Greentown Labs: Incubating Sustainable Innovation
Recently I spoke with Juliana Garaizar on my podcast Consensus in Conversation. Juliana is a prolific angel investor who is now incubating the rise of climate tech and the decarbonization movement. Juliana is an optimistic innovator and is working to build a more inclusive, creative, and action-oriented world.
Juliana and I have a fair amount in common. We both spent time working in finance, and we both felt the need to bring more meaning and fulfillment to those careers (We also could have spent an hour talking about our love of travel). Like me, she is fascinated by the pioneering culture of Silicon Valley and is driven by a passion for entrepreneurship. But, above all else, we are both confident that investing has the power to impact the world positively. We believe that the best solutions to our biggest problems are global, meaning that diverse perspectives from all over the world are needed to create the best ideas. Capital allocation is a critical part of achieving these solutions at scale. Her work at Portfolia and Greentown Labs is inspiring and is a testament to entrepreneurship’s ability to change business for the better.
Here are my key takeaways from our conversation:
The Next Unicorns Will Come From Climate Tech, Nature Tech, and Clean Tech: Climate tech and clean energy innovators need investors’ help to receive funding for technological development and scaling their businesses. However, these sectors also require an investment in human capital in order to build the expertise that is necessary for the next creative solutions. This consideration is where incubators like Greentown Labs are creating a massive impact. Greentown is fueling our decarbonization efforts by providing entrepreneurs with strategic industry connections, important technological equipment, training programs, and employee talent. All these resources help innovators create better products more efficiently, and Juliana is bringing her investing expertise to the incubation process by running Greentown’s Houston office. She is helping Houston transition from being the principal city of legacy energy production to a new center of the clean energy movement. Over more than a decade, Greentown incubated 600 companies, that achieved $2.5 billion in funding, while creating 6,000 jobs in the process. With incubators like Greentown, I think that we are one step closer to finding and nurturing the coming generation of climate tech unicorns.
Entrepreneurship is an Exciting Avenue for Inclusivity: Many future entrepreneurs experience a phenomenon that I like to call “the Great Pivot,” in which we realize that the traditional career paths, which often emphasize seeking the best risk-adjusted returns for our jobs, leave us wanting. For some, we seek creativity. For others, entrepreneurship is the missing spark. I needed both. And, I needed to know that I was making a positive impact on the world. An entrepreneur controls the development of their time and resources directly and can design a mission, operational structure, and profit strategy with more sustainable and socially-responsible considerations in-mind. Juliana experienced this freedom firsthand when she joined Portfolia, a VC fund geared toward closing the gender gap. Juliana has always wanted to make the investing world a more equitable and inclusive place for women. This process could take years of incremental change, and many women would miss out on opportunities in the meantime. So, Juliana joined Porfolia to start empowering women in the present. In total, the firm houses 13 funds that invest in 8-12 companies each. Juliana has been able to help other women learn how to run these funds by supporting their ambition and letting them dream big. Larger VC firms have noticed Portfolia’s success and are now placing a higher priority on bridging the gender gap. In fact, the 2021 PitchBook report found that the percentage of female VC general partners had risen to 12% in 2019 and 15% in 2021. We still have a long way to go, but organizations like Portfolia are making a huge impact on the movement to create a more inclusive VC environment.
Positivity is Key to Solving the Climate Crisis: One quote from Juliana has stuck with me: “Whenever there’s a challenge, there’s always an opportunity…You can decide whether to be paralyzed by fear or to be moved into action…If we become action-oriented and stay positive, the opportunities are endless.” This optimistic sentiment is critical to our efforts to overcome the climate crisis. Being nihilistic about the changing climate will get us nowhere. Humans have a long history of innovation in the face of challenges. Let’s have confidence in our problem-solving capabilities to develop new technologies that can save our planet. Progress will require time, but, as long as we keep thinking big and pushing the envelope, I believe that we are on the path to one of the greatest achievements in human history. Juliana and Greentown Labs share this mindset and are equipping decarbonization innovators with the tools that will help climate tech reach its projected $6 billion of investments by 2030. It’s an exciting time to be a clean tech, climate tech, and nature tech innovator, and I can’t wait to see and invest in creative ideas in this space.