In honor of his four-year anniversary at Ad Hoc, I invited our first full-time team member, Ian Rinehart, to take over the Gist this month. Below he shares his reflections on how the climate tech market and AHG itself have changed since he joined the company, and what he’s most excited about looking ahead.
In other news, I shared my take on the importance of resilience on the With Great Power podcast, which dropped this week, and how policymakers, utilities, advocates, and startups have to do more to ensure we’re prepared for the worst.
- Jim Kapsis, CEO
The Ad Hoc Group
Climate has always been the mission for me. I half-jokingly refer to myself as a “failed entrepreneur,” but really I learned firsthand how hard it is to start and grow a climate tech company, all while adhering to your values. When my own startup journey came to an end, I wanted to apply what I’d learned to help others succeed, which is why I joined AHG.
One year in, I found myself sitting in Jim’s backyard at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. We had just learned our biggest client was cutting its budget and two prospects were pulling out of contracting. So, shivering 6 feet apart with a fire pit in between, we ate noodle soup and discussed how we’d get through the pandemic with a more resilient company.
We’ve never followed the typical consultant model. From day one, we’re backwards planning for our clients’ “graduation” – when they can operate effectively without our policy and sales support (and we’re out of a job). It’s a bit like sending your kids off to college, but it comes with its perks.
We hired Heather Deese to run the policy team at Dandelion Energy, for example, and when we chat now, she’s the one informing me of all the latest geothermal market developments. Mish Thadani, who we helped hire to lead policy at Urbint, has since founded a resiliency AI company called Rhizome, and we’re advising him again (he’s getting the AHG graduate degree).
Today, we’re approaching 20 people on staff and serve around two dozen clients at any time. As we grow, we’re grappling with many of the same issues our clients face: scaling our work without sacrificing quality, finding new clients, and hiring and retaining the right talent.
Timing Is Everything
So much of startup success comes down to timing. No matter how good you are, there are many aspects of underlying markets you cannot shape on your own.
Funds are flowing to climate tech startups in record numbers, but this isn’t the first time. Between 2006 and 2011, VC firms put more than $25 billion into climate-focused ventures, so-called Cleantech 1.0. In the end, there were a handful of successes, like Opower (where Jim and I met), Nest, EnerNoc, SunRun, and Tesla, to name a few.
However, I realized that underneath the hype, the first cleantech boom hadn’t delivered when it came to the hardest things – like developing new materials, hardware, and manufacturing processes – that are necessary for a complete energy transition.
Now we find ourselves in another boom: Cleantech 2.0. A record $70 billion was invested in the sector in 2022 alone. What’s different this time around?
First, there’s new money coming in from “generalist VCs,” meaning interest is spreading beyond climate-only investors. And we finally have the critical policy foundation that was lacking the first time around. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provides a once-in-a-generation commitment from the government, encouraging investors and companies to jump in.
But the hard things are still very hard, and we need to dramatically accelerate the pace of innovation, particularly when it comes to working with more cautious stakeholders like utilities and regulators. That’s where we come in. We use our skills and expertise to shorten the time to scale, particularly in areas where policy hasn’t caught up with new technology. In many cases, we still need to build the plane while we’re flying it.
That’s a big part of the reason our informal AHG motto is “put points on the board” (we even have mugs). In the last month alone, our team has dealt with a dizzying array of issues. On electrification alone, this includes setting thermostat + heat pump compatibility standards (we need to ensure they’re talking with one another), determining what types of products should qualify for battery incentives (how do we categorize appliances with integrated batteries?), and figuring out how thermal heat batteries can be valued appropriately in electricity markets.
The Next Big Things
So what’s ahead for climate tech? It should be clear by now that the impacts of climate change are here and destructive. That's why we spend a lot of time working with startups focused on bolstering our resilience, like adapting to the increased threat of wildfires.
I think it’s equally apparent that we need to prepare for the risk of failing to meet emissions reduction targets. AHG embraced the need for innovation in carbon dioxide removal (CDR) because, even if we reach net zero, we’ll still need to remove the Co2 already in the atmosphere.
And finally, while we’re doing everything we can to support clean energy and electrification, our natural gas system will (like it or not) be around in some form for the next several decades. There are some clear opportunities for new climate tech to track and mitigate methane leaks and to reduce the climate impact of gas (stay tuned for a future Gist on this topic!)
While startups may be notorious for turnover, I’m still here four years later. Part of it is the swag (I’m addicted to the AdSock, an AHG-branded sock) but really it’s because this time around, we are actually helping companies do the hard things.
News from Our Network
From our clients:
- Time Magazine wrote a feature on Charm Industrial and heralded the company for rapidly scaling its carbon removal efforts.
- Bedrock Energy was both profiled by CTVC and a finalist for GreenBiz’s Climate Tech Startup of the Year.
- The latest Elemental Excelerator cohort included AHG client Bedrock Energy and AHG graduate Kelvin.
- Pano AI expanded significantly in Colorado with its latest partnership with Xcel Energy.
- BoxPower collaborated with PG&E to deploy its first 100% renewable remote grid, key for wildfire prevention.
- Luis D’Acosta, CEO of Uplight, talked to Utility Dive about how the US is trailing some countries in creating a more flexible grid.
From friends and colleagues:
- Climate resilience startup Rhizome launches an AI platform to boost grid resilience.
- Carbfix was featured on the cover of National Geographic, notably helping to mineralize more than 90,000 tons of CO2 underground in Iceland.
- Eion’s enhanced rock weathering was named as one of Time Magazine’s best inventions of 2023.
- The GridFwd podcast featured an interview by UtilityAPI CEO Devin Hampton and Calvin Butler, the CEO of Exelon.
- Carbon Removal Canada launched this month to help carbon removal companies scale in Canada.
Jobs in our network:
Send us your job openings in cleantech policy, startups, and utilities, and we'll put them in next month's Gist.
Infravision: SVP of Global Sales & Marketing
Carbon Removal Alliance: Deputy Director of Policy
ev.energy: Senior Sales Director
AiDash: Director of Sales
Charm Industrial: Community Engagement Manager
Impulse Labs: Marketing Manager
Pano AI: Enterprise Account Manager
SWTCH: Policy Manager - West
Therma: Energy Account Executive
Uplight: Senior Market Development Manager
VEIR: VP of Engineering
Tyba: Sales Development Representative
Rivian: Federal Affairs Manager
Urban Tech Summit (Nov. 14 - 15)
New York, NY
Xander Mitchell is attending
EU-US Emerging Leaders Visitors Program for Renewable Energy (Nov 26 - Dec 2)
Brussels & Spain
Stephen Mushegan was selected to participate