Most entrepreneurs would agree that the early stages of launching a business are the most difficult, albeit exciting, and these common hurdles may only be augmented when the problems one is attempting to solve are as massive as the climate crisis.
To Zareen Khan, Managing Director at gener8tor Sustainability, “The early stages of any endeavor are always challenging, but being part of a supportive community like gener8tor can make a significant difference.”
That’s why last year, gener8tor, the over-decade-old startup accelerator out of Madison, Wisconsin, launched its first sustainability cohort in February, its second in October, and now is launching the third iteration.
“Climate investors understand that solving the world’s most pressing environmental challenges requires a collaborative effort,” Ryan Jeffery the Senior Managing Director at genert8tor Sustainability said. “We all stand to benefit when impactful solutions are able to scale and make a real difference in the world.”
Even as climate funding is seeing a boom, with more and more firms launching and investing in climate tech funds, there is still a gap in the actual funding for climate tech, which, according to data by Bloomberg NEF, currently sits at under $2 trillion, leagues behind the $8 trillion needed by 2050 to mitigate and adapt to climate change and restore the planet.
However, programs like the gener8tor Sustainability Accelerator are working to close that gap.
A twice-a-year program, gener8tor invests $100,000 in each startup in a cohort in exchange for equity, a 12-week program, and partnership and support beyond the program.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of our work is getting to collaborate with exceptional founders,” Jeffery said.
“This cohort’s extraordinary talent and unwavering drive to address our most pressing climate and environmental challenges is truly inspiring,” he added. Last year, the 11 startups across the autumn and spring cohorts each targeted different solutions across the climate web.
This time around, the team at gener8tor Sustainability whittled over 400 “exceptional” applications down to five, exploring new focus areas “which include combating food waste, addressing solar supply chain issues, tackling the scourge of microplastics, and improving renewable deployment and energy forecasting.”
According to Khan, “The demand, and need, for innovative solutions to address the climate crisis has never been higher.”
Here is the Spring 2023 gener8tor Sustainability cohort:
SilisiumTech Inc.: Weaning off fossil fuels depends on the switch to renewables, namely solar energy. However, when the solar supply chain itself depends on fossil fuels, every part of solar manufacturing must be decarbonized, including the highest emitting part of solar panel production: silicon wafers, aka the building blocks of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels.
According to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based SilisiumTech, the manufacturing of solar panels is estimated to be responsible for 5% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
However, by meshing the two slow and expensive processes of making silicon wafers into one, SilisiumTech calculates they’re able to cut both the cost of making silicon wafers and the GHG emissions of panel manufacturing in half. If all wafers were produced with this technology, the startup says 1,420 metric tons of GHG would be prevented every year.
Randy Eager, a founder at SilisiumTech says the gener8tor Sustainability program is “even more impressive from the inside.” “I have been a mentor in other accelerators and this group is already adding more value than the other programs,” he said.
Demi: Demi is on a mission to make composting mainstream. Its founders, Lily Wang and Andrew Lee are aiming to simplify the process through Demi’s tech-enabled, “compost-as-a-service” system for both residential and commercial buildings.
Inconvenience, labor, and lack of space are some of the top reasons people say they don’t compost, however, according to Demi’s polling, 99% of urban dwellers care about sustainability, and 88% would pay more to live in a more sustainable apartment.
Still, 40 million Americans living in apartments generate over 200 million pounds of food waste every single week. But a simple change in habit could divert that mass of food waste away from landfills. Designed with urban living spaces in mind and the ability for people to conveniently drop off their compost, Demi “makes composting for everyone.”
Currently, the Chicago-based startup has operations at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy, and in JeffJack Apartments, but they aren’t stopping there. “We really feel as though Demi is now at a point where we are poised for scale,” Wang, the CEO of Demi, said. At genert8tor “Not only do we get to work with passionate & mission-aligned individuals with deep expertise in climate; but also with folks who know our business model inside-out and who have successfully executed on similar strategies.”
REint: As we progress toward a clean energy future, the forecasting methods used for fossil fuel energy may no longer be viable. According to the Utility Analytics Institute, because of the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources, more precise methods for forecasting are needed. Artificial intelligence and machine learning can provide just that, the institute reports.
According to REint, their suite of AI-powered technologies can help drive renewables, boost grid resiliency, and accelerate the transition to a net-zero grid. Their customers could be anyone from independent power producers looking to reduce renewable imbalances, and utilities looking to better manage their power.
Currently, REint’s beta product has select customers in the E.U. and U.S. but over the next three months, the startup's founders Tarun Raj and Harisankar Haridas say they aim to establish a foothold in the U.S. market in particular. “We believe this partnership will also provide us with an opportunity to fine-tune our product and messaging to better align with the needs of US customers, ultimately helping us to accelerate growth and achieve our long-term goals,” Raj, the company’s CEO said.
Baleena: Microplastic pollution is a growing problem and only about a decade ago, scientists began to suspect that microfibers, microscopic plastic fragments from synthetic clothing, maybe a major contributor to the global plastic problem. According to one estimate, textiles may even be responsible for over a third of the microplastic ocean pollution problem, making textiles the largest known source of marine microplastic pollution. One unsuspecting source of this pollution is your laundry machine.
In fact, just one wash cycle can release more than 700,000 microfibres into our sewerage system, and when there are 840 million domestic washing machines used around the globe, that’s a gargantuan amount of plastic flowing into the ocean.
That’s where Philadelphia-based Baleena comes in with their mission to provide a microfiber trapping device that can be used in homes to reduce microplastic pollution one laundry machine at a time.
Cofounders Julia Yan, Sarah Beth Gleeson, and Shoshana Weintraub are new to the climate tech game. They’re first-time founders right out of undergrad, but say they’re in a unique space to build out their networks, get their product to a pilot stage, and secure funding.
“Being within the gener8tor ecosystem exposes us to diverse takes on building a cleaner, more livable planet that inspires and drives us,” Yan said.
Asoba Clean Energy: Energy generation shortages and transmission inefficiencies can regularly cause blackouts across Africa, which has driven a boom in small-scale solar installations in some parts of the continent like South Africa. But as reporting by Reuters shows, despite the abundance of resources, small-scale installation isn’t an option for everyone.
According to Asoba’s White Paper, because of this, nearly 80% of businesses across the continent experience significant power reliability issues, and failures from national grid operators are the reason 90% of proposed renewable power projects never make it to fruition.
So, the San Rafael, California-based startup is on a mission to power Africa’s commercial and industrial sectors with automated, clean energy-based virtual power plants. Founded by Shingai Samudzi, the startup’s software-based solution allows renewable energy off-takers across southern Africa to turn excess battery storage into additional lines of revenue.
Over the next three months, Samudzi says the Asoba team’s biggest hope is to build out a sales model that allows them to scale effectively within the African business context.
The five startups in the spring cohort address the climate crisis from many sides. “By having a wide range of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences represented in our cohort, we can better address the significant climate challenges facing our world today,” Jeffery said.
“We’re inspired by the level of commitment and dedication from everyone involved, and it gives us hope that together we can build a brighter future for generations to come. By working hand in hand, we can amplify the positive impact of each solution and accelerate progress toward a more sustainable future.”