Aug 16, 2021 - Economy

Top venture capitalist: "The climate is f'd"

Chris Sacca

Photo Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Nicola Gell/Getty Images for SXSW.

"The climate is f’d. Even worse than it seems." That's from the opening page of a 12-page letter sent by venture capitalist Chris Sacca to potential investors in Lowercarbon Capital, the climate-focused firm he launched last year after a brief retirement.

What's new: Lowercarbon, which initially funded more than 50 startups via money from Sacca and his wife Crystal, last week announced that it raised $800 million in outside capital.

  • The $800 million is split among four funds, two early-stage and two later-stage. Each strategy includes a small fund that contains a slice of existing Lowercarbon portfolio companies, so that LP and GP interests are more aligned (plus, it was a marketing sweetener).

Why it matters: Both institutional and individual investors have gotten over ROI PTSD from the initial green-tech investing boom, with Sacca telling me that the funds were more than 2x oversubscribed in just a matter of days.

  • "Carbon is an expensive, inefficient thing," Sacca argues. "Anywhere we can remove it from the process, it's cheaper. That means customers. We're not running a nonprofit here."
  • "One big difference between now and years ago is that current tech makes it so much faster for startups to get to the binary point of understanding if something works or not. Biotech's binary moment usually comes much later, and even web/app stuff can take a couple years to build something that you don't actually know if it will catch on."

Big picture: There is still a relative dearth of early-stage firms investing in green tech, despite an emerging consensus that climate change is an existential threat and that it can't be stemmed (let alone reversed) via policy change alone.

  • Sacca believes we'll know the money is matching the opportunity when we see more VC firms hire climate scientists like Lowercarbon's Clea Kolster.
  • "I'm seeing more traditional VCs who do care and want to be proud of what they do. But we're still not seeing too much competition, because most of these firms are clustering around lower-impact, consumer-facing technologies like basic reuse and recycling because they don't yet have the skill set for deeper tech."

Also: Lowercarbon had planned to offer some fund allocations to Historically Black Colleges and Universities on a no-fee/no-carry basis. But it hasn't happened yet, as Sacca says it's proven surprisingly difficult to find "decision-makers" at schools that haven't traditionally had access to top VC funds.

  • "Our goal now is to donate a few million of each fund to HBCUs, while setting up direct relationships with the schools so they can get similar deals with other big VC funds. It's kind of an open invitation because we have a chunk of these funds waiting for them. Maybe this interview will help get the word out."

The bottom line: If we're going to innovate our way out of global climate catastrophe, venture capital must play a key role. Right now.

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