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Upstart 2019: A Celebration of and for Energy Entrepreneurship

4 March 2019

There was already a buzz outside Seven Stills Brewery in San Francisco by the time I arrived at Upstart 2019. By the registration table, I was greeted by the future of food. I met Jena Martin, co-founder and COO of Tiny Farms, who brought tray of perfectly normal-looking (and tasting) chocolate chip cookies made with crickets (proteins) grown in their farm, and Rachel from ReGrained who gave out an assortment of snack bars made from upcycled grain from the beer-brewing process. Two delicious reminders of the power of entrepreneurship to attack big problems – an apt showcase of the event inside.

Once inside the space, I saw many familiar faces in the crowd of ‘energy people’, socializing as one does in the face of climate change. Except for the name tags and catered food, it could’ve been a regular Thursday happy hour and it never fails to surprise me how positive people are despite working on such an urgent set of problems! Indeed, Upstart 2019 was a fundraiser hosted by the non-profits New Energy Nexus and California Clean Energy Fund (CalCEF) to celebrate energy entrepreneurship and to help realize their vision of supporting 100,000 energy startups worldwide by the year 2030.

Last year, we experienced catastrophic fires here in California that was exacerbated by the effects of climate change, and an updated IPCC report warned us once again of our ticking clock. Big problems demand big solutions - and here in the Silicon Valley no one thinks bigger and dares bolder than the energy entrepreneurs.

“We’re here because we’re people of good faith,” said CalCEF Director Danny Kennedy, “who want to see a world where we have … social justice, resiliency, sustainability, and abundance.” And how do we get to a world like that? “We have to have 100% clean energy for everyone on the planet,” he announced, without skipping a beat. Doing their part, CalCEF and New Energy Nexus exists to support entrepreneurs by providing mentorship, funding, and network expertise through their 90 accelerators in 30 countries around the world.

We got a glimpse of what this world could be, through three pioneering startups supported by CalCEF who came to share their own bold visions for 2030.

For Opus 12 co-founder and Stanford alumnus Etosha Cave, PhD, that vision is reducing emissions equivalent driving 4.7 million cars per second with their carbon-capture technology. Matt Miller, CEO of Nativus Power, looks forward to displacing 3200 500-MW coal plants worldwide with their the high-efficiency air-conditioning system. Max Aram, CEO of Pick My Solar, is confident that he will help 10,000 new jobs through his community-centered solar programs.

Given the climate situation that we’re in, these audacious goals are an inspiring show of force. The crowd seemed to agree: we were buzzing well into the night as we connected with old friends and new business partners over craft whiskey. By the of the night, I was reminded once again why I enjoyed contributing to the energy community so much: it was the celebration of optimism and camaraderie – both things we are in dire need of in the face of what’s to come.

Click here to watch a video recap of UPSTART 2019.

About the organizers: CalCEF and New Energy Nexus are non-profit organizations who are working to support energy entrepreneurs worldwide through the generous donations of individuals, foundations, universities, and governments. If you would like to learn more and support their work, you can go to Upstart 2019 was hosted on January 31st, 2019 at the Seven Stills Brewery and Distillery.

Paricha Duangtaweesub is a graduate student in the Design Impact program working at the intersection of electric transportation and human-centered design.

Disclaimer: The author received a personal invitation to attend the event and no other forms compensation.

Photographs by CalCEF