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A new model for more equitable project deployment

Square Partnerships

Technology, policy, and markets intersect in different ways around the world. Community-based organizations, leaders, and nonprofits are uniquely positioned to design projects in a way that reflects the values and culture of their community. Through deploying over 70 climate tech projects, we learned that this is a critical piece of the square. It incorporates history and context while helping address the cumulative impacts of pollution and systemic inequities through collaboration, proper compensation, and open dialogue.

This toolkit gives an overview of Elemental’s Square Partnership model and is meant to provide guidance and examples on how to engage with community partners in an equitable and effective way, inspired by Elemental’s principles of equitable behavior (ACCT UP). We designed the Square Partnerships model to address the fact that too often the “Traditional Model” of developing and deploying technology omits, sidelines, or delays the voices of people that will be impacted the most. It is built upon the conviction that innovation succeeds best when it engages the community early and often.

This is a living document and there is by no means a one size fits all solution for infusing equity into climate innovation. Please give us feedback on this process—what is working and what isn’t? And if you’re interested in partnering with a startup, let us know.

Download the guide

The Model

Elemental’s Square Partnerships Model is a bottom-up approach — startups are encouraged to collaborate with three key stakeholders from start-to-finish of the project deployment process.

Become a project partner
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Businesses, consumers, or governments that purchase and adopt a startups' technology

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Community-based organizations, leaders, and nonprofits who know and advocate for their communities the best

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Project funders that typically hold the developer accountable for a project's commercial and impact-driven success metrics (Elemental typically plays this role)

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Provides the technology addressing an urgent challenge and is ultimately responsible for the success of the project.

The Process

1. Commitment letter (template included)
2. Community partnership agreement
3. Compensation
4. Meeting structure and cadence

The toolkit includes lessons learned that are recommended to maximize the benefits of using the Square Partnerships Model. In utilizing this framework deploying technologies alongside our portfolio companies, we have found that it enables stewardship and relationship development, in addition to a more profitable and mutually beneficial model for deployment.


"The whole notion of equity is to actually deal with what’s on the ground and to address those stakeholders and their concerns directly. These new technologies can be very helpful for that." - Darnell Grisby, TransForm


“The unique opportunity with this Elemental project was to make sure equity was built into our product in a way that ultimately benefited the end user.” - Tiffany Chu, Remix


"Each project we deploy will be designed to create climate solutions for mutual benefit for all partners involved. Every partner will have a part of the solution. At the end of the day, all technology deployment happens at the community scale." - Sara Chandler, Elemental

A Dive Deeper into Square Partnerships

Elemental’s Dawn Lippert and Sara Chandler explain the Square Partnerships model, how we developed it, and how any startup can use it to strengthen its go-to-market strategy. Then, Cameron Knox demonstrates how he used the Square Partnerships model to scale Allume Energy’s solar sharing solution from Australia to the U.S. with Nancy Halpern Ibrahim from Esperanza Community Housing Corporation.

Square Partnerships in Action

Center lived experience – hire from the community you want to work within

ChargerHelp! is building a workforce to fix broken electric vehicle chargers by providing green, well-paying jobs. Their impact scales beyond fixing broken chargers to opening opportunities for people who have been traditionally excluded from the tech and climate workforce. Meet Heaven. She was recently hired as a technician by ChargerHelp! and lets us see this life milestone from her perspective.

Learn more about ChargerHelp!’s workforce development strategy.

Infuse equity into the technology design process

Remix identified a gap in leadership and process to address issues of historical inequity that could only be filled by the leadership of justice and equity advocates that departments of transportation (DOTs) and technology developers are traditionally prone to miss. To overcome this potential barrier, Elemental funded and facilitated a project collaboration between Remix, a group of equity and transportation advocates assembled by the Oakland-based mobility justice non-profit TransForm, and several major DOTs around California. The result was a feature set of geospatial demographic data within Remix’s new Explore product as well as a powerful project brief by TransForm, Remixing Innovation for Mobility Justice.

Read More

How a community partner can strengthen a startup’s go-to-market strategy

Cambrian and Wastewater Alternatives and Innovations (WAI) are working together to tackle a dirty problem: wastewater and cesspools. Cambrian has the technology, while WAI holds the relationships and local know-how critical to finding deployment sites and partners that need a solution like Cambrian’s.