Andrew Chung, the founder and managing partner of the venture capital firm, 1955 Capital, has one of the strongest track records as a proponent of green businesses. In particular, Chung’s focus has long centered around the renewable energy and sustainable food and agriculture sectors. Over the past 15 years, Chung has invested in a number of these climate tech industries and supported entrepreneurs behind the green tech revolution.
Recently, Chung made a special appearance on the Greenbiz.com-hosted webcast “This Is Climate Tech”. He was joined on the webcast by GreenBiz Editorial Director Heather Clancy and two more guests: Andrew Beebe, a former green tech entrepreneur who now operates as the Managing Director of Obvious Ventures, and Nancy Pfund, a founder of DBL Partners.
What is Climate Tech?
GreenBiz defines climate tech as those solutions that have “exquisite focus addressing the climate crisis”. For the purposes of this discussion, climate tech is concentrated on five distinct areas:
- Energy supplies
- Infrastructure innovation
- Industrial processes
- Agricultural land use
Climate tech, then, examines each of these areas and addresses them with new technology and innovations, often spearheaded by pioneers like Chung and others in the green business enterprise.
How Has Climate Tech Changed Over the Years?
Chung and the rest of the panel’s participants offered thoughtful insights into how climate tech has evolved over the last decade. Nancy Pfund, who began her company more than 15 years ago, was a pioneer in climate tech venture capital. She sees much more focus and commitment with investors and companies in the cleantech sphere today as well as fewer “tourists”, the term she uses for supposed dabblers in climate tech investing.
Pfund is also quick to point out that there are many more climate challenges today than there were when she first started her business, things like floods, droughts and the diminishing ice cap, and that these events bring increasing attention to climate tech companies and technologies.
Andrew Beebe was a cleantech entrepreneur before joining Obvious Ventures seven years ago. Now, more than any other time during his tenure in this sector, he has identified many more “second generation” entrepreneurs and investors in the climate tech arena. He notices an increasing number of top people leaving companies like Tesla and Nest to form their own companies, having learned from the mistakes made by these “first generation” companies. He sees investors also being more nuanced and thoughtful about where they place their money and no longer jumping on the first good idea they stumble across. Like Nancy, he has seen a “profound societal shift” in the last decade and a new urgency to find sustainable solutions to energy, agriculture and other life essentials.
Throughout Chung’s 15 years as an investor in the climate tech arena, he has backed a number of breakthrough technology opportunities. Today, he sees more of a proven roadmap for entrepreneurs and investors in climate tech and he believes that the first generation of success stories gives them more confidence about investing and spending their energy in this arena. Chung reiterated what Andrew Beebe mentioned about a second generation of players in the sector, who brings more “nuance, commitment and sophistication” to their work. Another change that Chung mentioned was the current “swirl of government, institutional and consumer interest” in climate tech companies, a perfect storm stronger than ever before. Finally, he feels that “governments and individuals are becoming more aware of the vulnerabilities in things like the food chain and energy grid”, as events like the recent pandemic make the fragility of these systems more obvious.
All of the panel members continue to be optimistic about the future for climate tech companies. Nancy pointed out that it has traditionally been in “global downturns…that some of the blockbuster companies have been formed, companies like Tesla and Rooftop Solar.”
Andrew Chung on Climate Tech
Chung sees massive opportunities in the climate tech sectors today both for investors and for entrepreneurs. He is particularly encouraged that there has evolved more of a playbook with proven ways to succeed in green tech/climate tech businesses than there when he first became interested in this sector. He sees a large amount of interest in green solutions within several industries, including…
- Fashion: According to Chung, “the fashion industry has taken huge interest in green tech.” He ought to know; his wife Coral Chung is the CEO of a popular California-based fashion brand, Senreve. Chung cites the need for eliminating the huge waste of resources and materials that is currently inherent with fashion industry.
- Carbon removal: Chung acknowledges that while reducing carbon emissions is important, there is the potential to remove these gases from the air and convert them to another useful product. He shares that promising research is already being done in China on this idea. China needs desperately to reduce its carbon emissions. According to Chung, more than two million people die each year in China from air pollution-related disorders. In addition, he sees technologies like 3D printing and robotics as having the potential to reduce carbon emissions by decreasing the number of workers who need to drive back and forth to a plant as well as the energy needed to manufacture a product.
- Sustainable food: Chung points out that the recent COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shut-down has exposed the vulnerabilities of the global food chain. Few consumers haven’t experienced going to the grocery and finding the store out of an item they wanted, whether that be toilet paper or pork. Having the CEO of Tyson saying that he has to shut down 90 percent of his pork production plants due to coronavirus outbreaks earlier in the year brings this problem home to the average consumer. Chung sees finding new ways to create sustainable food sources as a priority for the coming years and gives Nature’s Fynd, a 1955 Capital portfolio company that has created a sustainable non-meat protein that recently raised $80 million from investment platforms led by Bill Gates and Al Gore, as an example.
Andrew Chung on Impact of COVID-19 on Climate Tech
Chung is quick to point out that the current COVID-19 pandemic makes climate tech companies all the more essential. Few saw the pandemic coming and yet it has impacted food supply lines and other necessary business sectors. Says Chung, “the future is at risk without investment in climate tech companies”. He and the other panel members cite food supply hiccups as indications that a better and more efficient way to get essential products to consumers is needed. Nancy notes that currently more than 40 percent of produce in the United States is thrown away. This is not only terrible when looked at through the lens of world hunger, but also in the wasted resources used to farm, harvest, process and distribute these products.
Chung sees the pandemic bringing new attention to the recyclability of products and finding new uses for existing products. He sees this concept, in light of the pandemic and shut-down, as helping to attract new companies to climate tech as well as first-time investors.
Chung on the Current Climate for Climate Tech Companies and Entrepreneurs
Andrew Chung sees enormous potential for climate tech companies and those with innovative ideas within this sector. The pandemic and racial unrest have spurred an increasing sentiment of nationalism, both in the United States and abroad, Chung laments this isolationist trend as “unfortunate and getting in the way of innovation.” However, he sees technology as an “olive branch” that can tie nations together and that even has the “potential to create peace in the world.”
Despite all of the world political and social climate, Chung sees lots of opportunity for companies that can create unique processes that fill a need. He stresses that these products and services need to be well differentiated from existing technologies. After all, companies are not going to want to cede market share and/or invest in technologies that aren’t truly innovative. These new ideas also need to be practical. He encourages entrepreneurs to think through their ideas carefully. For example, he suggests that entrepreneurs ask themselves whether they can build their product in the scale that will make it probable and affordable for consumers or businesses.
About Andrew Chung
Andrew Chung is the founder and managing partner of 1955 Capital, a venture capital firm founded in 2015 by Chung to invest and help promote companies that address the developing world’s most pressing challenges related to energy, healthcare, food, agriculture, education and sustainable manufacturing. Chung has 15 years of experience in investing in these sectors, and 1955 Capital, which is based in San Mateo, California, has been actively investing in innovative start-ups that help to restore and sustain our planet.
The GreenBiz Group, founded in 1991, is a media and events company that advances the opportunities at the intersection of business, technology and sustainability. Through its websites, events, peer-to-peer network and research, GreenBiz promotes the potential to drive transformation and accelerate progress — within companies, cites, industries and in the very nature of business. They host a variety of webcasts each week on subjects that range from “Trucking’s Clean Future” to “The Future of Sustainable Textiles”.
To hear the “This Is Climate Tech” podcast in its entirety, visit Greenbiz.com.