Do we really need to call a spade a spade? Continuing current levels of greenhouse gas emissions will lead to 1.5-2°C warming by 2040, exposing tens of millions of people to life-threatening heat waves and water shortages, as well as destroying many of the world's plants and animals, coral reefs, and so on and so forth. Therefore, every sector of the global economy must transform and radically decarbonize in just over two business cycles. To stop climate change, emissions must be reduced as well as CO2 removed from the atmosphere.
There have always been boom and bust cycles in cleantech, between 2004 and 2012 about €21 billion was invested globally in clean tech strategies (e.g. Khosla Ventures II raised €165 million, VY 2006, 40% CleanTech investments). However, climate change was not as urgent then (no Greta, no publicity, no hype), and investments (mainly hardware driven) required high upfront costs, development cycles were incredibly slow, energy markets were very volatile. To state the obvious: Dozens of CleanTech companies were overcapitalized, over-extended, and ultimately bankrupt (of the 150 CleanTech companies launched in Silicon Valley in the last 10 years, almost all floundered and failed).
Fortunately, things are changing. We are seeing many software-driven companies, software-enabled hardware, faster product cycles, and time-to-market in CleanTech. There is a burning need on a global scale, across all industries and stakeholders. Particularly in the areas of industrial processes, food, agriculture, mobility, transportation, and carbon capture, VC investment (in terms of volume and deals) has surged in the last five years.
The technical and commercial adoption of AI and ML is also supporting the growing number of startups in this space (AI alone could reduce emissions by 2.4 gigatons of CO2e by 2030 in just four industries). Combined with physical and financial assets, the data collected can measure and manage the various impacts of climate change.
For us, CleanTech currently represents the biggest opportunity in impact investing. We would like to build on this blog to share our research in the future (Deep Dives in Hydrogen, CC & CCSU will follow soon!), stimulate discussions and identify like-minded experts in the field.
Taking a look at the numbers, there really is a tremendous problem with the adoption of the circular economy. The global economy has managed to drop from being 9.1% circular in 2018 to just 8.6% in 2020. This negative trend is based on a global circular economy gap caused by high removal rates, a continuous build-up of inventory, and still low levels of recycling and end-of-use processing.
Since 2016, the number of private market funds, including venture capital, private equity, and private debt, that invested in circular economy activities has tenfold. Unlike the current take-make-waste model of extractive industries, a circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive overall societal benefits. In the long run, economic activities must be decoupled from the consumption of finite resources. Waste must be removed from the system. Such a much more regenerative model opens up the possibility of addressing environmental priorities, promoting performance, innovation, and competitiveness, and stimulating economic growth and development. Research suggests that if a circular approach were adopted in just five sectors (steel, aluminum, cement, plastics, and food), annual GHG emissions would fall by 9.3 billion metric tons of CO2e in 2050, equivalent to the reduction that could be achieved by eliminating all transportation emissions globally).
Better system designs and strong integration of digital technologies are now needed to introduce circularity principles across industries. Tracking and optimizing resource use through digital platforms is inevitable to connect supply chain actors. In addition, preserving and maintaining what already exists is necessary to (1) extend the life of existing resources and (2) provide them with a second life.
Looking at future technology trends in the circular economy, we strongly believe in robotics, machine learning/digital twins, cloud and big data, and alternative bio-based materials (more deep dives coming soon). The current startup ecosystem is heavily focused on circular consumption and alternative materials (below is a snapshot of who we currently identified, can't wait for more to come). Going forward, we'd like to see more software solutions that enable large companies in particular to move to more circular business models.
Who is the Celonis of the circular economy?
There is a strong demographic shift caused by the simultaneous decline in birth and death rates. When looking at the seven countries with the highest aging in 2020, it's clear that Japan and Europe really have a problem. A common one.
There is little doubt that the longevity market needs innovation. Some venture capitalists are already comparing the longevity market to the financial services sector in 2007, when the term "FinTech" was rarely used (now it is a multi-billion dollar market). We know that with current demographic trends, the older generation will grow faster than the overall economy. Governments are also becoming more aware of the importance and power of this generation. Japan, for example, responded in 2017 by introducing a Council for the Design of the 100-Year Life Society.
So how does Tech come into play? The retail and healthcare sectors are already driven primarily by the Silver generation. Additionally, the coronavirus crisis has changed the way older people interact with their friends/family/doctors, etc. and introduced them to technology. Certainly they are slower to adopt technology, but with a 10% digitization rate and a European aging economy market size of €5.7 trillion in 2025, this would mean a potential market of €570 billion for AgeTech (in Europe only!). Estimates about the future of AgeTech are still in their infancy, but we at Strategic Business Innovator Berlin want to be aware of this huge opportunity and the innovative solutions that startups will come up with.