• Elemental Navigator

    Curated access to climate technology for corporations, investors and industry partners

A look back at 2019 and ahead to 2020: A letter from our CEO

January 3, 2020

· 6 min read
Ian Chipman Editorial Director

The turn of the decade gives us a chance to say the most important thing: thank you! Our work has been shaped by all of you reading this who have offered mana’o when we were uncertain, grace when we faltered, and joy when we succeeded. And it’s been a watershed year personally — marked by the birth of my daughter, Lily, in April — and I feel profoundly grateful for your support. Becoming a mother has sharpened my focus; I feel a heightened sense of urgency to help make this planet more livable and more equitable for all children.

2019 marks ten years at this mission — to accelerate solutions to climate change, and deploy those solutions in the communities that need them the most. Over the past decade we have iterated (and iterated) to find the most impactful way to build an innovation machine for deploying climate technologies. Here is where that’s led us so far:

At a recent all-hands meeting, our passionate and committed team of 27 shared words that encompassed 2019. Here’s a few they chose:

Rhythm, progress, empathy, flow, momentum.

In 2019, as we built our machine with an eye toward scale, we focused on three things:

1) Accelerate the pace of systems change locally

We fund companies through our accelerator, and support the commercialization of their technologies by surrounding our 50+ projects with on-the-ground resources like community-based organizations, policy interface, and dozens of internships drawing on talent from the places where companies are deploying. One student, who was pursuing a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering at University of Hawai’i, interned with Proterra, an Elemental portfolio company that manufactures electric buses. After her internship she landed a full-time job at the company to pursue her dream of a carbon neutral future. I also found my passion for clean energy through an internship, and wins like this feel like real indicators of progress for accelerating the pace of change.

Also on this front, our policy team worked to close the gap between innovation and policymaking. One example was passing a Honolulu city resolution supporting carbon-infused concrete (e.g., from our portfolio company Carbon Cure) that was adopted by cities nationwide.

2) Prove the model scales beyond Hawaii

We are growing beyond Hawaii’s shores to make a bigger dent in solving climate change. In 2019 we leaned into our Equity & Access Track, and have now funded 17 projects in California’s frontline communities. This work has challenged us and made us better: our partners and entrepreneurs have taught us how to listen first, reveal unintended consequences, understand where technology does and doesn’t fit, and find leadership in unexpected places. We are now anchored in our new California headquarters in East Palo Alto. The Bloomhouse, named for the flower farm that used to inhabit the site, is becoming a focal point for our team, our companies, and our partners.

And we are just getting started. In the coming year we will be even more active in geographies such as Australia, New Zealand, and Asia, and will explore how our model can support other markets and communities.

3) Deepen our industry reach in mobility, agriculture, water, and energy

We have grown our portfolio team to bring more expertise to the sectors we know are the key drivers of emissions — and also the sources of solutions. Our five Directors of Innovation now cover mobility (Danielle), water (Kim), agriculture (Danya), energy (Nneka), and equity & access (Sara). They have helped us sharpen our investment thesis and refine our approach to sourcing startups, selecting companies, and designing projects in these sectors.

At the same all-hands meeting, our team shared words that reflect their aspirations for the coming year. What will 2020 hold?

Empowerment, imagination, catalyst, growth, regeneration.

The last couple of years have been about building our machine and 2020 will be about scaling it. In 2020 we will witness (and participate in… and register others to participate in!) a historic U.S. election. And we will enter the decisive decade in which humanity must collectively act to avoid almost unimaginable suffering.

That leads our team to think about how we can deploy solutions fast enough to meet the climate challenge. We have come to believe that the answers lie in the nexus of community & climate solutions, and so that is where our work lives. I think of it as the place where hot lava from the Kilauea volcano meets the Pacific ocean. It is loud, dynamic, unpredictable — a place of enormous energy and generation. This is super hard work, and we won’t always get it right or even know the full shape of its creation.

As we head into 2020…

here are some questions that are top of mind for me, and where we could use your help:

  1. How do we help companies scale as quickly as possible to profitably reduce emissions?
  2. What are the best ways to ensure that communities who will suffer the most from climate change are among the first to access innovations that will help?
  3. How do we bring more people and partners into the tent at the nexus of community & climate?
  4. How can we engage more of you in our upcoming efforts to launch new investment vehicles that catalyze action?

And finally, how do we find grace with each other to acknowledge our shortcomings, forgive our missteps, and lift each other as we pursue change?

I have so much faith in our amazing team to pursue answers with humility, curiosity, and a joyful spirit. And this year we were thrilled to welcome some new stars to our crew – feel free to reach out.

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What will the world look like in 2030, when Lily will be receiving lei for her 5th grade graduation and the decisive decade comes to a close? I’m so grateful to have spent the last decade working alongside you, and look forward to taking on the 2020s together.

Warm wishes for the new year!


p.s. In the spirit of all good holiday cards, please update your address book. Both our Hawaii and California offices have new homes, and you’re welcome anytime!

Elemental Excelerator HI
Ali’i Place
1099 Alakea St, Suite 1250
Honolulu, HI 96813

Elemental Excelerator CA
2555 East Pulgas Ave
East Palo Alto, CA 94303