How we started 5 climate initiatives in under a year

We are launching a climate startup foundry!

In late July 2020, we left our jobs as Google software engineers to work on climate. Here are our progress updates on 4 climate initiatives we started since then, and an announcement for a new offering!

What’s new?

Announcing climatefoundry.com

We have been rapidly prototyping ideas since we entered climate, because we are newcomers and need to learn fast. The angles of attack are non-obvious and require bringing together people from different disciplines and quickly evaluating ideas.

To this end, we are excited to announce that we are running an experimental cohort of two-month prototyping sprints with our collaborator Jonathan Strauss at climatefoundry.com. We are advised by Sierra Peterson of Voyager VC and Dan Fitzgerald of Regen VC.

Join Climate Foundry as a

  • Participant in a two month sprint cycle to build software-focused climate companies

  • Mentor to advise companies on an ad-hoc basis

  • Originator of non-obvious ideas and interesting spaces

Explorations in corporate sustainability

After 9 months of mostly pro bono work, we have been looking for a startup we can build in climate. We are primarily interested in corporate sustainability and have been conducting user interviews with possible collaborators.

Delaying decarbonization carries extremely serious business risks: consumers are switching to more sustainable competitors, and regulation punishing high-emission business models is either already appearing, or imminent. Investors understand these risks better than most corporates and, often to the surprise of their CEOs, are beginning to turn away companies without sustainability commitments.

On the bright side, in many sectors there are low-hanging-fruit interventions that are plain good business, while also helping decarbonization goals (e.g. a CSO of a major agriculture company found an opportunity to double their yield per acre instead of doubling their acreage). Identifying and executing these interventions is where corporates need help.

We would be grateful for introductions to people from the industry as potential users of something we’re exploring to build - particularly, corporate leaders in sustainability, supply chain / procurement, investor relations, and corporate innovation!

Progress updates

Here are updates on our existing projects and some of the lessons we learned along the way.

PAW Climate Machine Learning Conference (May 24-28)

The first ever conference on industry applications of ML in climate will feature speakers from 12 leading commercial climate tech startups. Eugene got PAW to offer tickets to this conference for just $100 - register here (choose single conference, livestream only, discount code PCLSPEC)!

The idea for the conference came when Eugene and his friend Alex Prokofiev were out climbing, and Alex remarked that he had never seen a climate tech company at a conference. No wonder few engineers are aware of commercial climate tech!

Eugene contacted several organizers of major software conferences, armed with statistics on the dazzling growth of climate tech (it's growing 3-5x faster than AI), and Predictive Analytics World jumped on the opportunity, asking him to be the chair.

The ripple is spreading — Machine Learning Week Europe will host its own climate event in June, and someone we know is planning to organize a climate track at PyCon 2022.

Lessons learned

  • Getting buy-in from a large player might be easier than you expect. Convincing PAW to start the conference involved only two emails.

  • Climate tech companies are abundant, but difficult to discover because few describe themselves as "climate tech". Eugene found over 80 climate + ML companies from Climatebase, LinkedIn, personal recommendations, news articles, related conferences, etc. and compiled this growing list.

workonclimate.org

The workonclimate.org Slack community (WoCl) is going strong and has grown to 2000+ people. We are entirely volunteer-run and provide programs that help people transition their careers, such as office hours by climate experts, technical talks, and job-seeking resources.

We are currently looking for donors able to sponsor our Slack plan, to preserve access to messages older than a month - currently 65,000 of our 75,000 community messages are inaccessible. After all coupon codes, extensions, and negotiations with the Slack team, we would have to pay $2K a month. If you or your organization can sponsor part of this cost, please reach out to us!

Lessons learned

  • If someone wants to collaborate, invite them immediately and see what they’ll do. It's a fact of life that most people will flake out, but those that don't are really good and are worth waiting for. Many WoCl initiatives are run by community members who stepped up!

climatefellows.org

Our program for matching talent to part-time projects with climate organizations is growing! We have been joined by Nivi Obla and Jonathan Strauss, who have volunteered to scale up the program.

We conceived of Climate Fellows after seeing overwhelming demand inside Google from people hungry to work on anything climate-related, even “boring” tasks like scraping data off a website. After launching climatefellows.org, we have received over 200+ applications from Fellows, many with PhDs or many years of industry experience. 

However, it has been tough to source well-scoped projects from climate organizations. Their problems are often amorphous, and organizations rarely have resources to translate them into something outsiders can tackle.

If you have interest in helping onboard organizations and projects to Climate Fellows, please reach out to Nivi! Encourage climate organizations to join our program!

Diamond List

We helped launch Diamond List back in February — a list of investor-nominated early stage climate companies that seek additional funding.

For a while before, we had been circulating a two-pager on building a climate philanthropy platform to view and vet projects in the public. We met some good people who had interest and suggestions, but then we encountered the perfect partner with a similar idea — Olya Irzak. All of us were interested in highlighting companies that don’t fit the venture capital mould and resurfacing them with philanthropists. Olya came up with a lightweight anonymous nomination structure allowing investors to resurface deals with philanthropy and minimize liability concerns. Olya also brought in a foundation interested in consuming the resulting nominations. We then built a website to circulate and formalize this idea between the investment and philanthropy communities.

Lessons learned

  • We shipped a much smaller project than what we initially envisioned, which was still valuable and appreciated. 

  • Teaming with the right people can turn a non-viable idea into a viable one.

Get involved

If any of what we said on rapid prototyping sounds interesting, we would love to have you involved! Join climatefoundry.com as a participant, mentor, or just spectator! We will be sharing updates on Climate Foundry’s separate mailing list as we due diligence and explore.