Interview with Dr. Melissa Ball, Associate Director of Technology at Energy Impact Partners #51
Revolutionary hardtech climate startups
February 2, 2023
I am excited to share this interview with the amazing Dr. Melissa Ball, Associate Director of Technology at Energy Impact Partners (EIP)!
EIP is a global investment firm custom-built to invest in the energy transition. EIP recently announced the $485M EIP Deep Decarbonization Frontier Fund I LP (“Frontier Fund”), which targets early-stage, revolutionary climate technologies. I just love that focus💚
In this interview, we cover Melissa’s impressive journey from an economist to a scientist and climate investor, EIP Frontier Fund’s focus, Melissa’s advice for hardtech climate startups for pitching to VCs, and much more!
Read until the end of this interview to discover a fantastic opportunity for Survivaltech.club readers.✨🤩(Psst, I hope to see you at Hello Tomorrow’s Deep Tech Days in Paris in March!)
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🌎Introducing Energy Impact Partners
EIP is a global investment firm custom-built to invest in the energy transition. We bring together forward-thinking industrials and climate innovators to help decarbonize the global economy. EIP has $3B in assets under management and invests across 5 strategies – Flagship, Europe, Frontier, Elevate and Credit.
The EIP Deep Decarbonization Frontier Fund I LP (the “Frontier Fund”) is a $485M fund that targets early-stage, revolutionary technologies that accelerate the transition to net-zero across all major categories of GHG emissions.
Given the Frontier Fund’s strategy, the portfolio invests in startups focused on revolutionary climate technologies.
The Frontier Fund has many investments including:
- Sublime Systems that makes low-carbon concrete via an electrochemical process. (Read more about Sublime Systems on Survivaltech.club’s interview with their CEO and Co-Founder Leah Ellis.)
- Zap Energy that develops a Z-pinch fusion. (Read more about fusion on Survivaltech.club’s deep dive.)
- Rondo Energy that builds low-cost zero-emission industrial heat and power.
🧠Wisdom from Melissa
How did you become an Associate Director of Technology Energy Impact Partners? What’s your background?
My background is a little atypical. I first studied Economics and did my Master’s in Political Economy at the London School of Economics. I then worked as an economist in London for about four years and, here, is where I became interested in climate tech.
As an economist, I read about climate tech; in particular, solar energy but I had no idea how these technologies worked. This was one of the catalysts for me to quit my job, leave London, and move to New York City to attend a postbaccalaureate program at Columbia University in the sciences. Within my first few weeks in Organic Chemistry, I knew I had to continue at Columbia to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemistry.
After my Ph.D., I accepted a postdoc position in Professor Lynn Loo’s group at Princeton University’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment. My work in her group focused on designing UV-absorbing organic molecules for integration in transparent solar devices.
One of the spinout companies from Prof. Loo’s lab was Andluca Technologies. Andluca is building transparent coatings and embedded systems for buildings to harvest and convert UV light into power. I helped develop the initial science and patents behind their technology through my post-doc and worked as an advisor for them.
After Princeton, I wanted to put my economics and chemistry to work. I knew about EIP, and once I started meeting the team, I knew it was where I wanted to work. Since joining in September 2022, my time at EIP has exceeded my expectations, from the company culture and people I work with to the forward thinking work and opportunities we get to uncover on a daily basis. During these four months, I also had my second child and the support from my colleagues at EIP has just been incredible.
Could you tell more about the Frontier Fund?
- EIP’s Frontier Fund continues to build upon the success of EIP’s Flagship Fund, bringing its proven value creation model of connecting its industrial partners with innovative entrepreneurs to early stage, revolutionary technologies critical to reaching global net zero emission targets.
- The Frontier Fund is differentiated in that it invests in early-stage, revolutionary technologies that have yet to reach full commercial scale and are focused on accelerating the transition to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
- The Frontier Fund is built on two core principles. First, an unprecedented wave of innovation is coming to help solve the biggest, most challenging problems in deep decarbonization. And second, the demand for zero-carbon energy, products and goods will accelerate market adoption of these new technologies and drive enormous commercial outcomes for the winners.
Which areas in climate tech do you find the most interesting at the moment?
I am curious by nature, so I find almost any technology exciting that meets our investment criteria of hardtech and a big climate impact.
A few areas I am particularly interested at the moment:
- Existing infrastructure leveraging technologies
I am really interested in materials and where the pain points are to reach net zero. Materials are interesting because some have a large emissions footprint, requiring solutions to help mitigate, while the supply/demand imbalance or supply-chain considerations require urgent solutions for more or new materials. A good example here is rare earth metals. Rare earth elements are used in magnets, and magnets are used in many types of electric motors and wind turbines, making rare earths important for the energy transition.
Biomass is potentially an incredible resource that can be used to produce electricity, a liquid fuel, or as a carbon removal tool. One of the questions I often ask myself is, what is the best use of that biomass. What's the application that makes the most sense from an economic perspective and a climate perspective?
3. Existing infrastructure leveraging technologies
Climate technologies that can leverage existing infrastructure are exciting, as their implementation has the potential to be both easy and fast. I’m interested in low-emission production of chemicals and fuels, such as methane and methanol.
What advice do you have for hardtech climate startup founders for pitching to VCs?
1. Ask for the fund’s mandate in advance
Before you have an intro call with a fund, ask for the fund’s mandate. That way, you can ensure that your pitch aligns with their investment thesis.
By asking for the mandate, you can save up time. For example, if you are building an enabling climate startup with a less direct GHG impact and the fund you are about to present has a strict greenhouse gas impact metric (e.g., 0.5Gt of CO2e), then this information is good to know ahead of the call.
2. Know the techno-economics of your technology
Have a techno-economic slide in your pitch deck showing how you compare to state-of-the-art technology in your field.
For example, suppose you are making a commodity chemical, like propylene, through some novel process. In that case, you should know the state-of-art of making that chemical from the emissions and cost perspective as a climate startup.
Don’t try to hide the cost comparison of your and the state-of-the-art process. That’s the elephant in the room in every call. Most investors will know your process will be more expensive than the state-of-the-art at a small scale, so spend time explaining how you can come down the cost curve. A techno-economic slide on your pitch deck gives us confidence and helps us with due diligence.
The Frontier Fund invests in hardtech startups, an area most VCs avoid. What enables you to invest in hardtech climate startups and seek returns for your LPs?
Behind every infrastructure deal is a potential venture capital deal. Our diverse team with complementary skill sets enables us to make what believe are the best hard-tech venture deals.
Firstly, our team has strong experience from climate tech 1.0. The Frontier Fund has two partners, Ashwin Shashindranath and Shayle Kann, who are both veterans in the climate world. They have experience and battle wounds from the climate tech 1.0. and can leverage that knowledge when evaluating companies.
Secondly, our team has strong technical skills for assessing hard-tech startups. The Frontier Fund has four PhDs, Dr. Gregory Thiel, Director of Technology, Dr. Eve Hanson (V.P. of Research), Professor Michael Webber (Chief Technology Officer) and myself. Our diverse backgrounds allow us to tackle a broad range of climate tech with the ultimate goal of making good deals.
Thirdly, Andy Lubershane and Evan Pittman lead our Research and Innovation team. They aim to connect the dots among all the sources of information flowing through the EIP ecosystem - from third-party research, to our investment activity, to our strategic LPs’ operations. The team extracts insight to strengthen our investment strategy, helps our LPs make better decisions, and facilitates collaboration among our LPs and portfolio companies.
🔬Hello Tomorrow - Deep Tech Days - Paris, March 8-10
Deep Tech Days by Hello Tomorrow is the annual gathering of +3000 deeptech founders, investors, scientists, and industry leaders in Paris. I was delighted to see how strong this year’s focus on climate tech is!💚🌎⚒️
The Deep Tech Days consist of three events:
- March 9-10: Global Summit, the cornerstone event with discussions on topics like energy transition, sustainable food systems, synthetic biology, quantum physics, university spinouts, and carbon removal.
- March 9: Financing the Future, for deeptech GPs and LPs.
- March 8: Investor Day, for deeptech startups and investors.
As a Survivaltech.club reader, you get -20% discount on all ticket types and events with the code PAULIINAHTGS!
➡️Find out more about the Deep Tech Days and get your ticket.
Drop me a note if you will make your way to Paris. I’d love to meet up!☕
I’d love to hear feedback and connect with fellow climate people! Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
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