Entrepreneurs

Take Your Partners – The Climate Tech Sector Is Growing But Can Entrepreneurs Really Make A Net-Zero Difference?

Here’s something that worries me. I spend a significant amount of time writing about startup companies and over the last year or so I’ve taken a special interest in businesses that are addressing climate and sustainability issues. 

But here’s the question. Given the scale of and scope of the environmental problems that afflict our planet, should we really be turning to entrepreneurs for solutions? Yes, we all know that from a VC perspective, the ideal startup is one that provides a workable solution for a big problem. But aren’t some problems simply too big? Isn’t it the case that the only bodies capable of truly addressing issues such as the amount of carbon in the atmosphere are those that can pull very substantial levers to make things happen? Governments, perhaps, or major corporations? 

Well, with COP26 now just a few short days away, we’ll see if governments – buffeted as they are by electoral cycles and the often conflicting demands of their citizens – will come anywhere close to pulling the levers necessary to make a change.    

In the meantime, the awareness generated by the summit provides an opportunity for technology startups to pitch their businesses to the world. And the question remains. Can a startup actually make a difference? And if so how?

Last week spoke to the founder of climatetech startup, Climate View about that very issue. Founded in Sweden, the company has gone some way to proving that innovative tech-driven solutions can play a significant part in moving us towards a net-zero world. But crucially,  Climate Tech has done that by working with with bodies that are capable of implementing policy on a large scale. When I spoke to founder, Tomer Shalit last week, I was keen to find out more about his approach to engaging with partners.  

Agile On Climate

Shalit was working as a consultant  – advising banks and insurance companies on how to implement agile transitions within complex organisations – when he began to think about the climate issue. 

“I began to think. If Agility is so good, why am I not applying it to climate,” he recalls. “Then I began to think. If I was advising the government of Sweden on climate change, what would I do?”   

Having entertained that somewhat hubristic thought, Shalit began to research the data on climate change. As he saw it, while there was a huge amount of information available, very little of it was actionable or readily accessible. Governments and other public bodies, he concluded, didn’t have a clear picture of the complexity of the problems they faced. By extension, that made it difficult for them to come up with deliverable.   

So Climate View was founded on the principles that tend to underpin business consultancies. Based on data, the company would provide policymakers with an overview of their carbon reduction challenges mapped onto their climate goals and responsibilities. Crucially, the big picture scenario would be broken down into actionable slices, allowing clients to identify and address the issues one step at a time.  All this would be delivered via a Software as a Service model product dubbed ClimateOS.  

In The City 

So far the company has sold its services to around 30 cities, including Newcastle in the U.K., Mannheim in Germany and Bern in Switzerland. To fund further growth it has just secured €10million in VC funding in a round led by Commerzventures.

So why cities rather than national governments. Well, for one thing, it’s where the problem lies. “71 percent of emissions come from cities,” says Shalit.

That’s the negative. The positive is that progress in one city can be shared with others. “Cities are symmetric in that they tend to face the same problems. And they are also happy to share information to  and best practice.” 

City authorities can be a potent force. For instance, here in the U.K., newly created metropolitan mayors have a great deal of power to implement change, with the caveat that they still rely on central government for much of their funding.

And in practice, city leaders can implement a wide range of practical measures, including reducing road traffic, encouraging the use of buses, metro railways and cycle lanes, and taking steps to cut emissions.”

Understanding The Present

So what role does Climate View play? “What we can do is help them understand the current situation. For instance, the miles driven, or square meters heated. Then we help them define where they need to go to meet the Paris Agreement targets. The next stage is to provide the building blocks for transition.”  Further down the line, ClimateOS monitors progress.

It’s a model that illustrates how startups can play an enabling role when working with partners and clients. But is there a danger that simply providing cities with a route map and means to manage journey to Net Zero won’t be enough to effect change? Transitioning a city requires a lot more than information and planning. Policymakers can create policies based on the best data, but that’s only part of the story. They must also change the habits of their citizens get buy-in from emitting businesses. What’s more, the budgets and ability to deliver on policies will vary from city to city. 

Shalit argues that mapping out the problem is a vital step in establishing not only what should be done but also what can be done. “When you map out the transition, you can identify where you have control,” he says. 

From capital intensive carbon capture technologies to last-mile transport solutions, startups that seek to help in the mitigation of climate change will often need to go into partnership with companies, governments or NGOs. The challenge is to pitch solutions to stakeholders in a way that makes sense to them in terms of the powers they possess, their economic models and their cultures.

There are various ways to do this. For its part, Climate View has adopted the approach of management consultancies when advising clients on change projects. It’s a language city authorities seem to understand.

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