ClimateTech Founders to Watch: How Zeigo, Clim8 Invest and Bendi are looking to drive change
With the environmental problems we face moving to centre stage over the past couple of years, the ClimateTech space is going from strength to strength globally...
With the environmental problems we face moving to centre stage over the past couple of years, the ClimateTech space is going from strength to strength globally. Startups are being founded across all industries and verticals to try and tackle some of the biggest challenges of our time and accelerate the move to a carbon neutral economy. I spoke to three recent founding CEOs on their journeys so far in the UK tech ecosystem, and how their products are looking to make a difference.
Allowing anyone to have an impact - Duncan Grierson, Clim8 Invest
Far from a first-time founder, Duncan started Clim8 Invest in 2019 after a long career building, and investing in, successful cleantech start-ups.
“I spent a couple of years noodling around different ideas that could have a big impact and eventually came up with the idea of a platform that could make it easy for anyone to invest into companies that are having a real impact on climate change, the biggest challenge of our generation. There’s a real opportunity to galvanise the growing interest in climate change and help people put their money to work.”
Duncan's vision was an investment platform and app, focused on companies that have a “product or service that can have a positive impact on climate-change”. After realising that nothing like this already existed, he set to work with a team to build it. To make it into their global portfolio, companies must have one of six themes at their core: clean energy, clean technology, smart mobility, sustainable food, circular economy, and clean water. Individuals can invest as little as £25, and in the first 12 months they’ve seen impressive results, their most popular portfolio achieving a 25% return.
“Part of our mission is to dispel this myth that in investing into companies that are doing good, with products making a positive impact on climate change, you have to give up returns. If anything, the opposite is true, and we believe our portfolio is proving that.”
Sitting at the undeniably sexy intersection between Fintech and ClimateTech they’ve already attracted some notable investment, with almost $20 million from the likes of 7Percent Ventures and Channel 4 Ventures, who reached out directly to Duncan and the team. Their headcount sits at 36 people and growing, including a 6-person investment team headed up by Vincent Gilles, former Global Head of Utilities research at Credit Suisse.
“One of the differences with other fintechs is that we have a full-time in-house investment team of experts who are building actively managed portfolios.”
At its core, Clim8 is about allowing individuals to have the biggest impact possible on the environmental crisis. Duncan highlights the importance of leaving a better world for his children, and points to research that shows that moving your cash savings and pension into companies that are having a genuine impact can make more of a difference than all other behavioural changes put together.
“Our plan is to raise another large round in the next few months and go into other geographies, as we believe there is a tremendous opportunity, there’s clearly interest all around the world in climate change and people want to do something, they want to have an impact”
Democratising access to renewable energy - Juan Pablo Cerda, Zeigo
Nine years ago, Juan Pablo set up a renewable energy consultancy called Almach Energy, using his background in operations and trading across big players in both traditional and renewable energy. Almach advised enterprises like Amazon and Google on Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) whereby a large company signs a deal to enable a wind or solar plant to be developed with the assurance that their energy will be purchased. These agreements have enabled both the rapid expansion of the renewable energy sector, and the gradual transition of these enterprises towards carbon neutrality.
While running a tender for Virgin Media, Juan Pablo’s team was approached by a number of developers keen for him to help them promote their projects. Unable to show preferential treatment, they made the first move towards what would eventually become Zeigo.
“What we did was create a database of all the projects, send that to corporates and say these are the projects that are available, they need a PPA, they need a contract to get the necessary finance to get them off the ground. We had a really good response with corporates saying: ‘actually that’s really interesting, I’d like to meet with the developer and know a bit more”
This idea moved from circulating a basic PDF to building a platform and an eventual marketplace. In early 2019, Almach Energy was acquired by South Pole, the Swiss consulting giant, leaving Juan Pablo free to pursue this idea. He secured funding from Sustainable Ventures and the Green Angel Syndicate, among others, and set to work.
Zeigo allows corporates to come onto the platform, filter a list of projects based on their requirements and run tenders, it also allows developers to upload their own projects to the platform, significantly reducing the timeframe for what is normally a 6-month process through automating data and analytics and providing ‘match scores’ through assessing contractual and credit compatibility.
“Our whole focus right now is to automate the whole process and to make it as easy as going online shopping. The strong focus for us is to make energy traceable and impactful, and therefore every chunk of energy that you buy from the platform correlates to a project, has to be traceable to that project but also needs to help develop that project so we can replace fossil fuels with green energy”.
The platform has seen huge success with 48 enterprise clients including Network Rail, CBRE, Vodafone and 400 projects on the platform; they also co-publish reports on the sector with Bloomberg and S&P Global Platts. Looking to the future, however, the vision is to move beyond enterprise, “democratising access to renewable energy”.
”The whole ethos behind Zeigo is to accelerate the transition to renewables, and there’s a finite number of Big Tech companies. What we’re trying to do is enable the next tier down and the tier after to access renewable energy the same way and under the same terms as Google and Amazon. We have this new Aggregation module that we recently launched where we can group together the volume of smaller players. That way they can still have their energy traceable to an asset, and still contribute towards building a wind or solar farm and displacing fossil fuels, but they don’t have to have huge volume and a great credit rating. This hasn’t been done before”.
Sustainability through traceability - Mandeep Soor, Bendi
Bendi was born out of a combination of Mandeep’s data science and finance background across BCG, banking, and as CSO at Pivigo, and her cofounder’s extensive knowledge of the fashion industry and sustainability.
“Through working at Pivigo I realised there are problems that we could solve using those technologies, and using those frameworks, that we couldn’t even begin to tackle 5 years ago, both in terms of the cost of compute power, the kinds of technologies that can actually handle this much data and just the sheer fact that more and more data is being created”
“Before starting Bendi I didn’t know just how much of a culprit fashion is. Something like 10% of global carbon emissions comes from global fashion and its supply chains and 20% of global wastewater is created in the supply chains of fashion, and the majority of brands don’t really know the impact of their operations or of the products they are making. We saw some great initiatives taking place, especially by some of the larger brands, but there’s around 11 and a half thousand fashion brands and retailers in the UK and approximately 11 thousand of them are SMEs. They can’t just go and build technologies to find out where their products come from”
This was the problem they set out to tackle, many companies were setting ambitious carbon neutral targets but lacked the data to even start to action them, these companies were looking to consultancies or hiring to solve the problem manually. Combining their knowledge and with a vision to make fashion traceable, the idea for the business formed in January of 2020 and the cofounders secured a grant from the UK Government in October. In November, Bendi was born, and the team is now 8 people and growing. The vision of the business is for provenance to be as important and as common an indicator as price and size.
“We’re trying to find ways to automate those processes, for example, what does a baseline look like for sustainability for chemicals? What does good look like? What does best in class look like? As a brand, if my next collection uses conventional cotton or organic cotton, what would be the impact of that? What would be the price difference? Let’s say I want to go net zero in the next three years, and considering I know ‘this’ about my supply chain, and I can use ‘these’ levers and I can’t move ‘those’, what’s the optimal path to do that? We’re using a lot of machine learning, we try to find optimal paths to whatever a customer wants given their preferences, and their constraints”
Impressively, Bendi has already signed a major retailer in the UK, responsible for around 900 brands. They have also secured venture funding from Berlin based APX ventures. Despite these impressive highlights, Mandeep ranks meeting the team for the first time as one of the highlights of the journey so far. Given the company was remote-first during COVID, it took restrictions to loosen up for her to meet the majority of her employees.
“It seems crazy to me that in 2021 you know so many details about things that you’re buying but you don’t know where it comes from, and you don’t know the impact of it. In five years, I would hope that there’s a version of Bendi that available to all brands and retailers, perhaps there a free version that’s available to the smallest brands so even they can get started, and that we’ve actually helped brands to improve their sustainability over time and reduce their impacts”
This interview series is a collection of articles commissioned by Atara Partners with some of the world's fastest-moving technology businesses and their leaders.