By Jeffrey Prosserman
A video conference call of diverse entrepreneurs met on screen for the first time in April 2021. Each person in this virtual kickoff was united by a shared mission to curb global warming.
These founders are building early-stage startups in the sustainability sector with mentorship and support provided by the Venture For ClimateTech program.
661 climate technology startups from sixty-four countries applied to participate in the inaugural cohort. Eleven companies were selected. My co-founders and I started one of them.
There are way too many talented people toiling away at jobs without meaning. Golden handcuffs. The need for financial security perpetuates a brain drain and often prevents technology that could solve real problems.
As the director of innovation at Samsung in New York City, I led product development ranging from talking refrigerators with cameras to mobile applications that present augmented reality.
Entire sectors of the internet world are built on an obsession with increasing digital views and clicks. Yet, the pursuit of profit without purpose cannot cool our scorching planet.
Given the state of the climate crisis, I hit eject on my job mid-pandemic to start the Columbia University Sustainability Management graduate program. In my first semester, I wrote a research paper that sparked a company.
My co-founders and I started Voltpost in 2021 to reduce transportation emissions by accelerating electric vehicle adoption. We do this by retrofitting lampposts into electric vehicle chargers so city drivers have convenient charging access.
I first collaborated with Voltpost co-founder Jörn Vicari at Samsung where he led product design across all smart enabled categories. With over 20 years of award-winning product direction and 50 patents, I knew Jörn could bring the Voltpost vision to the world.
I then called Luke Mairo, president of the Columbia University Environmental Entrepreneurs student group in our Masters program. Prior to co-founding Voltpost, Luke held banking and sustainability leadership roles at Barclays, as well as a mentorship position with Techstars.
With this team aligned, we had the foundation to build something great.
In the Venture For ClimateTech kickoff, managing director Jacqueline Ros Amable stared down the barrel of her webcam. “Each of your businesses is trying to make systemic change to society. We know the world is on fire, and we need radical transformation right now.”
This ragtag group of underdogs is a different breed of entrepreneurs. From green hydrogen to wind turbines, each person is developing technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.
Every Monday morning, the cohort met virtually to report successes, fails, asks, and goals. Some days, our vision felt too big.
However, my perspective shifted when Jacqueline shared that she was expecting her first baby in October. She hadn’t given up hope. So, neither could we.
By July, we built a small team and network of mentors. We started gaining endorsements from people who work for cities, utilities, and companies.
Some investors asked what keeps us up at night. Honestly, the list is too long.
Declaring yourself a startup founder is a gutsy thing to do. The professional and financial risk of developing a company from scratch is a tremendous psychological burden.
The reality is most startups fail. When my last venture went south, I was crushed. I wrestled with devastating shame for not succeeding. The silver lining? Finding a path to learn and grow.
It took nearly a decade to shed my past scars; to stand tall and try again.
Why did we take on problems seemingly impossible to solve? Because we are running out of time, and the level of need is greater than the level of hard.
Politicians pontificating on policy alongside students striking in the streets are not enough. By witnessing other founders taking massive risks to develop technology to reduce carbon, I discovered that startups stand on the frontlines for a better tomorrow.
In the final Venture For ClimateTech virtual gathering last November, nine startups remained. Grateful for the friendships we formed, we were overjoyed to meet Jacqueline’s newborn son. Our shared motivation.
As a founder in the first Venture For ClimateTech cohort, my hope grows from passionate climate leaders in our community. Digital chats are percolating. Unsung heroes are hashing plans and pivoting careers to join the climate technology movement.
We dream for a climate turnaround. But there is nowhere near enough of us.
More smart people must commit their careers to develop climate solutions. We all have transferable skills. The question is, will you transfer them?
Venture For ClimateTech provided our team incredible momentum. We recently secured $1.3 million in private financing to develop the Voltpost lamppost charging system and confirm pilots. Our team has now grown to ten people dedicated to transform lampposts into Voltposts.
Our goal is for Voltpost to fuel zero-emission transportation globally. Whatever the future holds, our team is driven to leave this world better than we started.
We are venturing for good. Join us.