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Business incubators or accelerators have helped launch some of the greatest companies of our time, and one is hoping to fund the next unicorn, looking to save the world. John Lippert is the CEO of Elemental Accelerator, a company investing big money with the hopes of a better tomorrow. John joined it visionaries to discuss the work her company is doing in places like Hawaii, California and Asia. And she underscores the importance of investing in communities and why we cannot afford to stop funding a solution for climate change.
Enjoy this episode. It visionaries is created by the team at Mission Big and brought to you by the Salesforce Customer 360 platform, the number one cloud platform for digital transformation of every experience, build connected experience, empower every employee, and deliver continuous innovation with the customer at the center of everything you do. Learn more at Salesforce.com platform. This podcast is created by the team at Mission Dog.
Welcome to another episode of Visionaries, I mean, Faizan, host of I.T. Visionaries, and today we have special guests. Don, what's going on?
Hello. Hello. Good to talk to you.
Great to chat with you as well. So we're going to be talking about a bunch of the cool stuff that is going on at Elemental Accelerator. And we're going to get into your background, so let's get into it. How did you get started in technology in the first place? Sure.
So I came at it from the desire to work on a really big problem, climate change. And when I was in school, I was studying energy and climate and just got really interested in the idea of technology, commercialization and how we bring to market the new ideas and new technologies that would be needed to solve climate. And when consulting, I was really fortunate actually that just a couple of months into working our large consulting firm in DC, this Hawaii project came across the desk and had already been doing some work in Hawaii when I was in school.
And they said, hey, can you work on this sort of really interesting project for they're trying to take a state and flip it from fossil fuels to clean energy. And it's a partnership between the US Department of Energy and the state of Hawaii to do that first with one state and to start in Hawaii, where it makes sense economically. There is amazing renewable resources and there's opportunity to do this and show others how it's done. So that sort of kicked off a journey working in Hawaii on clean energy and climate and really figuring out how to apply and deploy technology toward that goal.
Yeah. So flash forward to today. Tell us a little bit about Elemental Accelerator. What's the scope of the organization at this point and where are you going?
Elemental. We have two headquarters. We're based here in Honolulu where I am today, and then also in the Bay Area where about half our team sits. And we are a nonprofit that funds startups that are doing really innovative things to solve some of our most urgent environmental challenges. So includes climate, but also plastics and water, food and agriculture and mobility and transportation. So every year we fund about 15 companies up to a million dollars to deploy their technologies and get steel in the ground and really show how we can make progress toward our climate goals in these urgent challenges.
So so far over the last 10 years, we've funded ninety nine companies. So this year will mark the 100th company within the portfolio. And each of these companies is doing something that solves some kind of urgent environmental challenge in Hawaii and California and Asia Pacific. And the companies come from all over the globe. We actually look at over eight hundred companies every year to pick our 15. So we get a really good pulse of what's going on in technology, what's going on in the market, and then select about 15 companies to work with and to demonstrate with in these key markets again.
So and we're going to get into the portfolio companies then a little bit, because I want to talk through some of the really cool things that you all have invested in. But I wanted to to take a step back. And just like from the time that you started it to now kind of did you do you ever think that it would get this far to kind of have the traction that you have, not necessarily just buildings or brick by brick?
I mean, what's kind of interesting in this space is that there's an overall consensus. I would say that in order to really move the needle on climate, it's tougher challenges. You need three things. You need technology policy and markets. And it's really pushing on each of those three things that will will solve these projects and technology, of course. Right. As the cost of wind and solar come down significantly, as power electronics come around, as we have sort of computing, we could apply artificial intelligence, energy.
All of these technology components are really critical. Policy is also very important. The regulatory side, many of these energy and particular water are heavily regulated. And so the policy and government side is really important. Markets, too, and essentially setting up the demand and the market mechanisms for technology to scale. I think that the fourth there's a sort of triangle in the dimension that that we've leaned into is this community piece. And I think what we've realized over the last 10 years is as we're deploying technology with into communities, into real locations, building real projects, is it there?
Is it a really concrete role for community in defining what it is that they need from technology and are accepting projects and supporting it? And that's the piece that we've really been able to lean into in Hawaii, in Asia and in California. I think that's also led to the scaling of this model in a really fast and. Way, because that community piece is actually quite difficult, it requires a lot of trust, it requires sort of thinking about community based organizations as technology partners, which many people might not originally go there.
Yeah, totally. And really iterating and learning on that. So I think that's sort of figuring that fourth dimension out has been a lot of the key to our scale in our work.
Yeah, I, I worked a lot in the non-profit community and I was one of those one of those things that I always thought as well as like there's so many nonprofits or community organizations or whatever it is that have like a really close connection with the group of people that they're trying to serve. But they're like technologies and processes and things just like need a total rehaul or like the way that they're doing about it. And just kind of like the general like model help to figure those things out.
And it really is when you start seeing, like, the different pieces that go into the into an ecosystem, it's pretty Eye-Opening to see, like, hey, we could probably layer on some technology and have like a much bigger impact than we're having or save resources or things like that.
Yeah, the tech communities haven't worked that closely together in many places. And yet when we think about I mean, just even this morning report came out about how much more families who are poor or low income spend on energy and water than families who are not. And they actually spend not just as a percentage of their income, they are spending more. And so there's a real nexus between these issues. And that's one of the things that we've really leaned into, is how do you make community based organizations actually part of projects that could talk a little bit about how we're doing that, but actually really bringing that dimension in that in a powerful way that can really help the company in Hawai'i.
We have a saying go slow to go fast. And it's about building trust, about understanding the markets in which you're working. And what's interesting, too, is that so many of the same lessons you learn by doing things really well with community actually apply for your largest customers and scaling in general, which is like building trust, leading with relationships, really listening to your customers and their needs is actually a lot of the skill set. So that's what's been really sort of Eye-Opening and really fun about working this problem with entrepreneurs.
Yeah, I mean, and and I definitely want to hear some of the things that you're doing.
But another point on that is that so often we get in a position where an organization that started 50 years ago, 40 years ago, 30 years ago, whatever it is, was built with like phone trees in mind or telephones or, you know, just all these different things that, like, no longer are relevant, but like slowly over time, it's like some of those things echo, but the other ones don't. And so, like, really where the rubber meets the road for a lot of those organizations is like the individual one on one relationships with the people that they're trying to help.
And that's like that's their core competency, right? It's not an organizational structure. It's not I.T. or technology. It's not it's not teleconferencing. It's not all these things that they can leverage now potentially off the shelf or otherwise. But anyways, so what are some of the things that they all are doing?
Well, one last thought on that is that I actually think that's the really key piece then to figuring out how to scale climate, technology and environmental technology, because ultimately the stuff has to be in the ground somewhere. So if you can kind of pare that intel with companies that can scale very quickly with really important, effective technology, that I think is a recipe for scaling solutions.
So, yeah, it's a great point. Yeah. So what are what are some of the things that you do. Yeah.
So I mean so we funded now, as I said, almost a hundred startups. So a couple of the companies that we're really excited about are I mentioned we're working in water. We just closed up a project in water with a company called Zero Mass Water in our portfolio. Actually, they just raised the latest round of funding from BlackRock, which was recently announced, about 50 million dollars. And then we deployed six hundred Hijrah panel in Australia and a hydro panel.
It's kind of like a solar panel, but instead of creating electricity, it creates water from the air. And so that project alone will be able to displace over seven hundred thousand water bottles a year and provide water in an area of Australia that has significant drought. So that's one of the things we're working on in Asia-Pacific right now. We're really interested in working with companies that are sort of responding and pivoting with covid instead of a couple examples. They're one that may be interesting to you is a company called Pneumonia and Pneumonia, deploy sensors and devices, smart city company to deploy sensors that can anonymously monitor street level activity, which includes everything beyond just cars.
And I didn't have much appreciation for this before I got in with pneumonia. Essentially, we're really good at counting cars and cities throw wire across the road and you can count how many cars go by, but we're not that going to be able to tell everything else that's happening in a city, which means that we're not that good at planning for pedestrians and bicycles and all the other all the things we want in a city or safety for those folks. So Newman is now helping over 20 cities develop insights into how people are moving around.
And it's become this really important and critical tool to actually figure out people are social distancing and how they're changing their mobility behaviors in that in the course of covid. So some really interesting startup pivots or sort of like startups leading into their core technology and being able to serve sort of cities and society in a new way.
Right now we have I mean, that's where some of the hardware software plays are so important. I mean, we actually did a whole podcast series on Future Cities where we were looking at a bunch of different things like that. And the crazy thing, or one of the episodes that we did was with one of the senior leaders of and they're talking about how they had more information about like city to city transfer than those cities knew about themselves. Right. Because they understood the flow from one county to another, from one city to another.
How like the different leverages, the like of this intersection is blocked, you know, seven miles away. It means that there's going to be X, Y or Z. And it just speaks to the volume that like having all of these sensors, having Iot devices everywhere. All of this is going to be a massive problem. And you need either venture capital or some type of investment, whether it's like a corporate arm or whatever, to solve those problems because they're just too difficult.
You can't bootstrap like a hardware company, you know what I mean? So and especially if you're coming from a place, from a background in which you don't know anyone, you don't have any connections, you don't have anything like that. Like we need things like Elemental to be able to figure out how we can get these really good ideas and turn them into companies and to corral resources around them.
Yeah, and the scaling point is so important. I mean, one of the things that we did, I mentioned we're a nonprofit, so we have we work very closely with the Navy, with philanthropy. Then we also have a really sort of robust corporate partner program. And that's been just such an important ingredient to connect companies with the whether it's corporate venture capital folks or the innovation folks within companies to provide a window into what's coming down the market, like how entrepreneurs are thinking about market changes and right now to sort of move technology at the speed of societal change, because right now, I think technology is always sort of accelerating in terms of change.
But right now, more than ever, and we're seeing even some of our startups accelerating their speed of change and what they're doing. So I think that, like, nexus between corporate and startups is even more important than ever right now. I mentioned each year we are looking at over eight hundred companies to select ours, but we're also picking out of that whole eight hundred and connecting them with our corporate partners so that, you know, if your folks are really interested in sort of like artificial intelligence applied to energy assets, we may only select one of those each year, but we're actually looking at dozens.
So making sure that we can bring that innovation right into sort of the C suite or right into decision makers at corporate has been a really important factor in accelerating overall innovation and solutions.
And it's one of the things we talk with a lot of our CIOs and technology leaders on this show about. It's like it's really hard to try to figure out where innovation is going to come from and like, you know, sort of reading crunch based news and things like that and just kind of watching the ticker. Or if you're big enough and you have a team that's dedicated toward that, looking for these things and having an eye out is is pretty tough.
So and obviously, you know, our listeners can check out Elemental Accelerator dot com to check out your your portfolio companies and some of the cool things that they're doing. But it is it is hard to find that type of innovation. And there's a lot of people who are, you know, trying to look at that. But it starts with, like you said, turning eight hundred companies into 15. I'm curious, like, what is the criteria that you look for?
What are some of the processes that you go through as you are looking at potential investments in portfolio companies? Yeah, it's a great question.
We're in the middle of it right now. So really top of mind, essentially. So I mentioned we work in four and five verticals, so energy mobility, food and agriculture, water and circular economy, which includes carbon and materials and buildings as well. And so we've just seen a incredibly vibrant, thriving tech ecosystem as we go out for applications in these five verticals. But that also makes selecting companies a real challenge. And so in addition to the things that.
Fickle investors look for and we do have a piece of our companies they donate warrants to. So we have a slice of equity in them. So we're looking for companies that can really scale and grow and grow their impact. But addition to sort of the financial side and the team and traction with typical investors to look at, we're also looking for a couple of other dimensions. The one is that we're looking for things that are locally deployable and globally scalable.
So what that means is we're looking for companies that are actually solving key problems in the places where we're most active. So in particular Hawaii, California and Asia, but then can be scalable across markets around the world. So in that part of the process, we work really closely with sort of corporates and others to figure out what that looks like. And then through that, also we have a process that we call community marketplace, where we're essentially bringing in community members as well as corporate leaders into our diligence process and running through the traps with a bunch of companies to say, what are the things that are most interesting to you?
What's unique from something you've seen before? What do you want to learn more about? And so we actually get that input on the front end as opposed to selecting companies and then going out to our partners and saying, hey, do you want to deploy with this company? So that marketplace step is really important to us to get that feedback loop accelerated. And then finally, another dimension we're looking at is what we call equity and access. So for about three years now, we've been running our equity and access track that specifically deploys technology for and with front line communities.
So these are communities that have less access to opportunity and are overexposed to pollution and environmental stresses. And they typically would be the last to see the benefits of technology innovation in their neighborhoods, in our equity and access track, where flipping that equation and seeing these neighborhoods should see the benefits of technology innovation first. And so through that, we are looking for founders that really understand those communities, ideally founders from front line communities or founders of color women, diverse founders that bring diverse sets of experiences to start a company.
And that becomes a really important criteria for us. So in our last cohort, for instance, thirty five percent of the founders we selected were women and over 40 percent of the founders were people of color. So it's really taking that land and saying this can be a huge advantage in deploying technology for the communities that need it the most. That's incredible work.
I love that you all focus on the communities that need it most.
I mean, it's such it's such an obvious thing, right? Well, I think as someone who lives in the Bay Area here, obviously you have a presence here as well. But it is funny because a lot of times, like San Francisco and Bay Area cities are like always the guinea pig for every type of technology thing, because that's where a lot of tech companies are, which is hilarious because my Internet is still terrible all the time.
So it's not working that well.
But we also for a bunch of the reasons from a climate change perspective, from just general resilience perspective, we also have a lot of interesting challenges here with obviously earthquakes and being coastal and all those things. So it's funny because you have a lot of technology plus a lot of industry leading business practices around like LEED certifications and carbon neutral buildings and all that stuff here. And it's great to have cities that are a good example for other cities, specifically for talking in America that want to act like those.
But at the end of the day, it's like we need to corral the smartest startups and the people from all over the world, the smartest minds from those local places, and put that intellectual capital to work on their own problems and give them money to do that. And at the end of the day, if they don't have resources to do it, then they can't do it.
Yeah, it's the bad one is really kind of interesting, because when we started leaning into Bay Area work in partnership with with Emerson Collective, because the investment in philanthropic, for example, jobs we partner with in 2017, we started really leaning into this California work. We were testing the hypothesis that what we were learning in Hawaii about deploying technology in geographic islands and the ability to in some ways move quite fast because it's a small place and energy was very expensive.
And so there was this huge sort of like market and political impetus to drive that transformation, which is well underway. I mean, we've gone from about eight percent renewable energy 10 years ago to about 30 percent renewable energy today. So that transformation is underway. But the hypothesis was that some of what we were learning in this geographic islands could be applied to essentially economic islands in the Bay Area. And while we've seen a lot of differences of. Course, we'll also see there's so many similarities between the economic islands of the Bay Area and neighborhoods and areas that have been left behind of the tech revolution and sort of the economic benefits there.
Oh, yeah. So the things that we've been doing in Hawaii can be really directly applied specifically around this idea of how you bring in community based organizations and how you partner to deploy things and in neighborhoods that are small, closely knit to really value their sense of place. All the things that we really care about, those things are more universal than we initially thought.
And I think that here one of the best examples is how much the businesses choose. And we talked about this a bunch on the show, so I don't need to repeat it all. But how much the businesses here choose to make a difference when it comes to those things, to make carbon neutral buildings, to do things like that, it makes a huge difference. But I think that where it starts is that companies and technology leaders like the ones listening to the show, actually vote with with their dollars by investing in startups that are making a difference in these these perspectives.
So I want I want to go back to what you were talking about, about getting those, you know, bottom up refinement from the actual corporate leaders that are looking for solutions in the certain spaces that you're talking about. How does that work and how do those folks, like, plug in and be able to look at some startups, be able to provide feedback? Sure.
Just a couple of examples, because we've just been going through our our pipeline the last couple of months in the first quarter of this year, where we're recruiting startups from all over the world. We had from start supply from over 50 countries, Israel, Australia, Japan, Spain. We see it all. And as those startups come in, we start we have directors of innovation and these different verticals that sort of start sorting and working with the partners to see what's interesting to them out of that pipeline.
We set up meetings with our corporate partners and the startups that we're looking at. We have a couple of mechanisms that where we try and we're always iterating on, one of which we call deal day. So essentially that's like a mechanism where we're introducing all the startups to corporate. And we're saying if there's something that's really interesting to you, if you guys can think on paper, even for just the intention of a project within about three weeks, then we'll give you fifty thousand dollars to the startup to go do that with you.
So just just thinking about ways that we can make the sort of purchasing and procurement easier for folks to lead innovation at these large corporate and remove the barriers to work with a startup to try something new to do something impactful. So, for instance, last year our Dilday prize winner was a company called Jupiter Intelligence. And Jupiter assesses the climate risks of floods when hurricanes all kinds of different potential climate risks. And so their customers are insurance, utilities, financial institutions, even large infrastructure players.
Right. All the folks that are exposed to some kind of climate risk. And so when we were we we did it in person last year. This year, we did it virtually. And it was also awesome. Essentially, it's a time for startups and corporates to get together, meet each other and then say, yes, this is something that makes a lot of sense for us to try out together. So Jupiter, one that Dilday prize last year, we actually ended up finding them bring it into our portfolio.
And they completed a project here in Hawaii with Hawaiian Electric Industries and Hawaiian Electric Company to assess climate risk across. The utility brought in lots of stakeholders and the regulators to really create Buy-In it around. What does that look like? And it's so powerful to actually be able to say with 30 percent accuracy, this substation will probably have a foot of water on it within the next six to seven years. And having that kind of data really helps utilities and other large corporates make good decisions.
So that's one mechanism that we use for startups can partner with corporates. And then we also fund actual projects with those corporates that with the companies that we select out of our portfolio. So we're looking for projects that can scale at least 10 acts within two to three years. And so corporates have a huge incentive to find this innovation that will be truly impactful for their business. And that's the work that we do with them.
I have to ask about you have a portfolio company that helped my great city of Oakland recently. Can you share a little bit about remix and what they're working on? Sure, yeah, I'd love to.
So so Remix is a mobility planning company. They have dozens of customers of cities all over the country, and they've basically taken what used to sort of be like paper and pencil planning and lots of different sort of departments across the city and brought many of these different planning tools and methodologies online into one platform so that. Planners and mobility operators, all these folks who actually collaborate on their city and coming up with the mobility plan that really works for the city, so they've worked with Oakland as part of our equity and access track.
And what I'm really excited about, about this project is that remix had a vision to include equity as one of its planning sort of tools and criteria. But it's very difficult to actually do that. It's much easier said than done, I guess. And one of the reasons is that if you're sort of setting up these criteria as a private company and as a startup, how are you really ensuring that the broader community trusts the methodology that you're using to do that?
That's a tall order. So what we did as part of our equity and access track is to bring in a community based organization that works specifically on mobility and justice, transform to partner with remix and to leave the community convening to bring in those voices to say this is what we think is an equity tool should measure. Here's the criteria we think you should look at. Here's the kind of results, the metrics we think are important. And together they work on designs for this tool to essentially build equity into that tool.
And what's really exciting about it is that cities actually really want this information. They want to know if we put a road here or if we put bike lanes here or if we sort of redesigned this highway, what will be the equity impact? But until now, there hasn't really been a tool for them to do that. So that's the work that we're doing with Remix. And I'm just really, really excited about being able to sort of empower entrepreneurs to do that and unlock what they already want to do in a really sort of productive and credible way by working with community based organizations and others.
Yeah, I mean, we talk a lot on the show about how, like the best companies are taking things that are kind of going from dumb to smart. Right. And I think a lot of times we get caught up in the jargon of smart cities and smart this and smart phones and smartwatches and all that stuff.
But when you're talking about something like cities where we're not quite there yet with the number of sensors that we need, like I forget, it's probably one hundred episodes ago. But we had an expert on the show talking about the number of sensors that are in new cars now and what self-driving will actually take and things like that will. In the meantime, before we get there, we need to know what is going on currently on the day to day. And companies like remakes, it's really cool to see how obviously critical urban mobility is.
I think with especially what we've seen with covid and shelter in place, like people being able to, like, drive around their cities to get where they need to go in the lot quicker time. But I think we probably all collectively realize, like, how this would be a lot nicer if we could figure out how to reduce traffic significantly. So it's cool to see companies like that step up. I'm curious, like, what are the next steps for companies like that after you make that initial investment?
Are they just like any other startup? Is there? What's it like?
Yeah, you have to make that initial investment. We're essentially co developing that project with them and implementing it with them and the community partners. So for a lot of the products we fund, we're sort of right there alongside them for a couple of years making this happen.
Oh, that's really cool. Yeah, I just didn't realize that you had that level of that you were tracking throughout the project along with them. That's really awesome.
Yeah, it's it's kind of it's really privileged spot to be and I think to be able to work with companies in this way. So we actually work really closely with them to implement the projects. We first started on twenty twelve. We're the first to apply quote unquote, accelerator to hard tech and clean tech. And what had happened was we just had started by funding projects but had realized that many of the companies we were funding were sort of missing that commercial angle.
We're missing a business model to really scale and it's not easy and kind of Texas has to find that business model. So I took a lot of inspiration from Y Combinator, from TechStars, from others that we're applying the sort of accelerator and they're pretty. And it was pretty new back then, kind of accelerator concept and then took that idea. How do we apply this to some of these really hard regulated sectors, climate, tech, energy mobility. And so we've we've borrowed a lot of those same concepts of having a cohort of selected companies all at the same time.
So they actually have ways they can complement each other and benefit each other of getting them together a lot and having them work very closely together and support each other CEOs. But then what are the key differences is that this space just takes a little longer to implement things, to get stuff in the ground, to capture learning. And so we work with companies from anywhere from one to three years and then really forever, but really intensively for one to three years while we're helping them deploy projects and while we're sort of.
Alongside them in that process. So for us, once that project's done, for instance, the goal there is to productize that equity piece and be able to sell that to many other cities and bring that equity considerations into planning much more globally. And we'll continue sort of working with with remix as a company and as part of our portfolio throughout the whole process.
We had Ryan Poppel, the CEO, on a while back, and it was interesting talking to him about some of the challenges with clean energy and the way that cities work and that they buy. It's like the sales cycle for a new fleet of buses might be eight years because they just signed a 10 year lease or a 10 year contract or something like that, that you could have everybody on board in the city that's like, hey, yeah, we're good to go.
Everybody's on board with this. But we have eight years left of the fleet of buses that we just bought or something like that. Like, it's just it's a very different ecosystem and it does require a totally different skill set. I'm so curious, like, what is it like for those 15 companies a year, like that cohort that goes through that? What are the things that they're doing day to day with you all versus, you know, going off on their own and doing things that look like, yeah, it's a great question.
And I really agree with you about the cities. So our our director of mobility innovation, Daniel Harris, came to us from San Francisco MTA, where she was leading up innovation for them. And I think and that's what's really fun about working in this space, is that the 30 people on our team come from utilities, some of from government, some of them startups, but sort of that like crashing together of all those worlds, that makes things really fun and dynamic.
And those folks eventually become extensions of our portfolio companies team in terms of helping them deploy. So, I mean, what it looks like now is kind of interesting. Like every year we host a CEO and leadership summit for our companies. This year it was in Hunnam and we had 80 people out there and it was right before work from home order started. It was in early February. And I felt really fortunate that we were able to get people together in person because as soon as work from home started or stay at home started, we pivoted everything online, of course.
And what that looked like for us now is that essentially once we have portfolio wide conference call, we call it, essentially their companies are sort of sharing something that they're figuring out over covid and sharing it with others. And there are so many different aspects of this. It's about how you engage teams remotely. It's about how you can remotely install hardware or sort of like keep hardware sales going during covid that remotely filling the funnel with at conferences like all these different sort of things that people are figuring out and then have questions that I want to share with each other.
So that's one thing we're doing. We're also just focused on engaging like our networks and corporate partners remotely in some ways because our community is so global. It's just sort of lends really naturally to a digital convenient format. And I think it's been pretty powerful because it's less time spent traveling and sort of like back and forth and spend more time with each other since folks know each other really well already. So it's a couple of different things and just constantly sort of learning and experiment.
And what could be the most impactful way to get entrepreneurs who are all sort of swimming in the same water and in the same fights together and doing their work faster each other.
So what's next? What is what's the next kind of feature of this? Obviously, with the pandemic and everything being a huge caveat, because we don't know what the future's going to hold here.
But what's next for Elemental?
Yeah, we think most importantly and throughout this pandemic to the reality is we really can't afford to take a year off from working on climate. We have to keep momentum going. We have to keep investment coming into these companies and things moving forward. We've been really gratified to see that momentum continue with our companies. Ten of them closed round last month. I mean, there's just a lot of investment activity and our momentum still in this sector. So I think that's the most important thing, is they're keeping keeping the momentum, keeping folks going.
We're, you know, executing some some new funding tools for our companies, kind of keep them pushing forward into new opportunities that come from covid. Keeping momentum is is really key. I think the other piece that's really interesting right now is diving in with corporates even deeper. So in the first quarter of this year before covid, we saw some really amazing and aggressive sort of corporate commitments around net zero and carbon neutral or carbon negative. That's a really important market signal that drives innovation and investment in space.
And so we continue to support companies in getting there. It's going to be a path and a journey for every single one. Everyone's a little different now to our like, but it's absolutely doable and there's an incredible entrepreneurial talent to deploy to those goals. And then I think the other piece that we're really interested in right now is continuing to focus on on policy as a lever. So we've done a lot of work and in policy to date, but the technology is there.
Appreciate it. I think there's always this gap between technology and policy. So one of the things that we think a lot about is how do you shrink that gap to serve the right distance? And I'll give you a quick example, which is one of our portfolio companies, carbon here. They take carbon dioxide and inject it into concrete. So then they sequester it forever and it's stronger and it's not more expensive to do this. And so we funded a project with them in Hawaii.
We tested the concrete at a highway interchange here. The Department of Transportation loved it. So this is great is going to help us reach our carbon neutral goals. And we passed a resolution at the city to prefer this kind of purchasing in all city procurements for carbon infused and then worked at the Conference of Mayors to adopt that resolution in hundreds of cities around the country. So policy has a real role to play in helping to offset those demand signals for the market.
And I think our role is to bring the innovation into the market, to show people that's real, like you said, where the rubber meets the road. When they see it, they can believe it. And so our goal is to get those projects in the ground and then get policymakers really excited about what this means for them. And the same is actually true on the corporate side, because these same kind of carbon induced concrete for corporate headquarters, for any kind of corporate buildings and really start driving the market that way.
So those are a couple of things we're really interested in, is how do you shrink the distance between corporate and innovation? How do you think the distance between policy and innovation and sort of line up those demand signals so that we have the best entrepreneurs and the best talent coming into climate innovation and seeing a real path to grow a meaningful company?
And this is going a date, this episode a little bit. But Jeff Bezos announced that Seattle's NHL home is going to be climate pledge arena. So, I mean, I think that there's clearly signals in the market. Obviously, Salesforce Tower being one of those and sort of the amazing sponsor of the show, but also clearly a huge player in climate change. Clearly, a lot of the senior business leaders are trying to figure out ways to make a difference and maybe just start a person.
And I just love startups, but it's just really cool to see an organization like yours investing in the people who are going to make these changes, because I think at the end of the day, you just have to throw a bunch of talent at the problem, especially like local diverse talent and see what sticks. Because at the end of the day, like innovations for this stuff I think is is going to come from a ton of different areas.
Yeah, I mean, I think that technology is so critical. I mean, the role of these technology companies and being customers and early customers for climate startups or startups, they're solving really hard problems and water mobility environment.
It just can't be overstated. It's so absolutely critical for the survival and success of these companies. And the other side of it is that we're also seeing a huge amount of tech talent coming into climate, starting companies sort of working in this space, people who have product management, background of other sort of deep technology background, and then want to apply that expertise to these challenges. So I think there's a really important nexus to build on there. And it's actually really just been gaining so much momentum, I would say, over the last two years.
And even many more founders coming from technology world than before, where we see many more coming from sort of science and PhDs and research world. And now they're finding folks from technology world and getting together and building really interesting companies. So I have a lot of optimism for the future. And in bringing that talent to, like you said.
Well, for those of our corporate leaders who are listening to this, how can they tap into what you're doing and maybe share the different areas that you all focus on? Sure.
Yeah. So the areas we focus on our energy mobility, food and agriculture, water and circular economy, which is the source of materials and buildings, but really anything that has an environmental nexus, something that we're looking at, we love partnering with corporates, particularly ones that are sort of on this journey into net zero or interesting. Difficult. Reducing their environmental footprint. It's one of the best parts of our job, I think, to work with those corporations, to connect them to the right companies.
I mean, I think the advantage we bring to those corporates is that we have really good information and we have really good access to the best companies. So we have a sense of what's happening across the market and really good access to these startups and entrepreneurs. And our reason for being is to make those connections happen, happen quickly and then on the back end to the technology pilots and deployment to see investment and the acquisition. Those are the three KPIs that we're tracking.
So DEPLOYMENT'S investment acquisition, I mean, that's really where we're tracking. So for folks in the corporate side that want a window into what's going on and climb in and window into the pipeline of five thousand companies with diligence over the last couple of years, we'd love to partner with them. We're elemental accelerator dot com and we'd love to talk to them about what their trajectory is, how they're thinking about innovation, how you're thinking about sort of environmental footprint more broadly and work with us and meet some really just exceptional entrepreneurs who are working to solve these problems.
And then I think that other piece of it to share is that as we're looking across sort of the spectrum, we're also funding and supporting a ton of youth programs into startups. And this is also something that many corporates have in spades, but is fascinating. I mean, this year we opened up our internship program. I think we had about 20 or 25 spots. We have three hundred and fifty applications from this incredibly talented, diverse youth who want to work in this sector, many of them first generation, first their family to go to college.
And we have a specific program for first gen youth. And so what we learned sort of across those three hundred fifty interns, because once we selected a group, we were then thinking about, OK, well, how do we how do we support others or youth and really onramp them to this space? And what they want to work on is they want to work on climate and they're like, well, I'm sort of interested in marketing, but maybe business that maybe finance.
But really I just want to work on climate. That's the problem I want to solve. So it just feels like an amazing opportunity for for tech companies and for startups to tap into that kind of groundswell of interest and support and start building really strong talent pipelines that come from many diverse communities and locations all over the country. Really? I love it.
I couldn't agree more. That's it's exactly right. And it's exactly how I think we need to we need to start thinking about this stuff, because it's a lot of the importance with, you know, stem education and getting people from a young age interested in making a difference. Right. That, you know, planting a tree makes a big difference. But, you know, there's more and more and more as you can do with your actual career and kind of keep that going.
It's a huge part of it.
And it's so I mean, I think we had an intern a couple of years ago who intern with one of us and the interns, one of our companies. We place a lot of interns in our startups. She has now gone on to start her own company and never could have imagined that this would be possible. I always thought she was at Stanford, even if she's like going to consulting, you know, even in the heart of Silicon Valley. But now she's starting our company.
It just it's really incredible to sort of see that the passion and ideas that can come out of this, we create some of those initial on ramps. And I think text has a still a huge role to play to make that possible.
OK, let's get into our Lightning Round, our lightning round in this podcast brought to you, as always, by the Salesforce Customer 360 platform, the number one cloud platform for digital transformation of every experience. You can go to Salesforce.com Sosh platform to learn more. We love Salesforce. They've been with us since the very beginning of this show, so check them out.
Salesforce.com slash platform to learn more lightning round questions. Don, are you ready? I'm ready.
Number one, how do you get any work done when you live so close to the beach?
That is a good question. I mean, and enlightening answer. I do lots of walks, walk and talk you get to benefit from. But yeah, there you go. What is your favorite app on your phone? I love my California USA Today app that shows the real time California energy market.
If you weren't CEO of Elemental Accelerator, if you're doing something else entirely, what would you be doing?
I think I'd be starting my own company, starting another company in this space. I think entrepreneurship is the path to solutions for our biggest problems. And I'd be starting with a company.
It's kind of cheating, but I'll allow it or I'd be spending more time hanging out with my one year old. I try to do it.
Yeah, there you go. I heard the one year old in the background a little bit.
I was going to say hi and she wants to be your next guest. On the podcast, I think, from what I can hear, yes, she does know she's a guest now. That's great. Brigham Young. Hey, you know, as many listeners as we can get, spread the word. If she listens, that's perfect. Go to bed. You know, listeners might revisionaries.
What is the best advice for first time CEO?
Build your kitchen cabinet of champions. I think it's that it's that group of people right around you that really believe in what you're doing and can help in ways you never thought was possible and also get through some really tough times. So, you know, I've been so fortunate to have mentors and champions and folks around me that I can really rely on and trust. And it's been invaluable to me.
That's great advice. Do you have a habit or something that you've picked up during shelter in place? I mean, I get to have lunch with my with my baby.
Now, that's a good habit. I feel so fortunate for that. Yeah. I think the other habit I've picked up is even five minutes of yoga in the morning makes a huge difference for the day. So we can figure that out. It's a good day.
What question do you never get asked that you wish you were asked more often?
I guess one might be sort of just to what we're talking about at the end, which is what is sort of our responsibility to our youth right now and kind of unwrapping them to the sector or sort of supporting their journey. I just wish people were thinking more about that. Like in terms of what what actually is your responsibility as someone who was in that position at one time and now has lots of creative ways that could be deploying their sort of skills and networks of resources?
How how can we think differently about that responsibility?
That's great. That's it. That's all we got for today. Dawn, thanks so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. If you can check out how mental accelerator to learn more. Any final thoughts? Anything to plug?
I think I'm just really grateful for the work that so many in our sector have done and the way that people in every job and whatever job they have or sort of whatever role they have are leaning into climate and youth and solving really big problems. To me, it's just been I think we saw at the beginning of twenty twenty just a huge sort of swell of action and activity in that. And I'm just excited for the future and to see that continue.
So we're grateful. Awesome.
Thanks so much. Non-Toxic. Thanks. It visionary's is created by the team at Mission Dog and brought to you by the Salesforce Customer 360 platform, the number one cloud platform for digital transformation of every experience, build connected experience, empower every employee, and deliver continuous innovation with the customer at the center of everything you do. Learn more at Salesforce.com platform.