Hi James, thanks for joining me at Green.Org today. Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I am General Partner at Creative Ventures, an early-stage VC focusing on healthcare, labor shortages, and climate change and a co-founder of Lioness Health. I sit on the board of prominent startups like Picnic Robotics and C.Light Technologies, and am an active mentor in the UC Berkeley and Stanford startup ecosystems. I hold an MBA from UC Berkeley where I was a Jack Larson Fellow in Entrepreneurship, a BA with Honors from Dartmouth, and an MS in Computer Science (AI/ML) at Georgia Tech. I remain an active part of the AI community and am a reviewer for a number of technical publications. I previously worked on Google X’s Makani (airborne wind turbine) project.
What is a fun fact about you?
During college, and some time after, I spent a significant amount of time working with microfinance, especially in West Africa (including on the ground/in-country). Then I got pulled into a lot of non-profit politics, wanted to do something more honest, and then went to work at a hedge fund (Bridgewater).
Why do you think climate change and sustainability is such an important topic today?
Climate change is one of the most important problems facing humanity today. Most of the public don’t really understand it—it’s either too far away to care about or so apocalyptic/unstoppable that it becomes too paralyzing to really think/do much about. In reality, many of the changes are both gradual and severe, and much of the solution requires significant technological change that happens over time. Politically, it’s otherwise too tough of a sell to ask, especially poor countries/communities, for significant standard of living sacrifices for something that seems either distant or inevitable. The most important thing is not to stand still and keep moving towards creating an economic future that can sustain and even thrive without a significant carbon footprint. The good news is we are moving that direction largely through somewhat weak regulatory pressure on the private sector (and private sector response/technological development in that direction—see, auto and solar industry). The bad news is a lot of those other forces are preventing a broader, more coordinated response that could make an even larger difference.
What do you envision your industry looking like 10 years from now?
Venture investing in climate tech (green tech, impact investing, whatever flavor you want to call it from what era) tends to be extremely boom and bust. We’re still in the midst of a boom, but this occurs every 5-10 years followed by a “winter” of funding as many of the promises of the prior generation don’t pan out. We’re finally starting to move towards a technological threshold where many more climate technology investments can actually start to be extremely successful (i.e. see the solar industry, again, and even Tesla, which wouldn’t have been possible previously without developments in battery technology). We’re not quite there—things like carbon capture are still tough sells, but as we see more and more cultural change, political willingness, and (unfortunately) more severe climate impacts, we’ll likely see more will to create things like more universal carbon credits that can make even direct carbon capture economically viable. In the meantime, we’ll see companies like TerraCO2 (full disclosure, one of our portfolio companies, where we led with Breakthrough Energy) making extremely high-carbon industries like concrete into low-carbon.
What can the average person do to make a difference?
Political pressure to support government investment in basic research around the climate area + at least modest carbon credit systems. Conservation (on personal consumption, recycling, travel, etc.) is not unimportant, but it’s been turned into too much of a moralistic stance that both creates sacrifices/damage to certain economic sectors and ideological opponents. Besides that, while it isn’t *unimportant* as said, it isn’t nearly as significant as, say, moving to renewables (… or nuclear), electrifying the automative fleet, de-carbonizing concrete/building, etc.