Today we’re excited to announce that we’ve added James Schulte as a new Partner at The Ad Hoc Group. James is a crucial addition for us at AHG as we scale to meet the demands of the market and the climate. James will be part of the firm’s leadership, alongside Jim Kapsis, helping us build and manage a world class team. He will provide an additional executive touchpoint for our start-up clients, and partner closely with our allies in the utility and venture communities.
His background makes him the perfect match for our team — he’s spent time at one of the country’s largest utility companies, Exelon, serving across roles in venture capital, policy, and strategy. He was a managing director at Energy Impact Partners, one of the leading global VC firms focused on climate and energy. Most recently, he was a co-founder and partner at Sunfox Capital, a growth equity firm focused on the energy transition. We’re thrilled to bring James’ talents to our team.
We wanted to give friends of AHG a chance to get to know James, so we interviewed him for our blog.
First, we would love to know what made you want to come to the Ad Hoc Group?
One of my new colleagues recently quoted the core of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals — People, Planet, and Prosperity. That sums up very well why I wanted to join Ad Hoc.
For Planet, I have been passionate about climate change since 2007, and it's been my North Star my whole career and each of the steps along it. For me, I’m always looking at how I can make a bigger impact. Looking at AHG’s roster of clients and getting to work with the entrepreneurs and technologists working to keep our planet healthy was very motivating. I've seen from inside a utility how hard it is to make the energy transition work, but we have to accelerate our efforts and I think Ad Hoc is uniquely positioned to help play that role — to the benefit of its startup clients and to the utilities searching for solutions.
For People, I’ve been friends and colleagues with AHG’s CEO Jim for a long time — I actually hired Jim, Ian, Anjana, and AHG to support Exelon’s venture studio at both the programmatic level and individual startup level. We spend so much time with the people we work with, so getting to work with people you really respect and admire makes the job so much more rewarding.
For Prosperity, I’m excited about the business that we’re building and being part of that continued growth for the firm. I’ve always admired the great work AHG has done with startups.
Can you tell us about your work experience, and the path to how you landed at AHG?
I got the climate bug from taking a class in college called The Political Economy of Nature that gave an overview of how natural resources fit into our life and economy. Clearly, there are big constraints. But the class ended with a technologist optimist approach to these constraints on how we can innovate our way forward.
There are three drivers of innovation when it comes to climate change - engineering, policy, and business. Knowing that I wanted to work on climate for the rest of my career, and that it didn’t make sense to pivot to engineering, I decided to get my JD/MBA from the University of Chicago.
After UChicago, I landed at McKinsey’s electric power practice, which was such a great way to start working on the future of utilities, learning how utility leaders think and better understanding the challenges of their business models. From there, I was recruited to EIP, which was my first taste of getting to support entrepreneurs and their growth. It was also a great opportunity to work with investors and senior utility leaders around which sectors to invest in or prioritize and why.
At the time, it was still early days for EVs, energy storage, and IoT, so there was a lot to analyze and unpack. Like work AHG is doing, we had to look at how the policy landscape impacted growth and what regulatory changes or new coalitions could help accelerate these new markets. I had the privilege of helping to stand up the Alliance for Transportation Electrification for just this reason — to educate and advocate for the best policy solutions to speed the move from ICE to EV.
I really wanted to get some entrepreneurial and operating experience, and so when I was recruited to lead Exelon’s Venture Studio, I took the opportunity. It ended up being an incredible learning experience but certainly not without some big challenges. At the time, Exelon was the nation’s largest utility, and we were trying to build startups from scratch using best practices from Silicon Valley. Part of the thesis for the Venture Studio was linking our new ventures to strategic priorities for our C-suite team, which provided me the opportunity to join ComEd and lead energy policy. One of the exciting and complex priorities at ComEd was how we as the utility helped ensure that the energy transition was more equitable and helped all customers benefit.
After Exelon and ComEd, I had a unique chance to serve as a co-founder of a startup investment firm, Sunfox Capital. A lot of my investing focus was evaluating how policy and customer needs would support or hinder the growth of new markets and companies. We spent a lot of time looking at the policy and economics for utility rate innovation, fleet electrification, and the energy storage value chain. One of my favorite parts of the job, though, was helping great founders and entrepreneurs grow and win.
And that will be my core focus at Ad Hoc and what really drew me to the firm. While I enjoy investing, there's nothing quite like being in the trenches with founders. Since I've seen this industry from so many different angles, I can help entrepreneurs see around the corners on what they should be thinking about six months to 18 months from now.
Tell us a little bit about yourself personally!
I’ve been married to my wife for almost 11 years and we’re the lucky parents of two great kids. We live on the South Side of Chicago, and I am a huge fan of all things Chicago except the Cubs (I’m a White Sox Fan!). I’m especially passionate about the food scene here, the Blackhawks, and the amazing arts, from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago to the Art Institute and MCA Chicago. I love to get outside any chance I can get, which was part of our reason for living so close to Lake Michigan on the south side.
If you want to connect with James, you can follow him on Twitter at @jamesrschulte or connect with him on LinkedIn. And while you’re there, you should follow us on Twitter at @adhocgroupinc and LinkedIn!