I’m curious to dig deep into your personal conviction on clean tech. Where does this passion come from?
I am a huge outdoor and nature enthusiast. Nature and the outdoors is my religion, and I have used it my whole life as a means of coping and therapy for myself. Earlier in my career, I was working in the high-tech industry and started and sold a business that was consumer technologies-based.
I discovered as we were trying to have kids that I actually had cancer. After I dealt with that and was in remission, we got pregnant right away. I had two girls. When I decided to go back into the workforce, I really thought hard about what I wanted to do. I felt like I had this gift of more time on this earth. I had this deep connection to the environment and the outside.
I felt like I needed to do something with much more purpose that would leave the world in a better place for my kids and for their kids. It had to be something that I would gain a lot of satisfaction from. That’s where I started to look at the environment and decided that I would, for the rest of my career, work on solutions to climate change.
You could have made an impact doing startups. Why choose to do it on the venture capital side?
Very practical reasons. I had been an entrepreneur earlier, but I then started at this technology accelerator, Clean Energy Trust, to fund a lot of companies. I saw the value of working with a broad set of businesses, especially for a problem as complicated as climate change where there is no silver bullet. There’s no single solution. A better weapon to bring is a portfolio because you’re going to need all those different kinds of solutions. I consider Buoyant Ventures to be my fourth startup and hopefully my last.
What’s happening in the clean tech ecosystem today?
I’ve been in the space for about 15 years. It has never been a better time to be a climate tech or a clean energy entrepreneur. I can easily say now is the best time because of the amount of support globally for these issues, the amount of countries that are committing to reduce carbon, to adhere to the Paris Climate Accords, to try to reduce their contributions to climate change. That wasn’t the case 10 years ago. The amount of capital that’s flowing into the space is more than there’s ever been, especially at the later stages.
One of the reasons we started Clean Energy Trust in 2009 was there was very little early-stage capital for these hard science, complicated scientific businesses that take a lot of capital to develop. They take a long time to develop.
One of the reasons this is such a good time is the public markets are really valuing and rewarding this because of the global commitment and because of some regulations that are causing investors to really assess the climate impact of their investments and to expose the climate risk in their portfolios. The public markets are starting to reward this as well. That’s creating much more capital in the later stage. That’s really exciting because the valuations are increasing, the exits are increasing, and that money is finding its way into more venture funds as well.
From the young entrepreneur perspective, I think that one of the bigger issues is that it’s just not as sexy. You need to dive one layer deeper to understand. What are some tangible examples of clean tech or clean energy companies that I could get excited by?
It is complicated. I really made a commitment to deeply understand the energy markets. It’s not as simple as developing a consumer software and putting it on the internet and getting users. In order to do this space, you have to have a deep curiosity, you have to have a deep passion and commitment because you will feel stupid many times along the way trying to understand the space.
I’m not as fixated on getting to 100% clean energy. I think if we got to 80% clean energy, we would have made such a tremendous impact. I strongly believe that we already have these solutions. What we need to invest in are ways to deploy those technologies faster, and we can look for ways to optimize them.
The transmission infrastructure, we have it today. It’s more a matter of political will to build it out. Battery storage solutions and technology: we have gotten so many gains already from lithium ion. We’ve kind of squeezed as much as we can out of lithium ion, so now, we need to look at the next types of technologies.
But I’m investing in software that can optimize the performance of this equipment and squeeze a little better performance out of these solutions, or it can use data to drive decisions around how you deploy, site, and operate this equipment and also how you analyze and measure risks. One of our first investments right now for Buoyant is actually in a weather risk insurance company. Then when you have this exposure to an extreme weather event, you can actually have some insurance protection that could be super valuable for folks that are most exposed.
You have batteries, you have transmission, the nuts and bolts of this, but then you also have a lot of innovation around using data to drive better decisions and to drive solutions that we can use for climate change.
We need these technologies not just for the sustainability of the planet but also for the sustainability of innovation, right?
For sure. We’re starting to see a lot of folks looking at offsets. The really key thing is to look at removing carbon from the operations of your business. But then being able to purchase and use offsets to get you the rest of the way there. We’re looking again at software, at blockchain as a means of creating a better certified process for exchanging offsets. But then also valuing them so that you could see how one is a little better than the other, and for folks to be able to purchase those with some better assurance that what they’re really doing is achieving the goal.
I have three questions about Amy. Favorite subject in school?
Science, without a doubt. I just love science. I love the discovery process. But I didn’t pursue science in college. I look back and I’m like, “Why did I do that?” But that’s why I love what I do because I get to satisfy that curiosity personally.
Someone who’s an inspiration or role model for you?
Women in this space who have raised their own funds like I’m doing now and who have been pioneers in the field. There are some really great women whose stories are starting to be told, like Nancy Pfund. Also, Barack Obama was an incredible story and person and leader. That kind of pioneering spirit and conviction and personal integrity is very inspiring to me.
Three words you would use to describe yourself?
Endlessly curious. Super enthusiastic. Grateful. I feel very fortunate that I have everything that I have in my life, my family, daughters, husband, friends, colleagues, and people that have believed in me in my career. I could never have accomplished what I have without a lot of support along the way. I just always want to be very, very grateful for that.
Michael Matias, Forbes 30 Under 30, is the author of Age is Only an Int: Lessons I Learned as a Young Entrepreneur. He studies Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University, while working as a software engineer at Hippo Insurance and as a Senior Associate at J-Ventures. Matias previously served as an officer in the 8200 unit. 20MinuteLeaders is a tech entrepreneurship interview series featuring one-on-one interviews with fascinating founders, innovators and thought leaders sharing their journeys and experiences.
Contributing editors: Michael Matias, Megan Ryan