The 2021 Climate Change Startup Landscape
“Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years.”
A Stanford University computer scientist is attributed to this simple but powerful recognition of the importance of long-term compounding effects. Our general inability to understand that progress isn’t linear have affected many current and past events, from how swift cars substituted horses as the main mode of transport in the early 20th century (and how the former ended a long-standing problem with city planners about horse manure disposition), to how humanity faces, and will eventually manage climate change.
In August 2021, a group of over 230 scientists contributed to The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to issue the sixth assessment report on climate change that started in 1990. This United Nations panel reviews and reports on the most relevant academy literature in the subject, but importantly it does not have authority to create original research.
Among the key findings, the figure below caught the attention of global newsrooms (and social media ‘specialists’) for its simplicity: from 1850 to 1950 the globe has stayed within 0.5 oC of its long-term global surface temperatures and over the last half century the observed temperature spiked with no signs of reduction like it was screaming “past performance is guarantee of future results!”
What the IPCC fails is to move the conversation forward by suggesting practical methods that will contribute to solving the issues it so eloquently diagnoses. The ‘Limiting Future Climate Change’ section of the report goes as far as to point out that our society must reduce greenhouse gases, just like city planners of 1898 approached the problem of horse manure: a lot of diagnoses and fluffy discussions with few practical actions.
In medicine, once a diagnose is made, a doctor will move to offer alternatives that best suit the patient. And when it comes to climate change, there are many founders and teams across the world who are building disruptive businesses that will have the same evolutionary effect that cars had on transportation and logistics.
This 2021 climate change startup landscape pays particular attention to four categories: Proptech, AgTech, Material Science and Climate Tech.
The construction industry is accountable for approximately 30 to 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions, from the materials used in construction, to supplying power, heating, and cooling to maintain buildings functioning.
The supply of startups in PropTech has increased dramatically over the last decade, with many demonstrating meaningful traction and making a dent in established segments of the industry: companies such as Plant Prefabs and Mighty Buildings are building their first communities across the US with advanced 3D-printing technologies and evolutions in construction, engineering and material selection, whereas Spanish-based 011h is developing ‘passive house’ designs that improve the standardization of materials during the construction phase that are also cheaper to maintain and operate.
On the maintenance side, startups including Shayp, Dabbel and Turntide have systems that can identify and make improvements in water consumption and CO2 emissions for buildings and manufacturing facilities to run cheaper and with a smaller carbon footprint. This is a significant evolution from ‘energy efficiency 1.0’ companies that would only target reductions in energy consumption or water because they would not have the technological background (or the demand from their customer base) to measure and report greenhouse case emissions.
In agriculture, a new crop of startups is pioneering every step of the industry. From how food scientists at Pairwise and Tropic Biosciences aim at delivering affordable and healthy crops through gene editing techniques, to how farmers will increase the use of next generation naturally occurring biostimulants and biocontrol agents that Aphea.Bio and Lucent BioSciences are developing. It’s also worth to mention Hazel Technologies and its technologies to improve produce shelf-live, the agriculture robots utilizing from Tortuga AgTech and the ecosystem platforms from Agtuary and Dendra.
Materials science was traditionally siloed within the confines of R&D labs of large industrial conglomerates or in Academia. Entrepreneurs can now partner with an emerging class of deep tech investors who are willing to bet in a revolution in the way that new materials are discovered, developed, and manufactures for several use cases.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning platforms from MaterialsZone and Citrine Informatics are optimizing how the material research process is done in a more automatic, systematic, and optimized way to harvest increasingly novel materials for use cases that include display and glass technology, energy storage and semiconductors.
At the same time, breakthroughs in how scientists’ control and generate user-defined DNA cells for specific applications have spur a whole new class of materials. The startups in this category include FabricNano and its biomanufactured alternatives to fermented and petrochemical products, Niron Magnetics and its rare earth free magnetics and Nanom nano-enhanced materials for improves in battery storage.
A new and exciting batch of climate tech startups is brewering to disrupt the measurement, capture, utilization and storage carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The key reason of excitement is that these entrepreneurs have been silently building the foundational technologies that are required to reverse climate change. Regrow and GHGSat are focused on ways to make carbon measurement more efficient, Daphne Technology has developed a non-catalytic exhaust gas purification system for the shipping industry. Heimdal, Carbo Culture, Climeworks, Living Carbon and Carbon Clean are all working in different technologies to remove and store atmospheric carbon dioxide and GHG in general. And Deep Branch is recycling and converting CO2 into animal feed products.
The IPCC made it clear we need change in the current direction our society has taken. One urgent movement should be de-emphasizing the loudest voices in the room and focus instead in the hardest-working doers. To make the 2020s the Climate Decade we need more entrepreneurs and doers, and less bureaucratic panels, commissions, unnecessary regulations, and reports.
PS: This is by no means a complete list. I have made it concise enough to capture all the major themes around climate change, but if you believe there are founders who must be added to the list, please reach out.