make sure I understand it. Is it, are you using these markets as a test bed where it's just about getting the learning almost like an MVP that you can then take everywhere, or is it more about decarbonizing the specific markets that you're focused on?
Or is it both?
Dawn Lippert: It's both and so I think decarbonizing the Hawaii market. It's interesting from a whole systems learning perspective. So that wasn't the only project that STEM did here. They've continued to deploy systems across the grid. In Hawaii, we've another company, carbon lighthouse on the efficiency side.
They've since opened an office here and have that half a dozen people here working on efficiency. So after we funded their initial project, they've just been able to scale and grow that and work on decarbonizing the grid here from an efficiency perspective. So ultimately it's both sides of that vision.
So being able to deploy innovation that's really needed in a place that needs it, and then integrate those innovations across an entire system and show how we can decarbonize a system so that we can actually take system level learnings to other places is one piece. And then the other piece is just actually helping those companies scale in their fastest moving markets with models that we've helped them prove. So doing both at once is really the key.
Jason Jacobs: The cadence that you are with X many companies per cohort and things like that. Do you feel like it's a good size, it's a good cadence, we're going to stick with this for a while, or do you dream of expansion and if you dream of expansion in what direction and what does that look like?
Dawn Lippert: Yes, always dream of expansion. I think we're pretty alarmed at the state of the climate and the environment and have spent really a decade tooling. A machine and a process and a learning organization that we feel like can help companies accelerate decarbonization of our planet, of our industries. And so we're looking at expansion in number of different ways.
I mean, I would also just say that our team's actually been together, the core of our team for a long time. We've been growing, but our team is super hungry. We're on a mission, and I think we have enough sort of collective startup and government and industry experience to be dangerous and be effective.
But we also know we have a lot to learn, so we're hungry to make a bigger impact. So ways that we're thinking about expanding in terms of providing additional capital to companies that could look like a number of different things that we're looking at. Capital continues to be a constraining factor for many companies.
We need more funds investing more in companies. So that's something that we're looking at and exploring. We are really interested in this idea of the interplay of technology and policy and how you can use on the ground teams like we have at elemental to vastly accelerate the pace at which companies can deploy in key markets.
Again, you have to get stuff in the ground to actually address climate. And so we're interested in expanding that capability to other markets to basically be an advanced team that helps companies. And clean energy companies and mobility along with water and regenerative agriculture go faster in these key markets so that we can address climate faster.
And then the third thing is really thinking about how we can expand what we're learning and share that in a really helpful and proactive way with other startups, governments, think tanks, people who are really working hard on these problems. Like you said, we've learned a lot. We've funded now 59 demonstration projects, many of which have scaled up to much larger scale.
And through that process, we've learned an enormous amount about what it takes to deploy clean mobility companies to deploy electric vehicle charging infrastructure across an entire grid to deploy regenerative agriculture companies in ways that are complimentary to each other. And so we're really thinking actively about how we can scale that for the good of the industry.
Jason Jacobs: That reminds me going way back in this discussion. You talked about coaching and how each company in the cohorts assigned a coach, or it might be a group, but my question is what is the expertise of that coaching and is it consistent from company to company or is it customized for each company in each cohort?
Dawn Lippert: So we have a stable of coaches. We apply kind of surgically to companies as they hit different barriers and these different kinds of help around sales and growth around operational scale up. You know, manufacturing, product, all these different pieces that any company runs into challenges at different times, and it needs really oftentimes specific expertise to get through a specific hurdle.
And then within our team, I mentioned we have about 20 people on our team. We have industry experts on our team that are also essentially serving as coaches and helping connect them to folks and helping them go faster. So I forgot the rest of the question.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah, I mean the question was mostly just, cause you said it was like acupuncture and so I didn't know whether it was like executive coaching or coaching, like, Hey, we're going to bring in someone who's built out this kind of infrastructure in a domain that has similarities, but is like one degree removed, or maybe even as like the last generation of the domain that you're working now.
Something like that.
Dawn Lippert: All of the above. We actually do executive coaching. We offer executive coaching as well, and in particular, we offer executive coaching for our female founders and execs on our teams. We have a really heavy focus on equity and access. So we think of that in two ways. Equity in which is what you do in your company, hiring, retention, supporting diversity leadership and inclusion and also equity out. So how is your product or what you're working on really serving communities on the front lines, communities that need it most, and how are you also finding those markets that are beyond sort of the initial well-to-do, typical clean tech solar customer or EV customer and really expanding your market share.
In Hawaii, the 48% of people that are living paycheck to paycheck, that's an enormous market opportunity. So how are you really thinking about that from equity out perspective? So that's really been the focus of our California work in particular. But companies across our entire portfolio have been hungry for both the equity and and equity out tools and frameworks.
And so we've been offering that and really moving out on that across our entire portfolio. And I can give a couple of examples of our equity and access projects in California if that would be helpful.
Jason Jacobs: That'd be great.
Dawn Lippert: So one of the companies that we have worked with on the equity inside is Yertle. So they're a company that basically powers the reuse brands from Patagonia, from REI, now from Nordstrom. So you know Warren, where from Patagonia?
Jason Jacobs: I just got an intro to Andy from Victoria over at prelude.
Dawn Lippert: Yes, you should definitely talk to him.
Jason Jacobs: I didn't want to break your flow. Keep going.
Dawn Lippert: So you talked to Andy about this, but. At Yerdle, they're growing really quickly, a huge need for people.
And so our project with them is focused on how do you really expand the kinds of people that are coming into Yerdle? How do you partner with communities, employ people from the communities where their facilities are, and what does that sort of overall people strategy look like? They have an amazing chief people officer that's working on that, and then our investment in our project with them.
Is really focused on driving equity in beyond where they otherwise would be able to do that. So that's bringing in different kinds of resources, different kinds of community partners, and kind of pushing the envelope there, which I think, and I hope Andy will say too, will make them more successful in the long run.
We're basically pulling forward a lot of the expertise on equity in their company.
Jason Jacobs: So you mentioned that you're very concerned about the state of the planet and we have to move faster. You also mentioned that it's not necessarily that other aspects aren't as important, but that deployment specifically is a very important piece and one that it sounds like your team has developed a real core competency on through pattern recognition of nine cohorts in. But what I'm curious about is if you look at traditional venture capital, for example, you have some funds are focused in this world of like call it climate tech or clean tech or whatever word you want to use. You have some fun, say it's sustainability, some funds say de-carbonization specifically, some funds might call it world positive without giving away who I'm talking about.
But deployment of what? Cause you work with a wide range of companies. So how do you define the problem that you're tackling does the equity piece, which I agree is very important, but that's not the whole picture. Right? So what's kind of the rest for you as you define it? Cause you could take that in any direction, but I'm talking about for you, when you're making assessments of who's the best fit for these cohorts, for example, okay, they're ready for deployment, but how do we know if the thing that we're deploying matches up with what we care about?
Dawn Lippert: It's a great question. I think it goes to this entire space. How everyone has a way that they define this. For us, we have a broad brush of solving urgent environmental challenges. Clearly climate is at the top of that list, but there are others that are really important as well around pollution and local pollution and other kinds of water scarcity issues, water access issues.
So in each of our five verticals that I mentioned, energy, agriculture. Water mobility and circular economy and industry. We have investment theses that drive what we're looking for in each of those areas, and we've published those on our website. But I would say that overall, we're governed by solving urgent environmental challenges and then trying to find the highest leverage opportunities, each of those spaces.
So like an example in mobility, we're very interested in transit for obvious reasons. It's the best way to move a lot of people through narrow spaces and cities, and the world is increasingly urbanizing. So we trans, it's really important. A few years ago, we invested in a company called swiftly that's digitizing the transit routes and making them visible.
For the first time, providing much more accurate information to transit operators, connecting transit to other forms of other modalities, and they are expanding so quickly. The one thing I love about Swiftly when we invested in them, they were four people, and we're already in about 25 cities, had 25 cities as customers.
I mean, this is like the kind of pain point that they discovered in transit. Was that the, we were so far behind in digitizing this space. So that's just an example of. Something that we're really interested in within our investment thesis, but anything that really solves an urgent environmental challenge, we'll take a look at it.
Jason Jacobs: What's kind of the umbrella rallying cry of the purpose of why your team gets up every day? If you had to kind of put it, I don't want to trivialize it with a tagline, but how would you describe the rallying unifying problem that Elemental Excelerator is solving.
Dawn Lippert: Uplift people and planet.
And that was a leading question because the question I'm going to ask you next is, I'm going to say if you had $100 billion and you could put it towards anything to, and normally I say to accelerate the clean energy transition or things like that, but in your case, I actually want to say, and you could put it towards uplifting people and planet, where would you put it in?
Jason Jacobs: How would you allocate it? Because I wanted to tailor it to the things that your organization specifically cares the most about.
Dawn Lippert: I love this question to think big about it. I think I would cut it into if possible and devote one half to really electing people who understand the science, understand the problem, and are going to be partners in putting policies in place to get there.
This is so important. We work at the local level, we work at the state level, work the national level at the local level. Building codes are absolutely key drivers of technology and clean energy and what the carbon footprint of our buildings and infrastructure and built environment will look like for decades to come.
So you have to focus at the local level. At the state level, it's around renewable portfolio standards at the national level, it's around intergovernmental agreements, but also what we're doing at national level around pricing, carbon, other things. So I think up and down the local state national policies, that kind of people that understand these issues and are motivated by doing the right thing by our society is really important.
So I would focus there and then on the second half, putting dollars into high leverage places to fund deployment because ultimately policy is trying to set up the guard rails so that we can get more hardware and more stuff in the ground that is lower carbon and that we can leave the stuff in the ground that is greenhouse gas emitting. So ultimately we have to get stuff built and it matters when we do that. It has to be sooner rather than later. So I guess I would split it into and to see if you can get that policy deployment merry-go-round spinning faster and they really inform each other. I mean, what we've seen in Hawaii and California and in Asia, one of the reasons that we fund these deployment projects.
Is it is so much easier to get policy makers to believe that this is possible and to get motivated to do something if they see it in their backyard. If they say, Oh, these are solutions that make a ton of sense, I can see where it's going and it's real. I can make it happen. That sort of seeing is believing drives the policy conversation and the policy wheel in a really important way.
If you look at sort of electric buses or electrification, transportation. You can't get too far ahead on policy without saying like, there's this whole pipeline of Cartera as an electric bus company and electrification solutions from amply and emotive works and others in our portfolio and beyond that can deliver on the policy goals that you have.
So the deployment really informs the policy and then the policy sets the frame for deployment. So I think if you're really serious about solving climate, you're about trying to get that going faster and faster.
Jason Jacobs: So as I've been making the rounds, I think there's been very little, if any, resistance to the statement that we need to deploy what we've got faster.
And so it's great that you're focused on this area. I've heard a lot of different theories or things that people point to for the barriers. You can say in the U S we can't build big things anymore, or we need a price on carbon, or you know, we don't have the right incentive structures set up in subsidies and things like that.
Or we don't have enough high quality founding teams, or it's early stage capital or it's growth stage capital, like it's strategics and that's it. Or it's project finance, or it's getting the first plant built or. How do you, I mean, you've touched on some of it with the, where you'd put the money, but where are the biggest bottlenecks as you look at that and what do we do about it?
Dawn Lippert: It really depends on the sectors that you're looking at, and so you can get kind of like granular and specific. I think there are things that we see across companies for sure. I mean, one thing is that talent is the most important thing that drives sort of the innovation and deployment ecosystem and having more talent come into the space from other sectors has been really influential and I think impactful in the last couple of years. We've even seen more and more both software talent, sort of the crew that you talk to and work with and that is really activated, but also like kind of construction and industry and other talent, either leaving what they were doing and kind of coming into clean energy full time or using their various positions to influence this world. So I think I would say number one is getting aligned talent, whether they're sort of diving in head first to the starting a company and like building a company to do this, or whether they're using their various platforms to do that. I think it's really about getting people activated in every single one of the things you mentioned to solve this.
So I think that's one. And then I guess that's the other piece I would say there's still a significant amount of transaction and soft cost around a lot of this deployment. So one of the things that I'm really interested in is how can you take the learnings around permitting, around regulation, around utility procurement, all these different pieces that have just huge amounts of transaction costs associated with them.
And learn from jurisdictions of how to reduce that as much as possible. I still think that what we see across jurisdictions is whether it's corporate government or other places, there's a lot of transaction cost to getting this stuff built, and so there'll be trade offs in how we do that and how we look at our environmental laws, our permitting and other things.
But I think that's a really important place to put some attention.
Jason Jacobs: And given that you have such a wide range of companies, but they do tend to be further along, it sounds like, and later stage. Do you feel like their most pressing problems are consistent across companies? Are there common themes or is it just all over the map?
Dawn Lippert: Yeah, there's definitely common themes coming off our CEO summit. Some of the things that came up all the time is how do you partner and sell in a way that is really, really scalable. And many of these companies work in heavily regulated industries with long sales cycles. And so that one comes up all the time and some people have really figured out good tricks and hacks and are willing to share them, and that's incredibly valuable.
That's one. I think the question is sort of around team are always top of mind. It's super competitive out there with talent, very difficult to compete with Google and Facebook on salary alone. So how do you structure comp packages? How do you really pull a team together with the talent that you need in this space?
That one is also always top of mind for our entrepreneurs. And then I think a couple on the softer side that we've been hearing about and that were really intensive discussions at our CEO summit were around how you maintain your sort of energy and optimism for the long haul in this space. Because you're building a company that's dealing with clean water or dealing with mobility access, like these are long builds and you have to figure out how to manage your energy and maintain your momentum over the course of a pretty significant period of time.
And so we talk about self care as a leadership skill, and we talk about. Impact. Many of the entrepreneurs that we work with are in this and not building the next sort of camera app because they're so interested in the impact. But then how do you manage that? You can't do everything at all times. So I mean, in terms of impact is doing what you can, where you can, when you can.
You have to realize that maybe we'll be able to do certain things on diversity, equity inclusion this year, and like wait for other things for next year. You can't do everything in a startup on at the same time or you won't be able to scale. So I would say that those are a couple of things that are common to companies, but even though every company is going through its own situation, there.
Many more commonalities than differences.
Jason Jacobs: A number of the people listening to this podcast come from a wide range of backgrounds, from engineers to product managers, to designers, to CEOs, to hedge fund managers, to big media publishers, to scientists, to advocates, to someone that a prior guest told me recently that a U.S. congressman reached out after listening to his episode and they got together and had a good meeting. So it's a very wide range. But I think one thing that most of these listeners have in common is that they're trying to figure out how to either do more if they've been working in this area for a long time, or if they're just coming in kind of fresh.
They're trying to figure out how to anchor and how their skill sets most effectively transfer to be effective. Working on this problem set. So maybe just talk to them for a moment. What advice do you have for people in those shoes? Me included, who are just kind of coming in fresh and trying to figure out how to get productive?
Dawn Lippert: Well, listening and learning is definitely the number one first step. I think that's sort of core to being in this space is it's being a veracious learner. The space is changing very quickly. I guess one way to answer that question would be to just give an example of one of our other portfolio companies and bear, which is a hybrid electric aircraft.
And one of the things that makes Hawaii kind of an interesting market is this ability to do short haul aviation. And so some people think electric aviation is really far in the future. It's actually coming to Maui this year in the form of amperes aircraft. We're gonna fly it to get its next level of, of certification from the FAA for about a hundred hours and the cargo route here, and in order to make this project happen take regulators at the FAA, writing the regulations, working with industry to do that takes, there's actually an act going through Congress right now, speaking Congressman, to open up the market around electric aviation. There's our local department of transportation and literally like airport guys and gals that are working on how to charge the very first hybrid electric aircraft in Hawaii, and one of the first in the world, there are cargo people, pilots are Hawaiian electric, our utility workers, to figure out how to connect this and get power and make it all work. And then so many sort of engineers and folks on the, on the startup side as well. But. All of those people wouldn't necessarily identify themselves as like people in the clean energy industry that are counted in the green jobs of 2020 but they absolutely are.
So I think it's about finding your passion and your slot and where you are and what you're good at. And then. Figuring out where there are nexus points to things that really matter in the climate fight. Aviation, for example, is one of the fastest growing segments of carbon emissions. So there's so much to be done in that space, but I think in literally every sector, that's the case, whether you're working for private companies, software company, others, there's things you can do in your current role.
And then if you feel like it's not enough. Listening to this and reaching out to either these companies or you are meeting or these kinds of people that have kind of broad networks in this space to figure out where else you can plug in.
Jason Jacobs: One question I forgot to ask is around the equity and inclusion piece.
So when you're assessing these companies, I guess so one factor is do they fit the criteria in terms of this problem that they're trying to solve? Another is, do they fit the criteria in terms of, is equity inclusion kind of in and out core to what they do and how they do it? Where does the return profile fit into all of this and where does that sit in the pecking order as you're assessing these cohort decisions
Dawn Lippert: Yeah, and that is really important.
It's something that we can also help companies with, so we're absolutely looking at their ability to have a profitable growing business as a key criteria to coming into the program. But we're also have a lot of experience in helping companies through that and figure out a business model around it as well.
So I would say it's just really looking at the multiple sides of impact, and there has to be a business model around it for companies to stay alive and be able to make the impact that they want to make in the space. But I also think that increasingly companies themselves are identifying that equity in is a really critical competitive advantage to having the team that they want to build the strong team if they want to build.
And equity out is really important from market sizing perspective and from, I think a broad recognition that unless this transition includes everyone and includes the people who need it most, we're not going to get there fast enough. So I would say "both and."`
Jason Jacobs: And because you're doing such important work, I also just have to ask for anyone listening that your mission and your work you're doing really resonates. How can they be helpful to you? We, I should say.
Dawn Lippert: A number of ways. So number one, referring companies is key. We also run really. Broad internship program to put interns in our portfolio companies helping developed this pipeline of talent with a preference for people who are first in their family to go to college.
And so referring interns in or finding those young people that have a real passion for this space and helping them get connected into our startups and into our organization. And then I think, in particular, sort of looking through the portfolio, either our companies as well as other startups out there and figuring out how in your own role and your own work you do, you can be a champion for some of these low carbon technologies.
They absolutely need. Early customers, early adopters, early believers who are willing to go on the journey with them. We've found hundreds of those kinds of partners and customers across our corporate partnership program, across our utilities that we work with and governments and other kinds of partners.
But if there are companies that you think could help solve a problem that you're seeing in your company or in your agency, that is the number one thing that we're looking for as a deployment focused and deployment forward organization.
Jason Jacobs: Well, I feel like we've covered an awful lot of ground, especially for a Friday afternoon.
Is there anything that I didn't ask that I should have, or do you have any parting words for our listeners?
Dawn Lippert: I guess what I would say is that since it's just about one or two months into the decisive decade, I guess the last thing I would just leave us with is the idea of how we can go faster together.
This is something that we're constantly learning about and asking ourselves about what will help us get to the velocity that we need to find solutions around climate. So that's what gets me up every day. That's what I think about with my baby daughter. How are we going to make sure then the next decade, we're really bending the curve in a way that makes this planet somewhere where we can all live in thrive.
So. It's just that question, how do we beat the clock?
Jason Jacobs: Well, I heard so many good things about you before this episode, and I have to say this did not disappoint. I am really impressed by the work that you do, and I'm so appreciative for you taking the time to come on and share it with all of us.
Dawn Lippert: I'm so appreciative for you and the journey that you gone on and are taking us all along with you, so really appreciate you, Jason.
Jason Jacobs: Well, thanks so much, Dawn. Thanks for coming on the show.
Dawn Lippert: Take care.
Jason Jacobs: Hey everyone. Jason here. Thanks again for joining me on My Climate Journey. If you'd like to learn more about the journey, you can visit us at My Climate Journey dot C O. Note that is dot C O. not dot com. Someday we'll get the.com, but right now dot C O.
You can also find me on Twitter @jjacobs22 where I would encourage you to share your feedback on the episode or suggestions for future guests you'd like to hear. And before I let you go, if you enjoyed the show, please share an episode with a friend or consider leaving a review on iTunes. The lawyers made me say that. Thank you.