As we recruit for Elemental’s Cohort 11, we spoke with each of our Directors of Innovation about what they’re looking to fund this year, what motivates them in their work, and much more. If you are an innovator interested in redesigning how we move around our communities and power our lives with our Director of Innovation Gabriel Scheer, learn more about our funding opportunities and apply today!
What inspires you in your work fighting climate change?
Life is short, and I want to leave a dent. I can think of no better way than seeking to solve global problems, empower people, and help people imagine and create a world that is fundamentally better.
I’ve spent most of my career on this mission, from building my own company that helped clients innovate their business models to connect with communities and solve sustainability-related challenges to serving as the first government relations hire at the electric micromobility company Lime. There, I was able to help policymakers and people all over the world experience new ways of seeing their cities, ultimately breaking down the imagination barrier that often stops progress — which is to say, peoples’ inability to imagine that things being different than they are could actually mean a better life.
Only if everyone is served will any of us be served.
While climate change is arguably the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced (and certainly the first we’ve had to face all together at the same time), it also presents an incredible opportunity to build a world that’s healthier, more pleasant, and more equitable for all its inhabitants. In a time when it can be all too easy to dwell on things that aren’t going right, I’m endlessly inspired by seeing so many people using their talents to fight climate change, serve those most likely to be impacted by it, and break down barriers that keep people from living their fullest lives. Being surrounded by amazing people doing incredible work is a positive feedback loop that keeps me going.
What’s one thing about climate innovation that you wish more people knew?
That only if everyone is served will any of us be served. That’s why empowering diverse founders and working directly with frontline communities are such critical pieces of Elemental’s mission fighting climate change. In a world with increasing inequality, we need to use the fight against climate change as an opportunity to achieve a just transition. If done right, climate tech innovation will touch at the heart of all of that, expanding opportunities for self-actualization and gainful employment for everyone while also working to ensure our planet can continue to sustain joyous life.
What’s the best part of working with entrepreneurs?
I’m endlessly inspired by our founders, and how much I get to learn while helping them build more quickly and scale more easily. I love exploring new companies, technologies, and business models —but what’s even more important is meeting the people behind those things and finding the next wave of entrepreneurs looking to grow. Solving the climate crisis requires a supportive community of people working together to solve myriad problems and scale solutions, and that guides everything we do at Elemental.
As the head of Elemental’s mobility and energy portfolio, what areas do you see as ripe for innovation in 2022?
I’m excited about so many things! There are solutions all over the place and amazing entrepreneurs building them. That said, here’re just a few of the things I’m looking for:
- Micromobility approaches to moving people and cargo. Lime, Tier, and Scoot have proven there’s demand for shared scooters, while Dance, VanMoof, and Rad Power Bikes have shown there’s appetite for leasing and owning electric bikes. However, cargo and multi-person bike/light electric vehicles are still in their infancy. I believe there are significant opportunities to build off of those successes with light electric vehicles, electric cargo bikes, charging- and parking-as-a-service infrastructure, and business models that enable use of those vehicles for personal mobility and goods delivery.
- Making more out of existing infrastructure. It’s easy enough to see the gaps in our existing infrastructure; for example, we don’t have obvious places to park high volumes of bikes and scooters in many cities. However, it is also true that we underutilize some infrastructure. For example, how can we make the built environment perform more efficiently with less energy use? How can we use things like urban waterways for moving people or goods? How can we identify new ways to save energy and reduce inefficiencies in industrial processes?
- Expanding the renewables-based grid of the future. Renewables are coming online at a rapid and gaining pace. There are so many interesting opportunities to build solutions that ensure the grid is ready. This includes everything from enhanced grid resilience and innovative energy storage solutions to smarter ways of assessing the existing grid and making it work better. Advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics are opening new approaches to managing what we already have.
- New approaches to guiding behavior change. Changing behavior is really, really hard – though in the case of climate-smart solutions, the change can lead to a happier, healthier life. I don’t pretend to have all the answers on this but some things that interest me are mileage-based emissions fees, tools to disincentivize heavy vehicles and incentivize non-automotive mobility, and various financial tools to facilitate new forms of energy production and storage.
- Technology that helps people shift policy and gives policymakers license to truly innovate for the betterment of all.
- Workforce development & community engagement at the core of climate tech business models.
- Nuclear, deep geothermal, space-based solar, and hydrogen. These are all potentially massive energy sources with a lot of work to go before they’ll be commercialized at scale, and will need a lot of enabling help to get there. I’d love to help support the companies building the picks and shovels that will enable the scaling of these potential baseload energy opportunities.
⚡️ Lightning round:
Best thing you’ve read to this year? Guilty pleasure: I read the entire Outlander series. When I started reading it, I was struggling a bit with the seemingly endless stream of bad news. Reading books set in the late 1700s was a great reminder that in so many ways, life now is healthier, safer, and easier than ever before. Also loved Ministry for the Future — had to check it out more than one time to get through it, but what an incredible read. The carbon cryptocoin, in particular, led me down a lot of rabbit holes (start here if you want to follow).
Favorite way to spend a day off? Getting outside (skiing, biking, hiking, exploring), then having a great dinner with people I enjoy.
Worst job you’ve ever had? Jobs where I can’t find any value in the work, any positive impact on the world. Like most people, I need to feel like my work matters in some way; in most cases one can rationalize or find that value, but sometimes … it’s just clear it doesn’t matter.
What’s your superpower, and what’s your kryptonite? I love connecting people. I struggle with mundanity.
What can you eat an infinite amount of? I love most foods and especially trying new things, but can be pretty happy with some great crusty bread and olive oil.
What’s your “dance like nobody’s watching” song? “Loyal” by Odesza. At least today.