Hello everyone, Tom Raftery here with another episode of the Climate Confident podcast. Today, we've got an exciting conversation about how entrepreneurship can help combat climate change.
Our guests are Micol Chiesa and Chris de Koning, two of the Directors behind Planet Positive Lab. This is not your ordinary startup accelerator. It's a unique initiative focused on fostering climate-positive businesses and creating an open, inclusive community that welcomes aspiring entrepreneurs from all around the world.
Micol and Chris share their vision behind Planet Positive Lab and the road that led them to this critical juncture in their careers. Micol, who comes from an academic and venture capital background, speaks about the importance of nurturing climate-focused startups and creating a robust ecosystem that promotes innovation and inclusivity.
Chris, with his rich academic background, brings a unique perspective on translating theoretical knowledge into real-world climate solutions. He makes a strong case for making entrepreneurship accessible to all and fostering a community of practice.
In this episode, we also discuss the nuts and bolts of the Planet Positive Lab, their upcoming summer program, and the demo day in September where investors will get a chance to see the fruits of this initiative.
But the conversation is not all about business. There's also a very personal side to it, as Micol and Chris share their personal journeys, the friendships formed, and the enriching experiences gained through this project. This is their own startup story, and it's as inspiring as the ones they aim to nurture.
Whether you're an aspiring climate entrepreneur, a potential investor, or simply someone interested in climate change and how business can help tackle it, there's something in this episode for you.
I hope you'll join us in this exciting journey. And remember, if you have an idea, even if it's not fully formed, or if you just want to learn more about the world of climate entrepreneurship, Micol, Chris, and the team at Planet Positive Lab are eager to hear from you.
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I don't want people to do this just because potentially can make a lot of money. I mean, they need to be driven by potential growth and, you know, a vision to make something massive. But they need to be passionate about the problem because building a startup is difficult, is a, is a very hard journey. There will be more down than up. So it is important to be passionate about the problem because otherwise, you know, giving up is a very easy exit strategy I would sayTom Raftery:
Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, wherever you are in the world. This is the Climate Confident podcast. The number one podcast, showcasing best practices in climate emission, reductions and removals. And I'm your host, Tom Raftery. Don't forget to click follow on this podcast in your podcast app of choice, to be sure you don't miss any episodes. Hi everyone. Welcome to episode 121 of the Climate Confident Podcast. My name is Tom Raftery, and before we kick off today's show, we have a new podcast supporter. Anton Chupilko signed up a few days ago to support the podcast. Thank you so much, Anton. I know Anton going back a number of years. Really appreciate that Anton. Thanks a million. If you are not already a supporter, I'd like to encourage you to consider joining our community of like-minded individuals who are passionate about climate. Supporting the podcast is easy and affordable with options starting as low as just three euros, which is less than the cost of a cup of coffee, and your support will make a huge difference in keeping this show going strong. To become a supporter, simply click on the support link in the show notes of this or any episode, or visit tiny url.com/climate pod. Now, without further ado, with me on the show today are my special guests, Micol and Chris. Micol and Chris, welcome to the podcast. Would you like to introduce yourselves?Micol Chiesa:
Good morning, Tom, and thank you for inviting me. My name is Micol. I'm a climate tech investor, and I'm also the new director of the Planet Positive Lab, which I'm very excited to tell you about. I'm a climate specialist. I'm an en environmentalist, for as of training, and I'm really happy to, to discuss the climate challenge with you today.Tom Raftery:
Fantastic. And Chris?Chris de Koning:
Yeah, thanks Tom. Thanks for inviting us and, and having us here. I'm what they, what they call recovering academic. I, I moved from academia into the venture side. I run a network called Fans of Funders with, 4,000 scientists that looking for entrepreneurial activities. And I'm the other director of, planet Positive Lab, which is a climate tech, venture lab that we are very excited about to, to tell you a bit more.Tom Raftery:
Fantastic. Well, let's get into it then. What is the, planet Positive Lab?Micol Chiesa:
I can take you this one. So, Planet Positive Lab is a new accelerator, based at the University of Oxford Wadham College, which is the college sponsoring this amazing initiative and is built to serve the Oxford University community. So it's for students, researcher, alumni, that have ideas on how to create a business to save the planet, and they want to come and understand the potential of it and want to scale it. It will be summer program for this year. So 10 weeks, very intensive and is going to touch upon many of the business side. We have Founders Factory coming and teaching how to build the company, but then we have a lot of climate expert coming. And discussing climate deep dives, how to monetize carbon credit, for example, or climate regulations, as well as what we call the people pillar, which is our strategic pillar that will teach the founders soft skills like negotiations, sales, and, you know, dealing with the team. All those skills that are typically not part of an accelerator structure, but are very important for the success of a company.Tom Raftery:
Okay. And. Why, why, why did you guys, well, why, why is Planet Positive there? Who set it up? And what was the reasoning behind it?Chris de Koning:
Yeah. I'm happy to to take that one. So being part of the number one university in the world we, we see some of the most exciting research happening at the moment by some of the smartest people that you, that you can find. And we've seen too many times that the development of brilliant technology, brilliant solutions, actually fail to realize due to many bottlenecks. And a system that is sort of, underutilizing some of these ideas in formats that they can be adopted by society. And Micol and I both having done our PhDs at, at Oxford I've seen this happen to many of our friends, colleagues, professors. And particularly on a topic like climate change, which is so urgent, and its need to, to find a solution and I say a solution because there's gonna be many solutions to, to something like this. Mm-hmm. A silver bullets possibility to solve a problem so, so large. We need more of these ideas to, to come to fruition outside of the academic setting and what we really would like to achieve at Planet Positive Lab is to provide a a setting where we can give these scientists, give these young entrepreneurs really sort of the, the tools and handles to help them build these ideas further out and make them into potential parts of the solution to, to climate change.Tom Raftery:
Okay. And, who is it for? I mean, is it just for Oxford University students and post-grads, or is it broader than that? Who, who's it aimed at?Chris de Koning:
So broader than that? Yes, it's linked to Oxford. Yes, it's for, for the Oxford ecosystem. That's also partly because you need to start somewhere in, in, in tackling a problem like this. And it's an ecosystem that we're familiar with. It's an ecosystem that we know. But it doesn't mean it's only for, for Oxford students. It's for anyone who has a tie to this particular ecosystem. So we go beyond the student. We, we look at faculty, we look at staff, we look at alumni. Just Oxford alone has 350,000 people that have gone through the university. So we really sort of want to build a program that facilitates to, to the needs and, and and helps all these different people that are linked to, to the ecosystem.Tom Raftery:
Okay. Superb. And you mentioned that you're bringing in experts as well to, I don't know, is it a lecture or mentor or or what we're calling it. Where are you sourcing those, those experts?Micol Chiesa:
Yeah, so I was mentioning before, we have three module. So the first one is the business module and we have Founders Factory, which is one of the best accelerators in the world that will give their resources to really come and do master classes. So we have the expert for design, the expert for marketing, the expert for fundraising that will come and teach to the students. On the people pillar we had a lot of corporation that reach out to us and they were like, we want to participate. We want to be part of this. Can we come, can we help and share our knowledge to the cohort? And so we have, for example, the B W M Foundation who comes and teach about being an inspiring leader. But, and it is a good combination by the way, between big organization and smaller organization because we are really open to everybody. And we thought that was important to create an ecosystem that is inclusive of every single entity that wants to collaborate. On the planet side we have an extensive network. We have been working in climate for the last 10 years, so a lot of our friends, a lot of our colleagues, but also a lot of the people that we co-invested with. Reach out to us and they were like, we want to come and discuss. A Planet Positive Lab is becoming a sort of platform for people to talk about it. So it's a mix between Oxford professors that come and talk about, for example, regulations or things that are more academic and can be influenced by academic research as well as practitioners. Some of the top investors in climate, but also some of the top corporation that really want to explain what corporation needs, how to talk to corporations, how to do pilots with corporation. So it's super hands-on and we are really happy. Chris and I, when we started this, we, we didn't really know how we could build something big, but so many people came and so many people supported us, and so we are really, really happy with the result.Tom Raftery:
Fantastic. And what are the kind of things you're looking for in people who apply to be part of the lab?Micol Chiesa:
Do you want me to take this, Chris, or, yeah, sure, go ahead. I can, I can give you my opinion and then Chris maybe have a different one. So the first thing I want to see, commitment in the sense that this is not a project. This is not an internship. This is about deciding to dedicate the next probably three to five as a minimum, but hopefully 10 years to build a company that can really solve a big issue and can really impact a lot of people, not just the planet. So commitment will be, I think, the first thing that I'm look into people. The second thing is passion. I don't want people to do this just because potentially can make a lot of money. I mean, they need to be driven by potential growth and, you know, a vision to make something massive. But they need to be passionate about the problem because building a startup is difficult, is a, is a very hard journey. There will be more down than up. So it is important to be passionate about the problem because otherwise, you know, giving up is a very easy exit strategy, I would say. And the third thing, I want to see people that are technical. I think that climate change is a technical problem. It requires science and it requires a good understanding of science. I think, you know, when I discuss this with Chris, cuz he is also bio tech expert, is, is the same thing as MedTech. You need to have knowledge. You can't just decide one day to build, you know, a climate company to save a pro, like solve a problem if you don't understand it from a technical point of view. So I'm really hoping to find people that are not just, they don't just have the business acumen, but also understand the technology very well and can build something that is actually, you know, concrete and actionable. Okay. And Chris?Chris de Koning:
Yeah, I can, I can maybe add to that in, in the sense that of course you have people that really are sort of experts in the field or that are very passionate about, about something they do. And I think it really comes down to drive, like Micol said, it, it is often you got this romantic picture of of being an entrepreneur which is very much sort of, if, if you, if you were successful, which is a very small percentage of people that actually make it through and build the company. It's an incredibly difficult thing to do. Normally we get the scientists and they say, oh, we already did the science. We did the hard part. Now, now comes the easy part, which is building the company. I, I very much believe it's the other way around. Once you did the science, which is difficult too the hard part starts, which is actually building the company. So, so you need to be incredibly driven to to solve a particular cause to have the commitment. To spend your weekends, your hours in, I dunno, you, you'll be you thinking about this every hour of the day in order to build it out. It's, it will come with sacrifices in order to, to be successful. And so one of the indicators is, is always sort of the team, you know, do you think that these people could pull it off? What they, what they aim to, to do so? And and one of the, I think the sort of common misconceptions regarding particularly if you look at sort of the more technical ideas that are being spun out into, into ventures is that people confuse monetization with commercialization. You, you commercialize in order to standardize and scale an idea. And if you do do very well, maybe you end up monetizing it, but it's only for a very small percentage of people that are actually managed to do that. So, as to what Micol said, you need to be very driven in order to be able to, to make it through and and very likely it will go wrong a few times before you, you manage to do it properly. So it's, it's I hope that answers your question. It, it's, it's one of these very difficult ones to, to point out what the exact combination of flavors is but I think if you're seeing enough of them, you, you, you get a bit of a sense for it what, what it is that you look for.Tom Raftery:
It. It's interesting that neither of you have mentioned that whoever's coming to you needs to have a really good idea.Micol Chiesa:
Yeah, because you know, I think when investing pre-seed, which is the stage that we're investing, is more important the person than the idea in the sense that you, you need to have an idea that that's for sure you need, and it needs to be something different and something that were not seen before. Because you know, both Chris and I like to invest in Frontier Technologies, but you can have a brilliant idea and if the person is not there, if the person does not have the qualities needed to kind of become a founder, then the idea itself is not sufficient. Well, if you have a very strong founder, Even if they call it an idea that is a little bit, you know, you're not sure, maybe then with the right environments that, with what Chris and I are trying to build, you can come up with a solution. And so, you know, by talking to very smart people, by talking to climate expert, a, a strong founder can build a company.Tom Raftery:
Okay. That's fair.Chris de Koning:
So maybe if add to that, because we actually yesterday had a discussion about, about this exact point with a group of about 20 scientists who all turned entrepreneurs and there's no shortage of, of ideas, and we sort of, we, we'd like to make the distinction where you have, you have the, the idea which is the invention, which very much can live in, in someone's head or on somebody's lap badge. And sounds very innovative and very new in, in, in its, its in its sort of conceptual stage, but the difference between having an invention and an innovation is, is a huge difference. So how do you take something that's an idea into something that really becomes an application to solve a particular problem? And, and I think what, what Micol and I tried to say here is that it takes more than just an idea to do that. And there's lots of ideas out there, but it's really sort of how do you build that idea that the invention into an innovation that then can become something that, that can look like, like a venture and, and solve part of the the big problem that we try to solve there.Tom Raftery:
Okay. If I feel I am a decent founder and I have a connection to the Oxford ecosystem, what's my next step for applying to become part of the Planet Positive Lab?Micol Chiesa:
Well, we have a form on the website so people can just fill in the form and then there will be a first reviewer looking at the, the form and try to understand what the founder wants to build and then if that is successful. We are, the founder is invited to a first round of interview where two people of the team will interview them interview the founder or the team. Sometimes it's more than one person joining the call just to understand what is the vision, you know, how is the team, what is the team dynamic? How do they know about how to they, you know, match and, and things like that. And then if that is also successful the, the, the team is invited to the investment committee. And to be part of the investment committee, they need to have a deck that is organized and understandable because a lot of people have a lot of amazing ideas, but they don't know how to, to put together a deck. So we, we send them a template that they can use if they want to prepare an nice deck. And then we ask them to record a video where, you know, they can show the personality to do the rest of the investment committee. They didn't have the chance to, to meet them. And then the investment committee is meeting at the end of May. So at the end of May we will be joined by a couple of other experts. And in long afternoon we will make a decision on which of the startups and the team will be accepted to the accelerator and, and which one? The other one they maybe need to reapply to next year. Or maybe we, we always try to be helpful, so we will give an advice to everybody, but yeah, that's how the, the process will look like.Tom Raftery:
Okay. And how many are you taking in?Micol Chiesa:
We're thinking between a minimum of eight and a maximum of 12 companies because it is a good number. We need to have enough time to, to dedicate to all of them. We are three investment directors, so Chris Francesco, who is not here with us today and, and myself. So we want to, to dedicate enough time and we feel like an average of three, four company each of us is a good balance particularly given that the, the, the time is is short. It is only a 10 week, very intensive course to actually help them be ready for a pre-seed round in September.Tom Raftery:
Okay. And is it just mentorship they're getting or do they get anything else from the, the process?Chris de Koning:
Hopefully a lot more than just mentorship. And one of the reasons why, why we, why we picked this particular number of ventures that we wanna sort of, help through the program is because it's, it's a small enough number to really give tailored support. That means that to allude to, to one of the points that Micol made earlier, we are bringing in very experienced investors. There's an entire investor community that is gonna help. That's gonna show interest. It's gonna be a a corporate partnership base with actual industry players that are working on on real life problems and that are looking actively for solutions. Solutions, but also new innovations in order to sort of maybe upgrade their, their their own operations into a more sustainable fashion. So these are organizations that are working on this particular topic, that are looking for pilot projects to run, that are looking to support founders with very innovative ideas. So, we've been part of, of enough accelerators now to know that these kind of, of ties with the real life issues out there is absolutely instrumental in order to to help a venture, launch a pilot, find first customer get a first bit of investment. And then we offer as well the operational side. So we've got many founders that are, are further down the line, that have already successfully maybe exited in some cases that bring a lot of sort of real expertise from, from rolling up the sleeves and, and getting the hands dirty. And, and lessons that that might not very much be, be shared by some of the others because they simply don't have the experience of, of really sort of building that actual venture, that will come into the program and, and help the founders as well. And then of course there are the workshops and, and the mentorship that is in addition to, to these other pillars that we offer. So it's really sort of bringing a ecosystem together. So as much as this is building an accelerator and, and building new ventures, it's also about building an ecosystem on the climate tech space here based at Oxford, where we really wanna bring sort of the world leading experts, the most interesting corporates, the best investors, and the most experienced founders together in order to, to really push for, for solving. Well, I, I, I think I, we cannot claim to bring the solution to climate change, but, but at least have an attempt to, to yeah, to, to be of, of support in, in trying to solve it.Micol Chiesa:
I think only to add to what Chris said, we also have a slightly different approach to other accelerators in the sense that, as Chris was saying, we, we build an ecosystem. So it's like the university is Founders Factory, so operators. The climate investors as well as the corporates. But we're also teaching something that Sequoia, for example, started doing it a couple of years ago, which is the storytelling part. A lot of the climate technology, a lot of the scientists, find it harder to communicate what they want to do. So the first thing that Chris and I decided when you know, we decided to kind of take a lead on this project was to hire a marketing specialist. So we have an incredible person. Her name is Kelly. That is a brand and marketing specialist she has been helped a lot of company to kind of, tell their story and, and, and move a little bit more on the consumer side, even if they're not always like a B2C company because the science is difficult already, and if you don't know how to communicate it to different type of stakeholders, then the company may not be able to sell just because of, you know, an symmetry of information, I would say. So our, I would say one of our unique selling point is really having, somebody like Kelly, but Kelly also as a team that will sit down with the company, really understand the vision, really understand the mission, and help them communicate in the right way so that every single stakeholders have equal access to those information and can really understand the potential of the company and then therefore build meaningful relationship with with them.Tom Raftery:
Okay, cool. And. Where does the funding for Planet Positive Labs come from or, and are you taking a stake in the startups?Chris de Koning:
Yeah, so, so basically the way this is set up is it's a partnership. So we have in-kind contributions, we've got corporate contributions, but we also have backing by by Planet Fund on which we call as a partner that is very kindly supporting its first pilot. So the funding is basically coming from a host of different different parties in order to drive this, this, yeah, this idea. We are launching a pilot now. We are, we're gonna, after the pilot, we're gonna reassess that we're gonna look for, for, to make this more of a sustainable idea over the coming years. This first year is very much also in that sense a showcase to see that, that this is something that can be done. And, and that is and hopefully what we, what we want to achieve is, is it's gonna be something that's gonna be carried by the community. So that there is not gonna be single ownership over, over this initiative. It's gonna be something that's gonna be driven by the different parties that, that actually really care about solving the issue of climate change.Tom Raftery:
Okay. We are coming towards the end of the podcast now. Is there any question that I haven't asked that you wish I had or any aspect of this we haven't touched on that you think it's important for people to be aware of?Micol Chiesa:
I think maybe you know, what we're looking for in terms of industries as well, in the sense that climate tech is very broad and maybe it would be worth explaining that by climate tech we mean everything, every industry, so you can have a technology in food and a agritech as well as energy, mobility and transport as the built environment is also part of the solution. And we are typically looking at deep tech technologies. So really science-based technologies that are trying to solve one of the issue across the industries. Also I think. Everybody, even if it's not based in the UK now, is not based at Oxford, has equal opportunity to apply. So this is really for the ecosystem. But no matter, like for example, we receive a lot of application from Africa. Founders in Africa, founders in Asia, south America. So it's important that really anybody that wants to need some help can really apply and, and potentially be part of this initiative. And as, as Chris was mentioning we had an overwhelming amount of people from the ecosystem, but also not from the ecosystem. They wanted to invest in the companies. So we are going to have a demo day in September, so we, we are accelerating the company, but then the investors will take the lead on the pre-seed round. Hopefully many of the companies will raise a pre-seed round. But really it's open to everybody. So it's not just like my fund investing in the company. It is open to every single investor that cares about this and wants to be part of this that can join us.Chris de Koning:
Nice. And maybe if I could add to that for example, if someone hears this and says, well, I'm working in a particular space. Maybe I have a technical background. I don't necessarily have directly an idea, but I would love to sort of contribute or I would love to be part of this. I wanna learn, I heard about this this mysterious thing called entrepreneurship. I read about it. I, I, I watched maybe a show on Netflix and I would love to learn a little bit more. We are really trying to build a community here a community of practice, a community of aspirations. So if you hear this, if you are interested, if you're not really sure whether this is for you or whether you want to apply or whether you have an idea, but you just want to be part of this and, and contribute and and, and. Get a bit of a sense of, of what it is like to, to build a venture. You're very much invited. You're very much welcome to join. This is not one of these accelerators is gonna happen entirely behind closed doors. We are bringing in fantastic speakers that are leading thinkers in, in their fields. And we would love to, to have these people to come along and, and join in, in the conversation and be part of the community that we are building here. So, I would say, Very much this is an invitation that if you hear, if you hear about this you're interested, do reach out even if you don't have a concrete idea. We would love to, to yeah, to, to sort of give that spark that, that might lead to the, the inspiration of, of the next idea. So, yeah, please to come along.Tom Raftery:
Okay. Cool. One, sorry, go on.. Micol Chiesa: Yeah, sorry Tom. Well, I just wanted take also like two minutes to be thankful in a way because it's not just me and Chris in the sense that we have so many people that are supporting. Founders Factory was exceptional. David is leading the project from Founders factory. He was a u huge help in putting together the program. Jamie from Planet Fund was the first believer in this initiative and he really was is always available 24 7 to answer our question, to invite people to reach out to people as well as the Woodham College that actually was so visionary to believe in this idea. I mean, they understand that there is a lot that the university can do to really help entrepreneurship and particularly climate entrepreneurship. So they really supported us. They introduced me to Chris who now became one of my best friends. So, there's a lot of enrichment also for Chris and I in doing this project. Is our startup in a way so we understand what it means to have a startup. So that's why I mean to to Chris call, do reach out to us if you want to even just have information, cuz is this is similar journey, the one that Chris and I are on. And so we, we really understand it and, and we are here to support it. Excellent, excellent. One last question actually from my side is, so you're, you're doing 10, 12 companies this summer, but what's the longer term aim? I mean, are you hoping to grow the, the lab into taking in tens of companies, hundreds of companies a year or what's, what's the, what's the vision?Chris de Koning:
Well, ideally we solve climate change this summer, but don't think that's, that's gonna be very realistic. So, so of course the idea is to, to build this out further and to grow it and to to give it a more sustainability over the long run and to, to, I know, spark many ideas and to accelerate them into the ecosystem and, and built this out further and. Yeah, it's, it's really nice to, to do this at Wodham college. It's one of the, the colleges that's always been sort of stereotyped as being one of the more progressive ones in Oxford, which is probably a controversial thing to say, but yeah, no, so, so definitely this is something that we wanna, we want to crack.Micol Chiesa:
I think Tom, I, I don't know if I believe in the theory of big numbers necessarily, in the sense that I do see why many people say, okay, try to do one another investment. One will go well, and there is so much research and data and, you know, a kind of publication on it. I do think that, If you, if you do your job very well, so you kind of, first of all communicated well, so people have the chance, equal chance to apply and then you look, you really pay attention to the company rather than just like taking 30 seconds and just skim them through, like look at the deck without even realizing what they're doing. You pay attention to it. Is a little bit more time consuming at the beginning, but you can select quality and if you select quality, then you don't really need 50 company every year. Of course it, it helps. I mean, statistically it helps, but if you do your due diligence very well at the beginning, I think that just having a smaller cohort that you can really be hands-on, you can really introduce to the right people, help them get the right partners, can still create a successful program without having to scale exponentially in terms of number of, you know, kind of people incubated accelerated in this case.Tom Raftery:
Great. If people would like to know more about yourselves or the lab or any of the things we talked about on the podcast today, where would you have me direct them?Micol Chiesa:
Well, we have a website planetpositivelab.com. So very intuitive. They can write us there. There are various tab for different stakeholders if you want to apply. There is a tab to apply. If you're an investor, you can, you know, submit your interest in getting to know the company there as well as partners. But Chris and I, now you see our names. So, if you want to stalk us on LinkedIn, I, we receive probably 200 messages a day, but we always try to respond to everybody. So please feel free to reach out also to our social media.Chris de Koning:
Fantastic. When in doubt on which bracket you fit, just write us an email at info@planetpositivelab. com.Tom Raftery:
Super. Micol,Micol Chiesa:
Chris that so they can you can write there. So he, he'll have to do that work.Tom Raftery:
Fantastic. Micol, Chris, thanks a million for coming on the podcast today.Micol Chiesa:
Thank you so much, Tom, for opportunity. It was nice chatting to you. Thank you.Tom Raftery:
Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about the Climate Confident podcast, feel free to drop me an email to Tom firstname.lastname@example.org. Or message me on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you like the show, please, don't forget to click follow on it in your podcast application of choice to get new episodes as soon as they're published. Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast. It really does help new people to find the show. Thanks, catch you all next time.