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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A prominent energy venture capital firm and large companies including Microsoft and Duke Energy are launching a new fund to help diversify the clean technology startup sector.

Driving the news: The clean energy and climate-tech focused Energy Impact Partners (EIP) on Wednesday morning unveiled the Elevate Future Fund.

  • It aims to "create a more diverse founder community and inclusive venture capital ecosystem within the broader energy transition."
  • The goal is backing companies founded and led by people from Black, Latino, LGBTQ+ and other underrepresented groups.

How it works: The fund is initially targeting $120 million and has secured over half that from investors that also include Southern Co., Xcel Energy and several others.

EIP has largely targeted growth-stage companies, but the fund will focus on early-stage investments, said Anthony Oni, the new fund's managing partner.

"[C]ultivation of diverse founders needs to start early in the investment lifecycle — Seed and Series A as they are not receiving the early funding to make it to the later stage of investments," Oni said via email.

Why it matters: Communities of color are underrepresented in business ownership and C-Suites, and the startup world is not isolated from the problem.

  • Crunchbase News recently reported that "of the record $161 billion in venture capital invested in the U.S. last year, single-digit percentages went to Black, Latino or female entrepreneurs."
  • Also, with the world far off pace from emissions cuts needed to hold global warming in check, finding a broader pool of entrepreneurial talent matters for everyone.

Where it stands: The new fund has already made three investments, including ChargerHelp!, an LA-based tech company founded by Black women that enables fast servicing of electric vehicle charging stations.

Go deeper

Updated Sep 14, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on post-pandemic recovery for Black-businesses

On Tuesday, September 14, Axios markets reporter Courtenay Brown and business reporter Hope King discussed the economic recovery of Black-owned small businesses, featuring Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) and U.S. Black Chambers President & CEO Ron Busby. 

Rep. Joyce Beatty addressed how the Congressional Black Caucus and Congress are working together to help Black-owned businesses in a post-pandemic era, the primary challenges that the Black-owned business community endured during the pandemic, and how unemployment rates among Black communities vary across the nation. 

  • On government efforts to provide financial relief to small businesses: “When we think about the value of the Congressional Black Caucus and how we had to work with them, many of us small business owners, I know firsthand as a former small business owner how hard it is to make payroll in a normal time. Here’s the good news: 95% of the Biden-approved PPP loans went to small businesses with 20 or less employees, and that was very helpful.” 
  • On consistently disparate unemployment rates in Black communities: “When we hear, 'Oh, unemployment has gone down and people are working,' well, those numbers were never the same for minority-owned businesses, especially Black-owned businesses. The numbers were always double, and we’re still dealing with that.” 

Ron Busby illustrated the progress of Black small businesses in post-pandemic recovery, how efforts from Federal entities and the private sector have assisted in that recovery, and what types of aid he believes are most essential in helping Black-owned small businesses thrive. 

  • On the current state of recovery for Black-owned businesses: “Businesses that are owned by African-Americans and Black people across the country are starting to feel extremely optimistic about the future, but the challenges still exist. The number one challenge for Black-owned businesses is obviously access to capital.” 
  • On adjusting government-run initiatives to better serve Black communities: “We had to go back and make sure that we adjusted those packages, those stimulus opportunities, to make sure that our Black businesses could participate. As you see new programs being rolled out, you’ll see that the US Black Chamber is there to make sure that small, diverse, and primarily Black firms are included in the conversation, as well as being included in the stimulus packages.”  

Axios SVP of Events & Creative Strategy Kristin Burkhalter hosted a View from the Top Segment with Facebook’s Vice President of Business Engineering and Partner Solutions, Alvin Bowles, who discussed how Facebook is supporting Black-owned businesses through various digital exposure initiatives. 

  • “It’s just important to note that individuals are trying to leverage the digital economy to be able to actually decrease that distance between innovation and execution, and trying to figure out the best way to be able to leverage opportunities to have individuals discover their businesses. We feel like there’s an enormous responsibility that we have. As we head into this holiday season, it’s now more important than ever to really focus on the discovery economy and that every good idea deserves to be found.”  

Thank you Facebook for sponsoring this event. 

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Beto plans Texas comeback in governor's race

Former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke speaks during the Georgetown to Austin March for Democracy rally on July 31, 2021, in Austin, Texas. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is preparing to run for governor of Texas in 2022, with an announcement expected later this year, Texas political operatives tell Axios.

Why it matters: O'Rourke's entry would give Democrats a high-profile candidate with a national fundraising network to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — and give O’Rourke, a former three-term congressman from El Paso and 2020 presidential candidate and voting rights activist, a path to a political comeback.

Texas doctor says he performed an abortion in violation of state law

Pro-choice protesters march down Congress Avenue and back to the Texas state capitol in Austin, Tx in July 2021. Photo: Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

A Texas doctor disclosed in an op-ed in the Washington Post Saturday that he has performed an abortion in violation of the state's restrictive new abortion law, which effectively bans the procedure after six weeks.

Why it matters: Alan Braid's op-ed is a direct disclosure that will very likely result in legal action, thereby setting it up as a potential test case for how the abortion ban will be litigated, notes the New York Times.