10 Takeaways from the 2021 Climatetech Summit on Empowering the Technologies of Tomorrow

In this critical decade for climate action, we need all hands on deck to develop, fund, deploy, and scale climatetech solutions. That’s why the 2021 Climatetech Summit convened and mobilized climate champions from across the globe to roll up their sleeves and get to work empowering the technologies of tomorrow.

Below are top takeaways from the summit about climate solutions and what’s required to bring them to market, ways for everyone to be part of the energy transition that’s already unfolding, key technology areas that are driving momentum to equitably tackle the climate crisis, and more.

Check out recaps of the Greentown HQ and Greentown Houston events, plus session recordings from the global livestream. 

When it comes to climate action, deployment is the name of the game.
Climatetech startups—such as the ones at Greentown Labs—are developing world-changing solutions to decarbonize the biggest greenhouse-gas-emitting sectors and build resilient communities. But to reach their full impact, these technologies must be brought out of the lab and deployed at scale. This effort requires action from throughout the climatetech ecosystem.

  • “It’s really more about breakthrough deployment than breakthrough technology,” U.S. Department of Energy Loan Programs Office Director Jigar Shah said, emphasizing the importance of getting costs down. “When you think about [green hydrogen, micro-reactors, and carbon sequestration and storage] cumulatively, I do think the future is bright, and we do have an ability to reach decarbonization goals.”

Climatetech startups have a critical role to play in helping corporates achieve their climate and business goals.
When startups and corporates partner, they—and the planet—have so much to gain. Startups benefit from a corporate’s customer base, industry knowledge, and resources, while corporates can leverage startups to remain on the cutting edge of their industries’ innovation.

  • “I like to call startups ‘entrepreneurial partners’ that are going to help us achieve our goals,” Wendy Herrick, Unilever’s Vice President Digital Supply Chain, said.

Investors, corporates, and founders agree that a strong—and diverse—startup team is a key indicator of its success.
The importance of an early-stage company’s team came up again and again at the Climatetech Summit. Investors said the team is one of the main elements they look at when evaluating a startup; founders said teams are critical, acknowledging that “rarely does an individual founder succeed;” and corporates emphasized that diverse teams are stronger. “We look at it as a performance issue, as a warning sign, if a team is not diverse,” said Brian Panoff, Senior Venture Principal at Shell Ventures.

  • “Team, team, team—that is the number one thing that investors are going to be looking for,” said Prime Impact Fund Principal Johanna Wolfson. “You don’t need to be a fully formed team, but what we really want to see is that you have recognition of where you need to build out your team.”

There’s a place for everyone in climatetech, whether they’ve previously worked in traditional energy, have experience tackling climate change, or are new to the climate and energy fields.
The projected growth of the climatetech industry and its ability to train and employ people means that there is abundant potential to create wealth and jobs, especially for low-income communities and communities of color.

  • “We need all hands on deck,” said Greentown alum Patricia Vega, CEO of Quantum New Energy. “There is an opportunity—and a need—for everyone.”

Municipalities have a unique opportunity to align not just local, but regional stakeholders to build a decarbonized, equitable, and resilient economy.
Municipalities are on the frontline of shaping the systems that affect people’s lives, and this systems approach is a highly impactful tool for climate action.

  • The role of cities, states, and regions is to “help make the clean, equitable choice, the easy choice,” said Joseph Curtatone, Mayor of Somerville, MA and Incoming President of the Northeast Clean Energy Council.

Hydrogen can be a game changer for climate action—and we need the whole ecosystem engaged to make it a reality.
Panelists at both locations pointed to low-carbon, affordable hydrogen as something that could transform the climatetech industry’s approach to decarbonizing greenhouse-gas-emitting sectors. Shortly after the Climatetech Summit, Greentown was proud to announce the Low-Carbon Hydrogen Accelerator, a Greentown Launch program with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Shell, the City of Houston, and the Urban Future Lab at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

  • “I see hydrogen as one of the backbones of decarbonization,” said Akilah LeBlanc, GM, Commercial Innovation Partnerships at Shell. Michael Kearney, Principal at the Engine, described hydrogen as a “decarbonization cheat code.”

We need rapid innovation to address climate change, and startups are the ones that can make that happen.
Startups can move incredibly deftly, iterating on and developing the new solutions that are critical to combatting the climate crisis.

  • “If we’re going to meet this time-bound challenge of addressing climate issues, we need to invest in entrepreneurs, who are wired to scale,” said Avra van der Zee, COO at Elemental Excelerator. “But in scaling, we want to scale equitable, market-driven solutions that redesign systems that brought us to this inequitable place.”

Commercial debt has a part to play in the impactful deployment of climatetech solutions.
Greentown HQ’s keynote speaker Jigar Shah, Director of the U.S. Department of Energy Loan Programs Office, says to think of the Loan Programs Office as a commercial bank—one that’s eager to lean in, helping climatetech startups complement equity with debt.

  • “We have to be shifting $3T in infrastructure investments per year,” Shah said. “That’s the scale we have to be at, which means commercial debt has to be part of the equation.”

Houston has the necessary stakeholders and expertise to lead the energy transition—and the region’s already hard at work. 
Houston is home to world-leading energy organizations and incredible engineering strength, talent, assets, and capacity to scale that can—and must—be redeployed toward a decarbonized future. This transformation is underway in the energy capital of the world.

  • “We have an opportunity because we have the talent, knowledge, companies, and global reach. It is right here in front of us … What we would like to see is that in a decade, or two, three, four, or five from now, our region will continue to be the energy capital of the world,” said Greentown Houston’s keynote speaker Bobby Tudor, Chairman and Founder of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. “We’re just going to have energy systems that look very, very different than they do today. And we need to embrace that, we need to be a partner in that, and we all need to be leaning in together to make it happen.”

Entrepreneurs: don’t be afraid to reach out to and work with policymakers.
Climate policy is essential to climate action, and policymakers need to hear from entrepreneurs about what they need for their solutions to scale and succeed.

  • “For those of you with technology expertise: working with policymakers is key to solving this crisis,” said Kathleen A. Theoharides, Secretary of Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. “Let us know and let people know what the range of possibilities is for the future, and how that can fit into the policy context.”