Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle has over 15 years experience at the intersection of the environment, technology, society, and equity and justice. She’s worked across technology, national labs, and nonprofits, leading teams to solve complex challenges related to climate change, clean water, health, and policy.
She currently works at the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis (JISEA) and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) and is the CleanTech co-chair for the Keiretsu Angel investment group. She lives in Colorado with her husband, two kids, and dog.
How does the Inflation Reduction Act impact funding for climate tech and clean tech startups?
What’s different for climate tech startups compared to startups in other sectors?
How can a climate focused startup improve their funding prospects and accelerate their path to revenue?
In this episode, Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle, clean tech and policy specialist, talks about the sectors that stand to benefit most from the Inflation Reduction Act, the unique challenges and opportunities facing climate tech startups compared to non-impact driven startups, the surprising avenues of funding and growth for climate tech startups, and much more.
Links and Resources:
A special thank you to Kristin for putting together this exclusive resource list just for Invisible Ink listeners!
- American Made Prizes – prize platform managed by the NREL
- The Climate VC Crew
- Connect to various learning groups
- Follow thought leaders and listservs:
- Follow groups on LinkedIn:
- Deanna Zhang
- Work for Climate slack group (story about them)
- National Labs (IMPEL+, NREL’s IEC – Wells Fargo, I-Corps, etc.) (*NREL’s IEC: https://www.nrel.gov/innovate/)
- Nature Conservancy’s Tech Stars
- Cleantech Future (https://www.cleantechfuture.co/)
- Corporates with sustainability incubators – Google, IBM, Amazon (and some have in-kind donations, like cloud credits)
- Value of public/private partnerships in climate tech: https://www.ctvc.co/founders-guide-to-the-doe/?ref=ctvc-newsletter
- Angel groups
- DOE (ERA: https://www.energy.gov/oced/energy-improvements-rural-or-remote-areas-0)
- State of CO AI OEDIT grants
- IRA: https://www.ctvc.co/ira-and-the-new-capital-cost/
- Aurora Solar’s Report: https://aurorasolar.com/news/aurora-solar-industry-snapshot/
- Non-traditional financing mechanisms (e.g., cost-share with an ROI), like Energea (https://www.energea.com/)
- Other companies:
- Rheaply- circular economy https://rheaply.com/
- Agrivoltaics: https://www.nrel.gov/news/program/2022/growing-plants-power-and-partnerships.html
- Email chakras at achiiv dot co for two fun graphics courtesy of Kristin
Shubha Chakravarthy: Good afternoon, Kristin. Thank you for joining us today. We are super excited to talk to you!
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here.
Shubha Chakravarthy: Tell us a little bit about your background and what got you interested in climate tech and clean tech in the first place.
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: Sure. I think I’ve been interested in climate tech and clean tech before it was even a thing. I was always interested in the environment. I was always interested in technology and also working with people and solving complex issues with the environment.
So, I started my career studying engineering, went into working on clean water projects in Latin America when I first came out of college. Then I studied leadership and found different ways to be involved to make an impact.
So, I’ve worked across different national labs, corporates startups, tech, as well as non-profits in the space.
I currently work at the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis (JISEA) at the National Renewable Energy Lab, and I’m also a co-chair of the Keiretsu Cleantech Angel Investment Group.
Shubha Chakravarthy: I know you did a PhD as well. Tell us a little bit about what was that about and how that fits into the whole climate tech piece.
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: Yes. I finished a PhD in public affairs at the University of Colorado, Denver. I was working at the National Center of Atmospheric Research, the country’s premier climate research lab.
While I was there, I was also interested in how we could solve it from a human perspective. We can have lots of different technologies and research and climate data. “How do we actually work with people too?” So, my PhD is in public affairs. I was interested in policy and broader implications and societal applications and solving complex issues.
Also, through that I did research on building energy policies and specifically doing methodologies related to machine learning and also doing a lots of user interviews with people that work in tech.
So, people that are working for cities, tech startups, lots of different data types, analytic companies. But I was really interested in how we use data to drive policy that helps mitigate climate change, while also helping to create healthy communities.
Shubha Chakravarthy: For those of us who are not PhDs in public affairs, if you had to summarize your key finding or the gist of your research, how would you characterize that?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: Good question. So, data is really important. We have access to lots and lots of data, and easy data can help drive decision making and make really efficient policies.
Specifically, from my research, I found that I was looking at building energies. So, buildings that are in really rich areas and also low-income areas are the biggest emitters of carbon and greenhouse gases.
What I saw was, if we develop policies that can help target some of the lower income communities, provide incentives to help the buildings that would be one policy lever that cities can use.
But also finding ways to work with the communities or buildings that have the higher income folks too. So, I was really interested in looking at a demographic perspective and how we use data to be able to drive decisions that way.
Shubha Chakravarthy: It is like a barbell, right? It is like the two extreme ends that are creating the problem, and everybody is in the middle. I would not have guessed that. That is pretty fascinating.
Then, coming to the topic, how do you define clean tech? How does it differ from, for example, climate tech? How do those two relate? Can you just lay out the landscape for us?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: Sure. Somewhat similar in overlapping. I think people are more familiar with Cleantech because it has been around for a long time.
I really like this website and also a newsletter called Climate Tech VC and they defined Cleantech and seven verticals.
So, there is energy, agriculture, transportation, built environment, carbon, climate management, and also industrial. So, climate tech is one of the seven verticals within Cleantech.
Shubha Chakravarthy: Just to kind of build on that question, I know that the government passed the Inflation Reduction Act, had a lot of incentives for this sector.
Were there specific sub-sectors from the seven that will be impacted more by the government funding, or do you think they apply equally across because that is relevant to startup founders?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: Sure. I think we are still watching it unfold and roll out. I think there are government priorities and I think we’ll see how it will plays out over the next year or two.
Currently, and I recommend anyone that is interested to see where funding is, to go to American-Made, they are doing a lot of work in supporting startups also.
Right now, there are different funding opportunities for companies working in agriculture and rural areas, carbon capture, hydrogen. There are 30 some different sectors and themes that founders can go to but they are continually being rolled out too.
Shubha Chakravarthy: Great. You talked about all of these sectors and then this is constantly evolving.
What do you think are the most promising sectors within this, and why do you think they are the most interesting?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: Sure. I think there are two main areas.
I think there is tech that changes the way we understand the world, and then tech that changes the way we live. So, tech that changes the way we understand the world – I would put into data analytics. There is ESG – Environmental, Social, Governance data related to that.
Satellite imagery is the data being used to drive decisions also along with IOT and then tech that changes the way we live. Transportation, our houses, buildings, the way we engage with the world.
I think those two main areas are definitely where I see a lot of promising impact.
Shubha Chakravarthy: Then coming to the startup world itself, which is what we really care about, what do you think characterizes or differentiates a clean tech or a climate tech startup from the remaining sectors. For example, technology startups or other startups. What is unique about these startups?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: I think clean tech is really looking at clean technologies, things that fuel our lives differently. So, people are familiar with solar and wind and the different types of renewable energy. So, in climate tech, I think there is a lot more emphasis on data.
So, mitigating the impact of climate change, tracking the carbon accounting using data to be able to drive to climate decisions. I think the way it differs from other types of technology is this commitment to cut down our greenhouse gases.
We have to be able to measure it, we have to be able to track it, we have to be able to drive decisions that allow us to use less greenhouse gases.
So Cleantech is providing different alternatives to oil and gas, to different fuel sources, and also being able to monitor it and be able to drive behavioral changes.
Shubha Chakravarthy: Then, looking at the broader environment, a lot of has happened in the last 12 months or so.
The COP 27 and the Inflation Reduction Act. Looking at all of this in totality, what do you think are the top two or three trends that are driving startup behavior activity within the sector?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: I mean, you definitely nailed it in the past year, and I think a big part of it is that a lot of funding and investor interest is here and not only is it from the VC interest, but it is also investors in larger companies that are saying, “We really need to focus on providing energy sources and focus on clean energy and clean tech.”
There are also the broader government and corporate goals. So, after COP and also for a long time, cities and corporate governance has been looking towards different goals related to reducing carbon emissions.
So, there are science-based targets or net zero goals, and so some of these broader movements are also helping fuel the interest and the money going into clean tax startups.
Finally, government policy. So, tax incentives for investors. Bills such as the Inflation Reduction Act, city, state, and federal policies that are helping drive some of these.
A city might have building performance standards that say, “Okay, all the buildings at this level have to start investing in renewable energy or more sustainable types of windows and things like that.” I think a lot of it is coming from the government policy.
Also, just in general, I think people are looking for something that makes an impact. Even within the workers in the workforce, people want you to be part of something bigger than themselves.
There’s a really great slack workspace called Work on Climate, and it was founded by a few engineers that quit the job at Google and created the Slack group that now has tens of thousands of people that are constantly connecting on different clean tech startup technologies or how to start a startup or how to be involved in it.
I think that is coming from the workers themselves too.
Shubha Chakravarthy: So, getting to the startups themselves, what are you seeing as key challenges for someone who is starting something up in the Clean Tech space and how do those impact their journey or their odds of success?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: I think for people, sometimes they might want to be involved, but they don’t quite know where to start. So, I think one way to do that or to figure it out is to go to the “Work on Climate” slack page and try to talk to people and figure out what is your value addition.
I think looking at all of your assets and who you are as a person and who you are as an employee or a worker, can contribute to who you are going to be as a founder.
So, I think starting where you are at is a great way. I think some of the specific challenges related to clean tech might be the technology. Sometimes it is super innovative.
So, there is a term called First of a Kind or FOAK. Sometimes getting money for something that is somewhat unproven or has long timelines can be challenging.
Figuring out a business plan around that and then finding out matching funds of the other broader issues related to Cleantech issues with supply chains, so some mining minerals as we start to depend on more and more technologies that use lithium.
Where are we going to get the mining for lithium? There are going to be challenges like that too.
But I think starting from who you are, what you are passionate about, what your value add is, and then just doing your research and connecting to larger, broader groups that can help you figure out how to make mark as a founder is a good way to start.
Shubha Chakravarthy: I’m sure you’ve had multiple interactions with founders. Have you found common themes that set apart successful founders or startups in this space?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: So, the typical startup things founders who have really done their work in terms of what their business is if they have revenue or cash flow, existing customers, market attraction, easy adoption, things that are typically what sets apart companies really helps but for Cleantech specifically I think having a north star of where you want to get to is also helpful.
Having policy awareness of not only product market fit, but where are the opportunities, where are the incentives or perhaps mandates that might drive people to use your technology? I think having a broader understanding of the interconnectedness of our country or our community is really helpful.
Then also having some proper planning. So, maybe if they have had a pilot project or non-dilutive funding, grants – there are a lot of grant opportunities right now, and so that really sets founders apart.
Then also having partnerships. So, if it is a partnership with a research center or a university or a community group or some type of partnership that has helped provide a demonstration of the technology and how it could be a fundable and a marketable product is helpful too.
Shubha Chakravarthy: I want to dive down a little bit into both of those. The first you mentioned was grants. Can you give us like a lay of the land in terms of where these grants are and how our founder can at least try to zoom in on the ones that would be relevant to her specific situation?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: So, for grants there definitely are a lot, especially through the IRA right now. I would look at state and local grants. There are a lot of incentives through states and local governments.
Nationally I would look at The National Labs. Some of the different funding that is coming out through the IRA. Again, the American Prizes, the website is americanmadechallenges.org.
The Climate VC group is also super helpful, and they’ll work for climate Slack page.
For grants, there are some that are specific through Department of Energy and then also through USDA. A lot of the different federal agencies are starting to look at how to provide grants. So, the grants could be for a specific technology.
There are also vouchers or technical assistance that founders can apply to, to receive, to work directly with people that could provide them support too. I’ll send some of those links.
Shubha Chakravarthy: The second idea you mentioned was partnering with research institutions or other organizations. What are those institutions and let’s say I don’t have a current academic affiliation, which would be the obvious way to do it if I’m a PhD student or whatever.
What would you recommend in terms of like, which institutions to reach out to and how to get in that ecosystem?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: I think it really depends on the type of technology that you are working on in your interest. National Labs has lots of different incubator programs to be part of.
There is the Wells Fargo incubator and partnership with larger companies and then also just outside of the National Lab system. There is the Nature Conservancy is Techstars. The Rocky Mountain Institute has one called their derivative.
So, there are lots of different incubators in that way. A lot of the companies too have incubators. Google and Amazon, and a lot of those companies would even provide in-kind support.
So, you are a part of an incubator, you are a part of an accelerator, and at the end of your time, they provide cloud credits or they provide some type of financial support or grant afterwards too.
So, I would start with some research, but I would also just Google sustainability accelerators, or if it is a specific technology like PropTech, then you would find the Lawrence Berkeley National Labs Incubator.
So, it is about finding a specific technology and searching based on that.
Shubha Chakravarthy: Now that we have kind of talked about the places where you can research all of that stuff, let’s say you have come to a position where you have a real idea. You are going out to get investment, and I know that you have continue to play a pretty significant role in terms of leading due diligence.
So, we come to the investability of a clean tech or climate tech startup. Can you give us an overview of what you as a potential investor would look at from a due diligence perspective when you are looking at one of these clean tech startups?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: I would look at product market fit and existing partnerships. IP is especially critical and knowing whether it has been with a partnership or not, who owns the IP?
Then, my personal investment thesis is “What do I believe in? Where can I add value that others can’t? How big is the space in the total adjustable market that the founder is working in? What is our position, timeline and what are their advantages if it is the technology or if they are ahead of the curve or if it is a regional application.”
So, those are some of the things that we look for. Those teams will typically look at all of those different things that I’ve looked at. We will meet closely with the founder, ask questions, and look at some of their documentation, or perhaps review other due diligence reports that have been done by other angel groups in the past and really dive into see what is the technology? What is the product? What is the overall market and business plan for this approach?
But at the end of the day, we are also looking to invest in people. I think it is also helpful for the founder to identify gaps and to say that these are areas where we need to work together. That is the overall process.
Shubha Chakravarthy: What if I’m a climate tech founder or clean tech founder? How long I should expect the due diligence process to take?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: I’ll say one thing first. For the due diligence, if you are working with something like a National Lab Accelerator or one of the ones that I mentioned, they will work with you on that process.
So, you are already ahead of the game by the time you get out of it.
If you are a founder, you are working more independently. You already have customers and a business plan, and you are already out. Then typically it might take a few months by the time we get the tune together and schedule a couple of calls.
Shubha Chakravarthy: So, you are looking at the upside. There are a couple of wrinkles as you mentioned, from a Cleantech perspective, and I want to zoom in on those. You mentioned IP, policy, and product market fit. Let’s go in on each of those.
Let’s look at product market fit from a Cleantech perspective. What do you think is most critical for a founder to look at to make sure that they have product market fit that is different from an any other traditional startup?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: Definitely the customers and who is buying the product? What is their appetite for the product? What is their ability to pay for the product too?
So, a lot of times, some of the different technologies the customers themselves might have to require incentives, right? So, right now we are looking at the different incentives for households to purchase solar.
Some of the people at a home level might be looking for incentives from their city or local government too. It is a very different customer makeup, and it depends on the product, but that is just one example.
So specifically for EV cars. You might have a lot of people that want to buy them. What is their ability to purchase them and to get it within a certain amount of time? Then, looking at that local area, how many charging stations are there? Do you also have to work with HOAs to get them to buy them the chargers or do you have to work with cities?
So, some of it is looking at the customer and their ability to buy, but also what is that larger infrastructure once they buy the product and how are they able to use it?
Shubha Chakravarthy: How do you expect a founder to be able to demonstrate that they have de-risked all of these market related factors?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: I don’t think we do. I think there’s too much. I think one red flag is when someone says there are no risks, or if they haven’t considered risks.
But I think if they have identified it, or at least broad strokes of one, policy related or infrastructure related one, then I think that is something we are willing to work with.
A founder doesn’t have to solve all these things by themselves, but either identifying some of the risks and then identifying people that can help them or asking for help from our team too. I think we don’t expect it to all be solved.
Shubha Chakravarthy: Can you talk a little bit about IP next and what exactly are you looking for in IP? What are the typical types of IP and what should a founder be looking at to make sure that their IP is valuable and protected?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: Sometimes it could be software. Sometimes it could be almost if it is the technical hardware, and it is the widget and making sure that there is a patent or at least an ability to know where to look for the patents.
Sometimes I’ve worked due diligence on companies where they are in process of locating the IP patented and that is okay too. But at least knowing the right avenue for it to go with it. So, between software and hardware, I think those are the two big ones.
Shubha Chakravarthy: Then the other big thing is policy. You mentioned how there are different levels. For example, there is federal, state, city, county, whatever.
How should a founder think about policy because it presents both opportunity and risk? How can they position their startup so that they are somewhat hedged against regulatory or policy risk?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: Again, I don’t expect a founder to know all of these, and it is always changing, and especially in this past year, it has been changing so much. I mean, there have been 70 billion worth of dollars going into clean tech in the past year, so there is no way to know all of the different policies that are going to be impacting things, but at least having an idea of what the potential policy factors could be is important.
So, EV cars, charging stations, or at least knowing at what level they should be thinking about some of the different opportunities is necessary.
There are a lot of great newsletters, a lot of great information out there. I don’t expect a founder to know all of it, but at least know that that exists, and it might come up in the conversation.
Shubha Chakravarthy: Do you have a favorite resource newsletter other than the ones you have just mentioned? Any others that come to mind?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: I really like CT VC, Climate Tech VC.
I also really like Climate Tech Rundown Green Biz and there is a woman, Deanna Zhang, who does independent research and pulls together a lot of the different policy impacts and then also just clean tech in general from a really broad perspective.
Shubha Chakravarthy: What are you seeing in terms of the emerging databases and information sources about how the policy is changing? Just because how much flux there is given the new act and all of the changes that are happening.
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: Sure. Climate Tech VC, I think is probably the best source I’ve seen for that.
For clean tech startups, they make it really digestible and they would have data diagrams that show how the bill will impact certain sectors and the different sources of money going into it. They do a really good job of mapping it all out for a founder.
Shubha Chakravarthy: Fantastic. I’m going to sign up right after we finish talking today, so thank you for that.
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: They have 50 thousand people on the newsletter. They have gone grown so fast in the past two years.
Shubha Chakravarthy: I can totally understand that. Then, coming to another piece, which is the team.
So, this is a really nascent area. It is growing like crazy. What do you look for in terms of team and what should a founder do to make sure that they have a viable team to get this thing to market?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: “People” is definitely the most important part of this entire mix. Investors definitely invest in people. So, having people that you can rely on if you are more of the product person or more of the tech person, and having a couple of people that fill that gap in terms of product or the market business perspective is really important. It is not just within the team, I would say, we also look at the larger picture, the board too.
So, being able to have people that can represent the different aspects of the business and also connect it to an exit if that is your goal, or to the larger customer base too. A lot of times, especially for founders, it is perfectly okay to have fractional CFOs or CEOs or people that are part of your actual team.
But as a founder, especially for female identifying founders, I would say, “Be the voice in the face of your company and bring in all the other people that you can.”
You don’t have to do this all by yourself and you can definitely get people in a fractional capacity. But we definitely look at people that have a business perspective, that have done this before, that can take this from zero to one and do it successfully.
Shubha Chakravarthy: One other thing, obviously from an investment standpoint, financials are most important and in Cleantech you have kind of a double-sided measure, if you will.
So, there are the financial returns themselves, and then there are the impact metrics. Are impact metrics important? What kind of impact metrics should a founder be thinking about?
How do you balance financial versus impact if you are a founder wanting to make sure that you are building the best possible startup?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: I think in general in the climate space, it gets super intimidating where you want to do one action and you recognize how big the challenge is. I would say for a founder, work at the scale that makes the most sense for you and what you think your customers will need.
So, there are some products like windows and different window panes that will impact multiple buildings. But then there are also things like EVs and the actual roads and infrastructure.
So, there are so many different scales, and we are not looking for a founder to solve all of climate change with your product. What the biggest indicator that we look at for environmental in general is greenhouse gas emissions and carbon reduction.
So, there is that balance between ROI and the financial part, but then also the environment too. I think some of the angel groups that are specifically related to clean tech are always going to look at that at the end of the day.
But they are also looking at the financial ROI too. There are a lot of really interesting business models. So, I think previously, maybe decades ago, we thought that you had to be more business focused instead of environmental.
I think we are seeing a lot more interesting business models that are coming out now, like solar community, solar gardens, and things like that, that could have a positive environmental impact along with having a positive ROI.
I would just encourage founders to focus on the scale that makes the most sense for the product and their customers.
Shubha Chakravarthy: First I want to talk about competition and then move to female founders, which is really the topic.
We care a lot about from a competition standpoint, what is unique or different about the Cleantech space than for a traditional startup, and how should a founder think about the whole concept of competition, especially given how quickly things are changing.
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: Competition, but I’d also say passion and collaboration. I think there is so much out there right now, but people are really passionate about it.
If anyone outside of the company really wants to help I wouldn’t look at it as competition, but collaboration and how do you develop partnerships and how do you really work to understand what your customer needs and your specific value add of the product?
Shubha Chakravarthy: So, let’s say you are starting out. There is a lot of activity, like a gold rush. Not exactly, but a lot of people are going to be doing a lot of similar things.
So, if you are a founder, you have to have an eye out on ensuring that you are building a viable and a sustainable defensible startup in all of this flux that is happening. How do you do that?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: I wouldn’t get swung up by all of the different funds going into it. I think there are things that are trendy and there are different things that people want to latch onto, but what makes the actual most sense for you as a founder and for your product?
So, one example is AI and machine learning. A lot of times we will see companies come and pitch and say, “We are using machine learning”, but at the end of the day, they are really not. They are collecting data, or they are doing some type of analytics that is not really machine learning.
So as for a founder, I would say use technology that is really applicable when you need to use it. Don’t just latch on to something because it is popular.
You think that is what the funders want to hear? Honestly we can sniff it out and we want you to do something that is actually going to make a difference and that is viable and not just something that it is popular.
Shubha Chakravarthy: Got it. That is great advice. Then coming to this question of female founders in the climate and clean tech space, what have you observed in terms of what is different about them?
Are they starting different types of businesses? Can you just talk about what your observations have been?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: I don’t know if they have started different types. That is a good question. I haven’t seen broad trends around there. I think when you see a job description and they say, “Typically women will apply if they meet a hundred percent of those qualifications.”
I think the same is true for startups and so typically, what I’ve seen is incredibly overqualified women that are applying or that are creating a startup and that are wanting to do it all.
I would say, “You don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to be an expert in the fields. You don’t have to be number one and have all these different NSF grants to be able to start a company.”
I think what we are seeing, especially in the space is that we need solutions from people that can create solutions, that understand the tech space, that understand software, that understand how to connect with investors, connect with customers.
I would say, “What is the same thing about the job description where men might apply?” If it is like 60%, I would say, “I would encourage more women.”
If you think you have 50% of the qualifications, we should get more women to start doing this and to be in the space because we need women to step in and to take leadership within the clean tech startup space too.
Shubha Chakravarthy: Building on that same theme, we have read a lot and we have seen a lot in terms of the different treatments that women founders get relative to male founders, whether it is Angel or VC.
What have you observed in terms of the women founders? What can women founders do differently and what does the investment community need to do differently so that we have more women founders starting good solid businesses?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: I would say first there is a lot of interest in supporting women founders within the investment community. I think one thing that women could do is, one – be the face of your company.
I think sometimes if they are the tech expert or the product expert I have seen women be the CEO, but almost a name only and not representing their actual company. I always feel bad when I see that as part of a startup competition that the woman is not actually representing it. I don’t know if it is because there is a guy that says, “I’ll give the pitch.”
The other thing is with transparency. I think as we have pay transparency we are starting to see what people are actually paid. I would say we should do the same with cap tables.
One thing I have seen is maybe a woman might have someone who thinks she thinks is a mentor or someone that she thinks is helping her out, but realistically she is getting much less equity than she deserves for all of her efforts.
I think the more she is part of communities with other female founders or with other founders of Cleantech startups to have real conversations about what a cap table should look like or what equity should look like. It’s hard to negotiate if you don’t know what’s available and what’s going on around the larger startup ecosystem. So, I would say transparency too is important.
Shubha Chakravarthy: So, if I’m an individual woman founder, I cannot control the investment community to a large extent. What do I do as a founder to get smart on these things and understand where the market levels are so that I don’t fall victim to that?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: I think accelerators are helpful because they work with you on your cap table. I think having a group of tight-knit people that you feel comfortable sharing your cap table with or asking for advice from people that are actually helping you and not just trying to make the most from your company is important.
I think those are two good starting points.
I’m part of a couple different online groups where people will say, “This is what I got offered, is this good?” People will gut check it or say, “That is actually really low”, or “That is pretty good.”
So, I think it is helpful to have those real conversations as they come into build communities. Probably the biggest part of it is having people that can be honest with you and can tell you if you should ask for more. I think it is harder for us to do if we don’t know the numbers.
Shubha Chakravarthy: So, obviously if you are a part of a good accelerator, that solves a lot of the problem. But if you aren’t one of those people who is participating in an accelerator, how do you vet that this is legitimate and that you are getting good input and honest input?
How do you select those groups to make sure that you are in the right places?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: Again, some of it might be tech specific if it is a specific area of clean tech. But there are groups for women founders, women entrepreneurs.
I myself am part of a “Moms in Tech” Facebook group and I always see the group, the numbers come in on that and I see the women step in and say, “Actually that is good or not.”
So, I don’t know if there is one blanket one that I would just say, but I think find it, and it might be specific to who you are as a person, like “Moms in Tech”. It might be specific to who you are as a founder, like Hydrogen or something like that, where you can have those honest conversations.
Shubha Chakravarthy: Coming back connect to wrap it all up and say, a lot has happened in the last few weeks. Silicon Valley Bank, among other things. So, the environment has changed pretty dramatically for women founders in particular.
What advice would you give women founders who are looking to get funded in this environment to improve their odds of getting funding for their clean tech startup?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: I don’t think Cleantech has more or less impact from SVB. There are a lot of opportunities for government funding. There is a lot of investor interest. There are a lot of policy drivers, and also larger companies that are interested in investing in clean tech.
So, I think getting the lay of the land in some of those different opportunities and just starting to like some of these companies on LinkedIn or paying attention to newsletters that are sharing opportunities and looking for some of the different grants that are non-dilutive funding so that you can at least give yourself some timeline to be able to figure out where you are going from there. I think those would be the first steps.
Again, strategic partnerships, apply for incubators, and get that funding.
Shubha Chakravarthy: Fantastic. For any aspiring woman who wants to impact the world through a startup in this space, what advice would you give, top five things that she can do Monday morning?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: Top five things. First off, believe you can do it. I think you will figure out your path and your impact. But first I think it is just believing that you can do it, finding the community and finding people that support you and that you are inspired by that are also doing it. Again, transparency and having real conversations.
Do research on some of the numbers and what that actually looks like and then get yourself enough funding to just get you on your way and be able to start it.
But I think the first part is really just believing in yourself and knowing that you can make an impact. The climate change is a huge issue. I’ve worked in most of my career, and we need all types of people.
Women are impacted by climate change and most families are. So, we need all types of people that are founders in this space to be able to solve some of these pressing issues.
So, even if you have your doubts, and we all might have our doubts of our impact, but just know that we need you to be a part of this and we need to do it collectively.
Shubha Chakravarthy: Fantastic. Great advice. Is there anything I should have asked you, but I didn’t?
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle: I don’t think so. I think you went through all of the questions. There are some resources that I was going to share. Take care of yourself. Again, this problem is always here, and I’ve seen people that are passionate and throw themselves into it and try to solve it.
There is always time to take a pause and to take care of yourself too because we need the long game and we need people to be sustainable in this as we work towards sustainability together too.
Shubha Chakravarthy: Fantastic. Thank you, Kristin. This has been like drinking from a fire hose, but in a really good way.
You gave us a lot of really good resources, so I’m looking forward to sharing those with all of our audience. Thank you for all of your advice and insights that you shared.
I really appreciate the time. It has just been great having you.
Kristin Wegner Guilfoyle:
Thank you so much. It is really nice to be able to discuss this and share with you, and I really appreciate this conversation!