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Startups tackling climate change the next big boom

OPINION: The Kiwi startup scene is in the middle of a boom like none it’s ever experienced.

In the past year alone, we’ve seen over $2 billion worth of acquisitions of some of our best tech companies, Vend, Seequent and Timely among them. The next generation of startups has raised well north of $100 million in VC and angel investment to fuel their expansion.

Funding is more abundant than ever, with the likes of Icehouse Ventures and Movac as well as overseas venture capital funds scouring New Zealand for high-growth opportunities to invest in.

Many of the startups attracting their attention work in areas our entrepreneurs are well known for already – business software as a service, digital commerce, video games and consumer applications among them.

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But one of the greatest opportunities for high-growth, high-value businesses is yet to receive the same level of entrepreneurial energy and associated funding. The innovations we come up with to tackle the challenge of climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions will hold the greatest potential to create value in the next decade.

Just last week, Bill Gates said he expects climate tech will produce eight-10 Teslas, a Google, an Amazon and a Microsoft, yet only one of them is known today.

Bill Gates says he expects climate tech will produce eight-10 Teslas, a Google, an Amazon and a Microsoft, yet only one of them is known today (file photo).

Ludovic Marin/AP

Bill Gates says he expects climate tech will produce eight-10 Teslas, a Google, an Amazon and a Microsoft, yet only one of them is known today (file photo).

Getting to net zero

If Aotearoa could build and finance just 50 companies able to apply their innovations to reducing or removing 50-100 million tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) each year between them, it would be enough to get our country to net-zero carbon emissions for the rest of the century. It would also give those startups sizeable export opportunities and create high-paying jobs.

As the upcoming COP26 meeting in Glasgow will no doubt reinforce, we need to pull every lever possible to reduce emissions, including shifting awayfrom burning fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

But the problems and possible solutions can be found across the spectrum, from alternative ways to grow and create food to software and data tools to measure climate risk, emissions levels and financial flows, to materials science that serves to ‘decarbonise’ the built world around us, which is largely still based on fossil fuels: steel, concrete, plastic and chemicals.

The world’s financial movers and shakers already recognise the potential. Around US$58 billion in venture investment is likely to be invested in climate tech this year, up from US$35 billion in 2020.

Countries that will be present at COP26, and which represent half of the world’s GDP, have committed to a net-zero CO2e target by 2050. Yet for many of the challenges we need to overcome, the key transformative technologies that will enable us to get there are still out of reach.

We are among those countries targeting net-zero CO2e emissions by 2050. But the reality is that we will struggle to get there based on the policy framework and various interventions outlined by the Climate Change Commission. We will also need a sustained innovation effort to accelerate progress and that opens the door for Kiwi entrepreneurs of all stripes to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Columnist Derek Handley is a co-founder of Aera VC, which has been backing climate tech startups for almost five years.

Columnist Derek Handley is a co-founder of Aera VC, which has been backing climate tech startups for almost five years.

Now is our time

At Aera, we have been backing climate tech startups for almost five years. When considering the potential carbon-reduction potential of a new venture, we look for bold ideas backed with technologies that have the potential to remove 100 million tonnes of CO2e each year, ideally much more.

A single company, with the vision and technology transformative enough to match it, could make a huge impact. A commitment to ‘deep-tech’ innovation that pursues fundamentally new and climate-friendly ways of doing things, through to creating products and services that are truly sustainable, is what we need to be known for on the world stage.

The world’s financial movers and shakers already recognise the potential of green tech, with people like Tesla founder Elon Musk leading the way.

Maja Hitij/Getty Images

The world’s financial movers and shakers already recognise the potential of green tech, with people like Tesla founder Elon Musk leading the way.

We are finally in the midst of a fantastic collision of political will and public acceptance of the need to act. It comes at a time when the world’s largest managers of wealth are focusing on the same target – reducing emissions and tackling climate change.

There has never a better time to be a startup founder in New Zealand. But there has never been a better time anywhere in the world to be a founder of a startup tackling the challenges of climate change.

Derek Handley is a co-founder of Aera VC, an early-stage growth fund investing in deep-tech ventures that accelerate the world towards a sustainable future.



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