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3 reasons to be optimistic about climate tech in the second half of 2023

Investors continue to pump money into climate tech startups, laid-off tech workers are flocking to climate tech career opportunities and the seeds of opportunity sowed by the Inflation Reduction Act are yet to be reaped.

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Image via Shutterstock/Maria Vonotna

Climate tech has seen its fair share of ups and downs over the past year. While the latter half of 2022 saw a boom for climate tech following the signing of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in August — defying the downward trend for the broader tech industry — in 2023 so far, venture capital funding for climate tech startups has slowed to its lowest pace in nearly three years. But this doesn’t mean climate tech has reached a bust, either. 

Investors continue to pump money into climate tech startups, laid-off tech workers are flocking to climate tech career opportunities and the seeds of opportunity sowed by the IRA are yet to be reaped. All of this is good news for investors looking for returns, corporations who stand to benefit from climate tech innovations, impact career seekers who have new opportunities — and, of course, the future of our planet. 

Here are three reasons to be optimistic about climate tech in the second half of 2023:

1. Venture capitalists continue to bet on climate solutions

While venture capital funding might be down for climate tech companies, investors continue to make strategic bets on promising startups. In April, Congruent Ventures, one of the first venture capital firms to focus on early-stage climate-oriented startups, raised more than $300 million for a ​"Continuity Fund," which aims to help existing portfolio companies grow their business from early stages into full commercialization. This is double the assets it previously had under management, at $175 million.

"Most of the things that drive climate tech are also good for companies in general," said Joshua Posamentier, managing partner at Congruent Ventures, based in San Francisco. "We're not trying to sell them a new CRM or enterprise SaaS tool, we're selling them the ability to reduce their operational costs."

Congruent invests in four categories of companies addressing the climate crisis: mobility and urbanization; the energy transition; food and agriculture; and sustainable production and consumption.

TeleSense, one of Congruent’s portfolio companies, developed an internet of things and analytics platform for the cereal and grain storage and transportation industry that identifies anomalies, predicts and prevents grain degradation and provides accurate data for market intelligence. TeleSense was acquired by UPL, a global provider of sustainable agricultural solutions, in January 2021 for an undisclosed amount. Avalanche, another Congruent portfolio company, is developing the world’s smallest fusion reactors that produce energy. The company plans to power tough to decarbonize industries such as maritime shipping, long-haul trucking, aviation and distributed power grids.

An added bonus for investing in climate tech is because it often provides a bigger "competitive moat" to the investment, according to Justin Stevens, founder & CEO at Overlap Holdings, based in New York. Stevens was a former senior partner at Apollo Management Group. 

"If you just have some simple, straightforward mousetrap, it's easy for somebody to replicate that and beat you," Stevens said. "Venture investors like ourselves take a different tack in terms of that early stage tech investing, which is: What are the biggest problems facing the world and then what are people coming or their people who are coming up with interesting solutions to fix those problems?"

The types of investments Overlap seeks to make are in companies working in novel technologies that rely heavily on advanced scientific knowledge and engineering, and involve the creation of physical products or hardware. It could be a startup making sustainable chemicals from captured carbon or sorting robots for recycling. The company says that the best way to make money is to invest in companies tackling the world's biggest problems in an efficient manner.

"It takes a lot of time and money to build and scale that first prototype — and that’s why venture capital has become the engine that drives innovation," Stevens said. 

Posamentier added that the focus needs to be on showing that you can make good returns on climate tech: "If you can show good returns here, it's going to attract more capital, which is great for the whole sector."

2. Climate tech jobs are on the rise

As climate tech firms abound, more talent is needed to make it all happen. Between August and January, companies announced more than 100,000 climate tech jobs. And with many tech workers having been laid off since then, climate tech startups are enjoying a growing labor pool to recruit from. Many traditional tech jobs, from engineering to marketing and human resources, are needed in climate tech. 

"Anyone from any background across tech can add value here," Posamentier said. "I'm a huge advocate for dragging people into climate tech." 

That’s why he said Congruent is an investor in Climatebase, a platform that helps promote climate jobs and education, and Climate Draft, a coalition of climate tech startups and VCs that works to get more people into climate tech careers. 

While some are attracted to climate tech careers for the money, many are drawn by the promise of finally making a difference. As was parodied in shows such as "Silicon Valley," many tech startups of the 2010s sought to attract talent through promises of changing the world through some kind of SaaS platform that optimizes customer-based marketing, among other solutions.  

"Some people were working at tech companies that claimed they were saving the world, but it turned out that they weren't," Stevens said. Many of these folks are turning to climate tech to finally employ their skills to address global problems such as the climate crisis, he said.

An added benefit to the boom in climate tech jobs is that it might help folks transcend political divides in the United States. Many climate tech companies, such as Beta Hatch, are setting up shop in rural communities. The company — which has an insect-rearing platform that converts mealworms and their byproducts into high-performance nutrients for animals and plants — in 2022 established a 50,000-square-foot flagship facility in rural Washington state that created many jobs that few complained about despite the ties to climate action.  

3. The IRA money is still coming

Despite the recent downturn, there is a bright future for climate tech — in particular as the benefits of the IRA start to take root. The IRA makes the single largest investment in climate and energy in U.S. history, directing nearly $400 billion in federal funding to advancing climate solutions in hopes of lowering the country’s carbon emissions by the end of this decade and in pursuit of achieving a net zero economy by 2050. The law overhauls and expands federal clean energy tax credits, providing incentives for businesses and consumers to deploy zero-carbon energy and other climate tech solutions. 

"The IRA is helping companies see a path to scaling and unlocking climate tech’s potential," Stevens said. He expects that we’ll see much growth over the coming years from the seeds being planted by the IRA today.

While some of the IRA’s clean energy credits took effect immediately in 2022, others began taking effect in 2023 — with a delayed effect for positively driving climate tech innovation. Implementing such a gargantuan law — and dishing out its financial benefits — will take years. But the overall signal to businesses and investors is that climate tech will continue to thrive.

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