Waterloo Stories: "Innovating to tackle a climate crisis"

Monday, November 23, 2020

Adrien Côté sits down with University Relations to discuss the role of entrepreneurship as a power tool to build back our economy and tackle climate change.

The original article is featured in Waterloo Stories.

By University Relations

How Velocity and Concept are supporting cleantech entrepreneurship

At its core, Velocity is about unleashing social and economic impact by equipping founders to scale their solutions to real-world problems. And one of the most pressing issues of our time is the climate crisis.

Adrien Côté, executive director of Velocity, sees entrepreneurship as a powerful tool to simultaneously build back our economy and tackle climate change. He’s seen founders come forward with opportunities that create change, whether it’s creating greater efficiency in industry or building technology to remediate our climate. And the goal, he says, isn’t a sweeping solution that solves all problems. Each company’s innovation is one piece that can contribute to a complete solution to the sustainability puzzle.

“The key is getting to adoption of the game changing technology by developing a product that customers embrace with delight. It’s hard work and requires relentless focus on the customer to understand what greater sustainability means in their context. We are seeing adoption in one industry which creates a foothold for stepping into adjacent industries or a beachhead to diffuse more broadly within the same industry,” Côté says.

“It’s also going to be interesting to see how policy and regulatory changes affect market dynamics. Governments are putting forward pandemic recovery plans that integrate strategies for mitigation of climate change. This “build back better” tack could be a boon for many Velocity portfolio companies and startups we are tracking in the formation phase.”

Velocity is also seeing new interest in investments in green and clean technologies as investors consider opportunities within existing industries, but also the social and political landscape.

“You're seeing venture capital funds with a conscientious capitalism angle to their investment thesis which includes considering cleantech solutions,” he explains. “Investors will really pay attention when initial adoption turns into product-market fit, so cleantech founders need to be clever to fund their efforts to that point.”

Spotlight on sustainable technologies

Two current Velocity portfolio companies will be showcased as part of the Waterloo Innovation Summit, scheduled for November 30, 2020. The event will explore how cleantech innovation can drive economic growth while ensuring our planet’s future.

Agrisea and Evercloak will be featured for the sustainable technologies they’ve built in response to the climate crisis. Agrisea co-founders Luke Young and Rory Hornby traveled to Waterloo specifically to join Velocity and help gain traction for their ocean agriculture startup. Similar to hydroponics, Agrisea has designed crops that draw nutrients directly from seawater to produce a food supply that is environmentally and economically sustainable.

Evercloak uses a low-cost advanced manufacturing platform to build ultra-thin nanomaterial membranes, which in turn can be used in cleantech applications like water filtration, barrier technologies and electronic devices. In 2018, co-founder and CEO Evelyn Young was also named a finalist in the Women in Cleantech Challenge, a collaboration between MaRS Discovery District and Natural Resources Canada.

Empowering student entrepreneurs

Velocity is also working with Waterloo students to get a head start through their experiential entrepreneurship arm Concept. In September 2020, Concept partnered with the Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change (IC3) to launch a brand-new Climate Change Grant. The funding is awarded to a student team with an innovative solution to a climate change related problem, with the aim of directly supporting innovation and entrepreneurship focused on climate solutions.

“We sensed that if we focused on impact when inviting students to bring forward their technology business ideas, we would see a different type of engagement with Concept,” says Côté. “For example, over half of the climate applications were pitched by students who identify as female. We also have participation from all six faculties, and we are pleased Concept can support interdisciplinary collaboration in this way.”

Of the 77 applications Concept received this fall, 20 teams categorized their pitches as a climate change solution, and four have moved through to the final round. The first grant will be awarded November 26 at the Virtual Concept $5K Grant and Climate Change Grant Finals

Côté thinks the turnout proves that Waterloo students come to campus looking for more than just a degree.

“When we speak with students it’s clear they want to make an impact. And we can help. If we can start creating that type of career momentum before they graduate, that's huge.”