Historically, the black community in the US has been disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change. Relegated for decades to a vulnerable economic and social class, the community is almost always at risk of facing natural disasters no matter where they occur.
This issue has inspired many black founders and investors to enter the climate space as the conversation about today’s current crisis is led by whites and therefore lacks some key perspectives.
“It is critical that we see more black investors and creators tackling climate change because fighting this existential crisis requires everyone’s intellectual prowess, personal character and uniquely lived experience,” Stonly Blue, managing partner at venture startup Third, told Business Insider. Sphere, to Acutely.info+. “When black individuals are given the space and autonomy to expand their aspirations beyond societal ‘survival’, the potential for innovation is enormous.”
The Black Climate Tech community is growing, according to investors and founders Acutely.info+ spoke to. But while funding for underrepresented founders in the space is bleak, it represents the huge potential that remains.
According to Crunchbase, US-based Black Climate Tech founders received just 1% of all capital invested in climate tech startups last year. That’s $214 million of $21.5 billion. It was even lower in the first quarter of this year with such founders raising $24 million of the $3.4 billion allocated or just 0.7%.
Data visualization through Miranda Halpern; made with Florish
While striking, these levels of investment are pretty close to what Black founders have raised in total. Last year, Black founders raised 1.2% of all venture capital and last quarter they received 0.69%. That stubbornly low figure is almost certainly not representative of black participation in climate technology, even though the actual number of black people involved in space is unknown. The lack of funding and lack of DEI data suggests that the large entrepreneurial community is overlooking a huge amount of untapped potential.
“The planet will catch fire if we don’t maximize the talent and genius embedded in all of humanity,” said Donnel Baird, founder and CEO of BlocPower.
The early innings for Black Climate Tech
According to Blue, a growing number of black venture capitalists are beginning to take an interest in climate technology. Many come from the energy, mobility or infrastructure sectors, as they intersect with the need for climate action.
On the other hand, those building the technology often have to work with materials science, hard technology or industrial processes, and because of the time and complexity involved, they often do not opt for venture capital. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t an economic opportunity to support those who do.
Anthony Oni, a managing partner at Energy Impact Partners, noted that this sector would eventually become the biggest economic and wealth-building opportunity in this lifetime, and the startup ecosystem cannot afford to ignore ideas regardless of their origins.