Well folks, this is it. The final entry to our "What Would Dolly Parton Do? 9 To 5 in the Climate Tech Sector" series. And this week, I wanted to sneak a peek at the other side of the startup ecosystem: venture capital (VC) firms.
As we all know by now, to make the cut, the firm must live by Dolly’s doctrine of gender equality, so needless to say, that eliminated quite a few companies. Luckily, Galvanize Climate Solutions was able to step up to the plate in the form of co-head of innovation and expansion Saloni Multani.
I first came across Multani on the excellent podcast "Catalyst w/ Shayle Kann" where she joined Kann as a guest. I was blown away by her eloquence and ability to make dry investing jargon digestible and interesting. So, one email and one very delayed flight to California later, I was seated across a glass conference table from Multani at the San Francisco headquarters of Galvanize.
What I intended to be another Q&A format interview turned into a fascinating discussion that lost all structure! So instead, I’ll highlight just a few of Multani’s fascinating insights. (Some language has been modified for length and clarity.)
The IRA and climate tech funding
Quick note: Multani and I spoke in early August, before the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was officially codified into law.
First, the more technical points. The IRA, as discussed last week in GreenBiz’s "The State of Climate Tech Funding" webcast (which featured both Multani and myself), will affect every aspect of the startup ecosystem, and investors play a vital role. Multani broke it down for me.
"As [Galvanize] thinks about its portfolio companies and the IRA, we need to ask ourselves some basic questions. Are there pieces of the policy that are pertinent to our companies? Are there pieces of the policy that create markets for our companies? That provide incentives? We pay attention to the very clear, tangible places where one could say, ‘That’s how we should prioritize efforts because there is clearly a market getting catalyzed by this funding.’"
Essentially, says Multani, Galvanize and all sustainably aligned VC firms should want to be a main player in supporting the creation and acceleration of new markets. And the IRA will strengthen that relationship moving forward.
VC and GE (gender equality)
As a woman of color in the investing world, Multani knows that her demographic is few and far between. When detailing her over a decade of experience, she noted, "Everywhere I worked, I was the only woman visible, up, down and sideways. And when I started at Blackstone [a previous employer], I don’t think they had ever had a woman in the private equity group."
In 2022, female-founded startups across each sector have raised $20 billion in total thus far. As I cited this incredibly low number, Veery Maxwell, co-head of innovation and expansion with Multani, popped in to say hello and weigh in on the topic.
"While those numbers are clearly insufficient, there are significantly more groups focused on actually convening women in business," she said. Maxwell explained that much of the reason women are left out of the entrepreneurship field is not a lack of ability, but rather a lack of mentorship and camaraderie. She told me, "There’s no shortage of awesome women who can and should start companies, but often they don’t want to make the leap because they don’t think they’ll be able to raise the money."
Maxwell then went on to list Silicon Valley Bank’s new women’s focus group "that puts both investors and entrepreneurs together." But the "power woman group" Maxwell and Multani both agreed was leading the charge was the Women in Climate Group, a mix of more than 100 women with roles as executives and investors.
When I asked how women can gain access to these groups, both co-heads in the room agreed on the process. Both of their answers are below:
Maxwell: "It’s a great question. Women typically pitch one of the female investors and, whether or not we decide to move forward, we tend to agree they are amazing and we invite them to join the community. It’s not the most organized way to proceed, though, since it requires them getting in front of us."
Multani: "For new founders, I would say there’s just a lot of referrals from the operating folks who bring people along. And you [speaking directly to Maxwell] are so intentional, when opportunities arise, like filling a board seat in a way that is broad and diverse."
Watching these two women, both rightfully in positions of power, supporting and praising each other in one of the top climate VC firms, I internally sobbed and thanked Dolly Parton for allowing me to witness this rare event. And let’s make this clear: It’s only rare because women are so often excluded from these coveted positions, not because women supporting women is an anomaly. Far from it, folks.
Wrapping up my conversation with Multani, she reflected upon her own past moments of self-doubt that closely echoed Sunfolding chief technology officer Leila Madrone’s comments in a previous WWDPD entry, saying, "Sometimes, you almost talk yourself out of trying because you don’t see demonstrated evidence that someone like you can succeed. And the data suggests that this isn’t necessarily a fruitful path to go down."
And this sentiment is what stood out to me across the entirety of my Dolly Parton-themed series. Each woman interviewed for the series, successful and brilliant in her own right, expressed individual hesitancy to get into the game because of the lack of female representation. But their ideas, and more importantly, the potential indelible impact their ideas could have upon the planet, deserved their perseverance and confidence.
Living Carbon’s trees sequester greenhouse gas emissions at unprecedented rates, Sunfolding’s trackers are expanding solar energy capability, Twelve’s reactor eliminates fossil fuels from industry operations, and Galvanize finances and supports these ventures into a reality.
"What Would Dolly Parton Do? 9 To 5 in the Climate Tech Sector" exists because 42 years ago, Dolly Parton wrote a song that exactly expressed the frustrations and limitations women faced when they attempted to earn the same achievements, compensation and accolades as men. Almost a half-century later, it’s easy and fair to bemoan that the state of rights for anyone who identifies as a woman are regressing when they should be progressing.
But laudable women, worthy of our attention, exist and are changing the world. And I will be damned if I don’t try my hardest to be a member of that incredibly special club. So thank you, Climate Tech Weekly community, for reading and actively supporting my limited series.