#174 Nneka Kibuule, Senior Vice President for Aligned Climate Capital LLC
Nneka Kibuule is a Senior Vice President for Aligned Climate Capital LLC. In this role she focuses on investing in growth equity companies in energy, sustainable land use, clean transportation, resilient and efficient infrastructure.
Previously, Nneka was the Director of Energy Innovation at Elemental Excelerator and worked at Pacific Gas & Electric and NextEra Energy Resources in several finance and strategy roles. She has experience in capital investments, stakeholder engagement, customer strategy and experience, innovation, and organizational design.
Nneka holds an MBA from Kellogg School of Management, a Masters in Energy Finance from Tulane, and a BS in Finance from Hampton University. She is the founder of GreenTech Noir, a collective for elevating Black people working in ClimateTech.
Bigger Than Us #174
This transcript has been lightly edited.
Host Raj Daniels 00:00
Nneka, how are you doing today?
Nneka Kibuule 00:11
I am wonderful, Raj. I’m sitting in my home in Oakland, California. And it’s still sunny, but not too warm. So getting perfect fall weather over here.
Host Raj Daniels 00:21
Well, good for you. Good for you. It sounds wonderful. So Nneka, I’d like to start somewhere. It might sound a little strange. But tell me about intentional ideation.
Nneka Kibuule 00:31
Certainly, I came up with intentional ideation after talking to a lot of startup founders or people with ideas. You get so caught up in the excitement and the brainstorming of lots of solutions when you don’t always have a structure to it. And you don’t always know what to do next. And you don’t know how to capture all the good juice that you’ve been spewing out and put it into a format that can be a good business, an idea, a business case, etc.
So I started a consulting agency to support startups, before I joined, aligned, and entered into the investing space, while I was still working on the utility side. And it was really great to talk to people who are essentially intrapreneurs, maybe they have like a big corporate job and want to do something different, or entrepreneurs who have a business in mind but are still trying to figure out product-market fit. So being intentional about your ideation, is really thinking about, what is the outcome that I want from this? What effects and impact do I want on the lives of others and myself? What are the unintended consequences of the work that I want to do? And then what are the ecosystems and stakeholders that I need to get engaged in order for me to successfully launch my work?
Host Raj Daniels 02:01
Can you perhaps walk us through a framework or a way of looking at how to create an intentional ideation?
Nneka Kibuule 02:06
Sure. So the first stage would be to talk to people and really listen. I think it’s easy for all of us, including myself, to just go into straight solutioning. But the reality is, you need to take some time. And understand what is said in between the lines. It could be that someone said that they want to start a food truck. And they’re excited, and they found a food truck for sale on Craigslist, and they’ve already started thinking about how they want to staff it. But after having a conversation, it’s really that they’re frustrated with the lack of healthy food options in their community, or they want to see more diversity of vendors at their local food truck rally, or local park during a festival, or something like that.
So the question becomes, do you need to get a food truck in order to solve for your goal? Is it that you want to create a catering company? Is it that you want to invest in someone else’s food business? Is it that you want to elevate the cuisine of your culture? So that’s a step there to understand. What is the key thing that the person is trying to achieve?
Secondly is looking at the business model. So how can you spend time on this endeavor, and figure out how it can actually return valuable money to you, or if there’s an impact that you’re seeking, for folks that are working on mission-driven projects? Structure it in a way that you are compelling for people in the market, whether that’s being faster and more efficient, less expensive, higher quality, etc, and really digging into that product-market fit.
And then the third part is the ecosystem and stakeholders. What do you need to get that done? So in the case of the person who originally wanted to do a food truck business, and it turns out, they want to do a part-time catering business, but they work full-time for a tech company. The reality is that maybe they need to bring on staff, and maybe they need a co-founder, or maybe they do pop-ups. And it’s been amazing, actually, at least in the Bay Area, how many folks have gone from doing part-time pop-ups to doing full-time restaurants because the value of what they were offering was exactly what the market needed. But they could start it without the huge capital costs of you know buying that food truck or starting out with a commercial lease.
Host Raj Daniels 04:42
It sounds like at least part of what you’re doing is corralling enthusiasm, and pointing in the right direction.
Nneka Kibuule 04:50
Absolutely. I love the way you summarize that.
Host Raj Daniels 04:52
I appreciate it. Well, let’s switch gears. Can you give the audience an overview of Aligned Climate Capital and your role at the organization?
Nneka Kibuule 04:59
Yes, at Aligned Climate Capital, we are funding decarbonization solutions. We have a three-prong strategy, one that’s focused on tax-efficient solar, another that’s focused on infrastructure funding and project finance, and a third that’s focused on what we call growth equity, commercial ready startups, seed to Series B. Our idea is that we want to be able to give catalytic funding to founders at each stage of their business, whether the developers, service-based companies or people with a really great idea about how to change either the digital or physical infrastructure of our communities to enhance decarbonization.
Host Raj Daniels 05:42
What exactly is catalytic capital?
Nneka Kibuule 05:44
I like to think catalytic capital is capital that is founder-focused with really preferential terms for the founders. I think about the capital that is there to enhance scaling. So we don’t take a lot of technology or science risk. So when founders are on the precipice of building out their business development, we’d like to support at that level, and then catalytic in terms of creating value. Our team has a lot of expertise.
On the policy side, both our COO and CEO used to work in the loan program office under Barack Obama. Peter Davidson was one of the ones who was able to invest at scale and some of the largest cleantech companies that we hear about including Tesla, and understanding what it means to deploy large-scale tech across something like all 50 states. Additionally, understanding how regulatory regulations and policy also affect the way that companies scale and how we can support them and addressing some of those benefits or challenges.
Host Raj Daniels 06:56
Tell me more about being founder-focused. How is that different, perhaps, from other capital providers in the market?
Nneka Kibuule 07:03
Yeah. So I think that a lot of investors like to think of themselves as founder-focused, primarily in the impact space. You will see founder-friendly interest rates, or you’ll see accelerators that give a lot of coaching to early-stage companies. Although we do have a mission-driven focus, we do provide above-market returns.
So for us, being founder-friendly is helping founders who may be earlier in the process get access to deals or financing that is typically reserved or locked for people who are in later stages of their business. It means that we’re willing to work side-by-side with founders as they need support, whether with negotiations, or support with supply chain and manufacturing. It essentially means that you have an extension of your team who is also your financial partner. So it’s a hands-on approach to supporting these cleantech companies.
Host Raj Daniels 08:14
And I’m looking at the website, you have this ESG and impact. It says, “We quantify, track, and report environmental, social and governance performance.” How do you track that with the investments Aligned Climate Capital makes?
Nneka Kibuule 08:29
The impact is really important to us. There’s the old adage that if you don’t track it, you can’t grow it, you can’t fix it. So at the cornerstone of our investment thesis is really a focus on tracking the environmental and social impact of the work that we’re doing.
Right now, because our portfolios still growing, we’re able to manage it on a deal-by-deal basis and checking in with the leadership team. We sit on a lot of the board seats for these companies. But more recently, we invested in a company called Pulse ESG. And the idea is that there are so many more ESG mandates, and a lot of people have made commitments to being more sustainable or more equitable in their business practices, but there’s no way to track it. So going forward, we’ll be using Pulse ESG as our software backbone, tracking all the growth of our businesses, whether that’s tracking carbon, or hiring, or any of the other metrics that are really important to us.
Host Raj Daniels 09:41
Since you mentioned Pulse ESG, how does pulse ESG work?
Nneka Kibuule 09:44
So Pulse ESG is a company that it recently started. The idea is that companies will be able to input data about their metrics, and their investors, or their LPs, will be able to consolidate that information. The leadership can consolidate that information for easy reporting and easy tracking to reduce the time and effort that it takes for the typical reporting timeline. Additionally, year over year, you can set targets, see how your teams are meeting them. Additionally, it gives really great visibility about the general goals of the organization to all of their constituents.
Host Raj Daniels 10:36
Thank you for that. Now, I’m assuming you see quite a bit of deal flow. And while I’m not asking you to pick favorites. What areas are you personally, specifically in the climate capital sector, are you interested in, what piques your interest right now?
Nneka Kibuule 10:51
Yeah, one of the things that’s most interesting to me is that the democratization of access. In the current times that we’re in, we’re seeing a lot of EV chargers being deployed in select areas. And now we’re seeing that scaling, happening as a result of either state, or regulatory mandates, or more players entering into the space.
So now we’re going to have more EV chargers, there are more car manufacturers that are saying that they’re going to have a larger EV fleet or options for people to buy from. And it took us a while to get here. If you think about when some of the first electric vehicles were released to the mainstream, it’s taken, let’s say a decade, to get to a point where the average person might be able to walk into a dealership and buy an EV. At the same time, a lot of EVs are still expensive. And over time, we know that that price is going to go down as technology gets less expensive and EV chargers and infrastructure become more ubiquitous.
Now imagine if we could do that for other parts of the industry. So if we’re thinking about the way that shipping and logistics are being done, how can we decarbonize ports? How can we decarbonize the way that boxes are shipped across the country? How do we make it so that it’s not only people who are homeowners who have easy access to solar and storage? What are the mechanisms that we can fund so that the everyday person who maybe has an apartment, or maybe doesn’t have a lot of disposable income, can feel like they have the option to live in a sustainable manner?
So in order to get there, there are so many investments that can be done, and there’s so much that can be improved within the built environment. But there’s also opportunity there for financial technology, in terms of access and the way that things are being priced. There are a lot of options there as it relates to regulations and what types of technologies is prioritized. And in that space, there’s just so much to dig into. And I’m really excited to see what it’s going to look like when everyone feels like they have access to option.
Host Raj Daniels 13:19
Why is democratization of access important to you?
Nneka Kibuule 13:22
It has to do, for me, with choice. And I think choice and autonomy is one of the cornerstones to human dignity. It used to be that a sign of status, and it still is, is money and power. And with power comes freedom. The less money you have, the less freedom you have.
The less freedom you have, the less power you have. It’s a three-prong circle. So if you’re telling someone who has maybe limited financial resources, or maybe limited social status, that they can now choose one more thing in their life and have a decision as to how they’re choosing their electricity, how they’re affecting the way that emissions are released in their community, have an opportunity to choose a cleaner, safer way to transport from place to place, you’re therefore giving them a piece of autonomy and giving them more dignity than they would have been given otherwise.
Host Raj Daniels 14:28
I like the idea of the democratization of access. I still think that EVs are out of reach for a certain segment of the population from a price perspective.
Nneka Kibuule 14:37
Host Raj Daniels 14:38
Where do you think this democratization of access is making good inroads at the moment?
Nneka Kibuule 14:43
I think some of the places that you’re seeing strong inroads are in electrification programs. You’re seeing in places like California and New York that there are programs and companies that are helping people transition from gas appliances, or the standard home devices that they have, to smart devices or Energy Star rebates, or tankless water heaters. I will say most of them are rebate programs that have issues of their own.
But then there are companies like BlocPower, who are stepping in to help people have access to a more smart and more green household without putting up a lot of money upfront. So that’s where I’m seeing some inroads. And I think it’s exciting because your home is where you have the most dominion. And going back to what I said about choice and autonomy, once you have the option to have a programmable thermostat, or once you have the option to control more of your devices, the way you operate in the home, hopefully, will change so that you can figure out how to optimize, and all of a sudden, your electricity bills get lower, and you’re going to see less of that energy burden, which really, really plagues communities of color and low-income communities the most.
Host Raj Daniels 16:15
Interesting that you mentioned smart thermostats. I was at a meeting here in Dallas a couple of weeks ago. And they’re using a two-pronged attack and one is smart thermostats. And the second is the insulation on homes, improving the insulation of homes.
Nneka Kibuule 16:30
Yeah, I mean, those things are probably less sexy, but they make such a huge difference. So another investment that we actually made recently was in a company called Cleanfiber. They’re based out of Blairsville, New York, right near Buffalo. And their whole idea is you can improve so much about a home by changing the insulation. And they have figured out a way to make amazing cellulose insulation, utilizing waste stream product from cardboard boxes. So it’s a cool mixture of circular economy plus the built environment to then create energy efficiency within residential homes.
Host Raj Daniels 17:15
It really is. So I’m gonna switch gears, I want to talk about GreenTech Noir for a moment, another organization you’re involved in. Can you share some information regarding GreenTech?
Nneka Kibuule 17:25
Yes, so GreenTech Noir was started at the beginning of this year, I was talking to some friends and realized that I feel like the faces that I see working in cleantech, or the faces that are elevated in the media, working on cleantech, don’t actually represent what I know to be true of the people I know who care about sustainability and environmentalism.
On top of that, I was also disappointed that when I would go to conferences or other cleantech events, it felt largely homogeneous, primarily male, primarily white. And I felt like one that there needs to be something to be done. And then to that, if we are going to get everyone on board on this great sustainability journey, that the people who have a seat at the table also need to be representative of everyone in the US or everyone in the world that’s actually experiencing the pressure of global warming and climate change. So it started off as a social network. Right now we have about 200 members communicating on a daily basis.
We’re sharing access to deal flow for folks who are investors, we’re sharing non-dilutive funding opportunities and really great resources for folks that are funders, opportunities for people to connect socially, job postings, etc, which are really helpful because there are lots of information that passes through informal networks that don’t always get to people who have historically been disenfranchised. And I know that I’m a very privileged person. And I want to make sure that the information that I get and the opportunities that I get don’t just stop with me.
And that I can proliferate them so there are going to be more people who are going to be working in climate tech, there are going to be more founders that are going to get the attention that they deserve. And then they’re going to be more faces in the media that are representative of the people doing the hard work, whether that’s environmental justice, or air cleanliness, or waste management who aren’t getting the shine that they deserve.
Host Raj Daniels 19:47
And how are you getting the word out? I stumbled across it honestly. And I was fascinated by that. How are you getting the word out about GreenTech Noir?
Nneka Kibuule 19:54
Honestly at this point, it’s word of mouth, connections through LinkedIn, and folks who I’ve met in person, and other GreenTech Noir members have met. I think, also, we’ve gotten to a stage — we started in January — where people have gotten jobs based on what has been posted in GreenTech Noir or connections made towards from GreenTech Noir. So when they share that information, people get really excited and want to join as well. We have plans to formalize the organization a bit and have some more courses and classes and offer more opportunities for our larger group of people. And I hope that we’ll have the tools for marketing it out more widely.
Host Raj Daniels 20:40
I can almost see it having local city chapters.
Nneka Kibuule 20:43
Yes. So one of the things we’re doing in November is having socials. We’re having socials all across the US: New York, Bay Area, Philadelphia, we’re going to have one in Los Angeles in December. So getting those people together is also really important. Right now, we’re still in the midst of a pandemic. And there’s something to be said about community that’s created online. But there’s also something very special about being able to meet with people in person, safely and vaccinated, and just to be able to put names to faces and grow in that way.
On top of that, we’re really supportive of the Diaspora in general, there are amazing founders in Nigeria, in Zimbabwe, and Kenya, South Africa, who also are creating solutions for climate change, but don’t get as much attention because they’re on the continent or in the Caribbean, etc. So, for GreenTech Noir, it’s also a great opportunity for us to highlight our brothers and sisters, and all of those places, who are also not as elevated because they’re outside of our US-centric VC markets.
So that’s been really great there. But there’s also some fantastic regional organizations that have been doing a lot of work supporting Black people in cleantech, Kerry Bowie runs Browning the Green Space out in Boston, Chante Harris has created WOCCIS, Women of Color Collective in Sustainability, which is based out of New York. So connecting with those partnerships, and those groups has been really amazing as well, including VC Include, which recently started a fellowship for emerging managers who are focused in the climate space.
Host Raj Daniels 22:41
I’m happy to say I’ve had both Chante and Kerry on the show, and I’ve enjoyed both conversations.
Nneka Kibuule 22:45
Host Raj Daniels 22:46
So the crux of our conversation is the why behind what you do. When did you become interested in broadly speaking, climate ESG, and why? What drives you? What motivated you?
Nneka Kibuule 22:58
My family is from Nigeria, and I remember always visiting as a child, and even as an adult, and you smell the smoke of a kerosene generator. That is a very ubiquitous smell. The energy electricity grid is not reliable. At a moment’s notice, that electricity can be cut off, and you don’t know when it’s coming back. So everyone had a generator, and that was their own way to, improve quality of life and have energy autonomy. However, in exchange for having that energy autonomy, you end up having so much local pollution, and it costs so much for a household to buy kerosene, and these prices keep changing all the time.
And I used to always wonder, “Why can’t the electricity grid be stronger? Why can’t we use renewables more easily? You know, why does it have to be this way?” And when I came to America, you really value that for the most part, when I turn on the lights and turn them off, if the bill has been paid, and we’re not in the midst of extreme weather, that the lights are gonna turn on. But then you look deeper and look at the source of the electricity. And you find out that actually, the electricity might be quite dirty in some places. And although I’m not seeing the smoke from the generator in my front yard, I’ve actually outsourced that pollution and emissions to somewhere else. And that somewhere else could be a coal mine in West Virginia, or it could be a natural gas plant elsewhere. And I think that for us to think about a global society where people can breathe easily, and everyone has the opportunity to breathe easily — I’m also an asthmatic, so this is very personal.
We need to make sure that our energy is as clean as possible. But I also understand there are financial components as to why our system is the way that it is. So I wanted to make sure that I was on the side of the money, the side that was making decisions around how we can make the energy systems that we have more sustainable and cleaner for a higher quality of human life, whether that means accelerating procurement and implementation on a large scale or supporting founders who are creating amazing solutions in their small startups and helping them scale.
Host Raj Daniels 25:34
So now that you’re on the side of the money, what have you learned? What surprised you?
Nneka Kibuule 25:39
I think the thing that is surprising is that there are a lot of people working on similar things who don’t know that they’re working on similar things. Sometimes we have a company come across our desk, and they’ll say that we’re doing XYZ in a very specific way, and no one else is doing it. But they don’t know that we talked to a potential competitor of theirs maybe a week or two before. So when you think that you want to put money into a solution, I think the thing that surprised me is how nuanced some of the solutions are. And the idea that, in this tech environment, there’s a lot of pressure to pick a winner, rather than supporting technology development as a whole and getting the different technologies to collaborate and work together and scale production.
So I think we’re getting to a point where people are being more open, where the internet and social media have really helped with people sharing as they’re growing, and learning in public, so that we have less silofication — I’m not sure if silofication is a word — but how many things operate in a silo. Additionally, I think one of the big things I see as well, that surprised me was the competition between companies that try to offer an all-in-one solution versus companies that do one thing very, very well.
And as a consumer, or as someone walking down the street, I would have assumed that I would want, you know, the all-in-one solution, the 10-in-one hair conditioner, if you will. But in reality, sometimes it’s kind of amazing to have a company that does one or two things excellently well, and helping those companies find the right partnerships.
Host Raj Daniels 27:37
Now, I’ve heard and read that there’s a lot of dry powder capital sitting on the sidelines. What are some of the challenges in deploying the capital?
Nneka Kibuule 27:45
I think I can speak for Aligned in that we’re very fortunate that we have a lot of deal flow coming my way. And I hope it continues to be that way. However, when I look at the media, and I see some of these firms or investors that have raised massive amounts of money for decarbonization in cleantech, I think we end up in a situation where we might have more money in the market than companies that can absorb that money.
So it’s fantastic that there are firms that are going to write $30 and $50 million checks for the companies I invest in for their next round in the future. But I’ve spoken to some other investors, and sometimes it’s hard for them right now, as they’re so many nascent companies, to find the right kind of company that can utilize those large checks in a meaningful way, or are at the scale where they can accept that type of funding. So as a result, I’m seeing so much competition on Series B deals and beyond. But what is great about dry powder, though, is that they can come back and reinvest in those companies.
Host Raj Daniels 29:03
Let’s move into the future. You know, you’re you’re engaged in this sector right now, broadly speaking, clean climate tech. It’s 2030. How would you — two-pronged question, how do you anticipate the horizon for cleantech in 2030, and where do you think we are on this journey of where would you like to see us on the journey of democratizing access?
Nneka Kibuule 29:23
Yes. So I guess there’s an optimistic point of view, and there’s a pessimistic point of view. Coincidentally, as we’re having this conversation, Cop26 is coming on. And we’re having a lot of countries deciding what they’re willing to pledge for the future, and how much of their nation’s budget or laws and policies that they’re willing to affect in order to push a reduction in CO2 and emissions.
Now, there’s an optimistic point of view that says that people will come to an agreement, and the markets will match that effort. And we will reduce our emissions in a meaningful way, by 2030, just in the way that our society has become so much more climate-conscious. And we’re seeing this in the reduction of people choosing to eat meat or the adoption of more climate-friendly practices; we’re going to get close to some of our climate goals by 2030. Just because as a society, we have shown that we can come together in times of great catastrophe for the continuation of the human race. Now, the pessimistic view is also there, that it is still politics, and people are temperamental and unpredictable.
And people are afraid of change, sometimes more than the disaster that they can’t see right away. So it could be that by 2030, people are waiting to the last minute, to change policies in the last minute, to change the way they interact with the world, whether that’s through changing their behaviors and being less wasteful. But I do believe that when there is some sort of endpoint, whether that is the 1.2 degrees Celsius that we’ve been talking about or some other factor, it will bring all of us together. And it’s more of a function of, are we going to do this the hard way, aka waiting to the very last minute, or the easy way, starting now, and coming up with good, long term plans for sustainability, as well. now for democratic access, I think that’s going to continue to grow just because the business cases for it are really positive.
We’re seeing some megatrends around decentralization. And we’ve already seen that happen with some utilities and people choosing who their energy providers will be in places that have deregulated markets. But if we are looking at telecom, as a precursor of things to come, people will choose the cheapest option, or the most efficient option for their family. And right now, solar energy is the cheapest energy source globally. So it only makes sense that there’s going to be more of a desire for solar, more of a desire for renewables. And that will be led by the people. And that’s going to be led by private markets, regardless of what the government decides to do.
Host Raj Daniels 32:49
Well, I hope your optimistic outlook on both of those points come to fruition.
Nneka Kibuule 32:53
Thank you. I hope so too. I’m curious, what’s your view?
Host Raj Daniels 32:59
So, as you mentioned, Cop26 is around the corner, and I see and read a lot of finger-pointing between countries: you go first, you go first, we still need to grow dirty. And they do have a point, and so I don’t know, I think to your point about more individuals, smaller groups making the push to move forward. And I think that’s where the change is going to occur, I think to your point about holding out and the numbers around net-zero and 2030, and 2050, there’s so much gray area, there’s so much fuzziness there that I’m not sure, from a holistic standpoint, where we, as a globe, or even the countries that are participating, will reach. I do know that China’s committed to certain things and they can mandate almost any change they want to make, whereas a lot of what we have — they talk about democracy — what we have is choice and administration-driven.
And so I have an optimistic outlook. But I do feel apprehensive in that outlook. And from the other part, the democratization of access. I agree with everything you said so far, I just have to — I’m involved with some city actions here locally in the Dallas area — and I think some of the arguments for and against and some of the situation, that it’s really difficult to tell people, encourage people, influence people into quote, unquote, “doing the right thing.”
You know, you mentioned autonomy earlier, and I feel like part of that autonomy is people also saying no. Something that really influences my thinking is — I read a book many, many years ago in the books called Scarcity. And it really drives down the point of Maslow’s hierarchy. And when people are in a certain situation where it’s rent, it’s utility, it’s food on the table, they really have a hard time looking beyond that, and you really can’t finger point and blame people who are in that situation. And I think there needs to be a better, more organized regulatory movement to help those people down the path.
Nneka Kibuule 35:05
That’s a really great point. I feel like a couple of years ago, there was this viral challenge. And they called it the food stamp challenge. And you had to live off a set amount of money a week, I can’t remember what it was. I think it turned out to be something like less than $20 a week to make your food work. And there were some bloggers who were claiming, like, “Oh, I could totally do this by shopping organically and planning out my meals,” and all of this stuff. But if you broke down the time it took for them to plan out all of the meals and go shopping in 10 different stores, the point was very clear that the average person who is in that situation doesn’t have the same time, resources, or access to make all those decisions, and therefore might lean more heavily into less expensive processed foods.
And I feel that can be said about electricity, as well. As much as I’m an energy nerd, I know that everybody is not an energy nerd. So how do we make it easy for people to save money or make choices, rather than a list of new choices that they have to make on an already crunched time period where a lot of people are struggling with decision fatigue from their day-to-day lives?
Host Raj Daniels 36:25
You know, decision fatigue is spot on, when people are traveling by public transportation for two hours out of their day to commute to work, commute home, they’re dealing with, let’s say, current issues around the pandemic, children in school, Wi-Fi issues, there are just so many other pressing challenges in their lives. It gets beyond the point of being able to think about quote, unquote, “utilities.” And that’s why I like the idea of, I don’t know the country it is, but there’s an opt-out. And what I mean by that is that for organ donation, they have to opt-out, whereas we have to opt-in. And I think that, as we’re designing neighborhoods, homes houses, we just have to go ahead and perhaps do it and say, “Look, this is not going to be a choice, this is mandated. And this is what we’re going to do.” And in the long term, I think people would begin to see the benefits of doing so.
Nneka Kibuule 37:16
I like that. There’s also another aspect of this, where once we bring the price of electricity down a little bit more, the price of utilities, that there’s the idea of the small luxuries.
So when people get a coffee in the morning, whether it’s from Peet’s Coffee or your neighborhood coffee store around the block, no one is under the impression that buying coffee from outside of the house is cheaper than making it at home. However, you get the coffee for a variety of reasons. Maybe you like the flavors that they have, you like the customer service, you like walking outside interacting with humans, or it’s become part of your morning ritual, and it makes you feel better when you do it.
So in exchange for those positive feelings, you give up $5 for a cup of coffee that you might have made at home for 50 cents or $1. Could there also be an opportunity when we think about clean energy, not necessarily as a luxury good, but as an experience that’s enjoyable, where people will step out of their day and leisurely enjoy thinking about how to add a more green experience to their life. We see that with people who are smart home enthusiasts, but we know that the demographic of those smart home enthusiasts tend to be higher income as well. So is there a way that we can create joy for people who are lower-income to have these experiences as well?
Host Raj Daniels 38:46
That’s an interesting point. I like that a lot. It leads me nicely to my next question, which is around advice and recommendations. But for you specifically, I have two points on this question here. And it’s if you could share some advice or words of wisdom, I would say, perhaps to founders that are seeking funding. And the second one is for BIPOC community founders to get involved in GreenTech Noir or the green tech-cleantech movement.
Nneka Kibuule 39:14
Yes. The first piece of advice I have for founders is not particularly exciting or unique. But I would say know your product, know your market, understand why someone would use you, rather than the status quo. I think it was Sun Tzu that says, “Know your enemy, win the battle, know yourself, win the war.” The markets that we’re in are constantly changing. And therefore, unfortunately, on top of running your business and leading operations, you also need to understand exactly where you fit in the value stack. And make sure that you’re creating a revenue model that’s going to make money for your long term. And not just at the very beginning, and find ways that you can partner with people. So you don’t have to do everything by yourself.
So by the time you talk to myself or another investor like me, that you’re ready, you know yourself, and then the parts that you don’t know we can work on together, we can strategize for the future. I think the founders that I’ve met, who are so passionate and know their business in and out, it’s infectious and you want them to succeed, even if their product doesn’t fit what your investment firm does. It’s like, this person is passionate.
This person’s done the research, they know their business, there’s a product-market fit, who can I call to pass along this deal to support them? I give that advice to anyone on any type of business. And then, especially in climate tech, there’s so much more funding, non-dilutive funding, grant funding, governmental funding that’s out there, I recommend everyone please, please, please take a look at this and see what resources you can get a handle on as you’re building your business, so that by the time you’re coming for diluted funding, or looking at debt, or talking to investors, you’ve kind of gotten a hold on how large can you grow this entity on your own and potentially get to a level of revenue where you don’t have to dilute yourself as a founder as much as people potentially did in the past.
And then figuring out where you can lean into specialty programs that give you preferential status in terms of procurement. So we know that there are a number of municipalities that have been looking at carbon sequestered concrete first before they look at any other concrete when they’re building out municipal projects. So understanding what the ecosystem looks like on the regulatory or municipal basis for your technology, as well as a good way to get your foot into doors that would normally be harder to enter into.
For those who are interested in GreenTech Noir, please sign up, we have a sign-up sheet at www.greentechnoir.com. That’s G-R-E-E-N-T-E-C-H-N-O-I-R.com. We’re so excited to have more people join our community, especially excited for young people, students, or folks who are just starting their careers to think about sustainability and clean tech as a primary carrier.
Additionally, if you are working in a traditional industry, there are lots of jobs for you in our industry. I think a lot of people have the perspective that you need to be an engineer or a scientist, or finance person to work in this space. In reality, we need product managers, we need UX-UI designers. We need software engineers, and we need you in spades. Almost every startup I know is hiring right now. So there’s a lot of opportunities for this area to shine.
And on top of that, I think when we talk about equity, there’s equity in the sense that I want the people who are designing the world’s best solutions to look like the people who are going to use them. But, too, we know that there’s a lot of money to be made in this space. There’s all of these think pieces that have shared that, the next trillion-dollar companies or the next billionaires, whatever are going to come from the climate space. And if we’re thinking about economic equity and fixing the racial wealth gap, being part of the green tech industry or cleantech industry will be part of that.
Host Raj Daniels 43:56
Nneka, thank you so much for sharing that, and I will absolutely put a link to GreenTech Noir in the show notes. I appreciate your time today and look forward to catching up with you again soon.
Nneka Kibuule 44:06
Thank you so much, Raj. This has been phenomenal.
Host Raj Daniels 44:08
Thank you, Nneka.
Before we go, I’m excited to share that we’ve launched the Bigger Than Us comic strip, The Adventures of Mira and Nexi
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- #174 Nneka Kibuule, Senior Vice President for Aligned Climate Capital LLC - November 19, 2021
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