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March 27, 2024
Avra van der Zee
Elemental Excelerator: Driving Innovative Solutions to Combat Climate Change at a Massive Scale with COO, Avra van der Zee

Elemental Excelerator: Driving Innovative Solutions to Combat Climate Change at a Massive Scale with COO, Avra van der Zee

Show Notes:

“The future of climate is being written now. It's Pascal's wager, right? You have to act like you believe in God, even if you don't. And we have to act like there's a solution. We have to do everything we can.” – Avra van der Zee

Welcome to Cause and Purpose, the podcast that dives into the stories of people who lead the way in tackling the world's most pressing social challenges. 

Today, we're exploring the intersection of environmental innovation and venture capital with Avra van der Zee, the chief operating officer at Elemental Excelerator, to understand how nonprofits can leverage investment to amplify their impact.

Elemental isn't your typical non-profit. It stands out with its groundbreaking approach, operating as a venture capital firm with a dedicated mission to finance and scale environmental technology companies poised to make a significant impact. As COO, Avra sits at the heart of this innovative fusion of philanthropy and venture, driving the organization's efforts to identify and scale high-impact climate solutions. 

In these show notes, we'll explore how Avra's personal journey built the foundation for her professional mission and unpack her views on topics like why impact-driven companies need a local focus and how storytelling is essential to impact measurement.

There’s a lot to cover in this one, so let’s get started. 

Who Is Avra van der Zee?

Avra’s story begins with diverse influences and a deep-rooted passion for innovation and hard work. Raised in upstate New York, Avra learned from the examples set by her parents. Her father was a doctor and inventor with a knack for testing his new inventions at home, while her mother pursued a compassionate career as a social worker.

“I think my dad, being a doctor, [and] my mom, being a social worker… [had] careers that really are about the human condition and doing something meaningful with work. So that was always there. It was adding to that, this idea of invention and creativity and problem solving via building new things that imprinted over these moments seeing my dad being excited about the possibility and the potential of new inventions and new technology.”  - Avra van der Zee

This unique blend of backgrounds built a foundation for Avra’s commitment to making a meaningful difference. It also fostered a keen sense of ingenuity and a strong work ethic, traits that have guided her through an impressive career trajectory. 

“I have a fear that if I stop working, [it’s like] how sharks [will drown] if they stop swimming. I think I have that mentality ingrained in my mind. Work is a pathway to independence. Work is a pathway to adding value and being a productive citizen.” – Avra van der Zee

Avra has drawn from her roots throughout her career to inspire innovation and drive change. From practicing law to achieve climate justice to her role as Elemental Excelerator’s COO, she’s driven by the ultimate goal of building a more sustainable future.

Avra's Journey from Law to Positive Climate Impact

While she was drawn to law because of her love for reading and desire for change, Avra soon realized that her true calling was more entrepreneurial. This ultimately led her to pivot from law to work on environmentally-focused startups.

Her first experience with social entrepreneurship came when she accepted an in-house role at Trespa and Green Street Holdings, where visionary mentors inspired her to shift her focus from litigation to supporting growth in companies committed to sustainable practices. This decision was more than a career change – it was a step towards fulfilling her more profound purpose in environmental stewardship.

“I went to Trespa and left the law firm quite early in 2008. I was working on [the] Lehman Brothers financial crisis, and [Trespa was] a client. I realized that by going in-house, I had the potential to shift from litigation to building, to supporting a company that was poised for growth, that had this potential for a sustainable building design and rethinking how buildings are made.” – Avra van der Zee

After working for Trespa, Avra shifted her attention from building materials to environmentally focused transportation at Jump, an e-bike sharing service. This choice came out of left field for many of the people she knew but ultimately reinforced her belief in fostering sustainability through groundbreaking tech.

Avra helped Jump scale until Uber acquired the company in 2018, and she realized that she loved working with entrepreneurs during her time there. This passion is what encouraged her to join Elemental Excelerator as its Resident Entrepreneur. 

Leaning on the knowledge she gained from her legal and the environmental tech industry, Avra began to champion entrepreneurs poised to make real-world ecological impacts.

What Is Elemental Excelerator?

Elemental Excelerator blends innovation with a solid commitment to communities by financing promising environmental impact companies that focus on making a difference at a local level. The nonprofit also goes beyond initial funding to support its portfolio with additional funding and guidance that helps them make a positive change in their communities.

Elemental runs on the belief that real change starts at the grassroots level. Introducing groundbreaking technology isn’t enough – what truly matters is how it serves and uplifts the community. 

“Elemental Excelerator is a nonprofit investor. We're focused on scaling climate solutions with deep community impact. We invest across sectors like transportation, energy, building, water, food, ag, circular economy, [and] nature-based solutions. And we have a track record of investing and supporting climate companies that are bringing community impact [and] incorporating community feedback into the process of where climate projects are deployed.” – Avra van der Zee

The nonprofit investment group champions this cause by actively involving community voices and collaborating with local groups, ensuring every project aligns with the community's needs and goals.

“We're looking for companies that have out-of-the-lab technologies in the world with some customer traction. And we look to help those organizations scale [through] funding from philanthropy and from government funding sources, high-friction capital. We have a rigorous investing philosophy and compliance infrastructure that enables us to then invest that capital in ways that we think are low-friction.” – Avra van der Zee

With an impressive roster of over 150 companies in its portfolio, Elemental Excelerator catalyzes growth in the climate tech sector with over eight billion dollars in funding raised. Both their portfolio size and funding achievements highlight how Elemental's model, where investment goes hand in hand with community betterment and environmental stewardship, makes a major impact.

Measuring Impact at Elemental Excelerator

The team at Elemental looks beyond conventional metrics to understand how their companies influence lives and ecosystems. They embrace a holistic view of impact that includes economic boosts like job creation – a valuable metric that most climate organizations overlook. 

Elemental’s evaluators understand that each company fund is unique and tailor metrics to each company's distinctive contribution, whether that's conserving water, cutting energy costs, or other significant impacts. 

One great example is Source, a company that harnesses sunlight and air to provide clean drinking water. Elemental's evaluation for Source goes beyond the numbers to measure the total impact it makes on communities like the one they helped in an incorporated area in Texas with contaminated wells.

“We worked with them and a few community stakeholders to install hydro panels in 21 residences, and they're using that as a template that's replicable. They're now planning for a community garden. Clean water can be used to grow crops for the residents,[and] we could measure the number of plastic bottles they've eliminated. We could measure what these off-the-grid panels reduce in terms of not having to have electrical input – the CO2 reduction. But the sort of real-life impact on these 21 residences is [more] profound.” – Avra van der Zee

Much of this evaluation comes from telling the story of how Elemental’s portfolio improves the quality of life for the impacted communities. By sharing how Source's technology changes everyday lives, Elemental takes a more comprehensive view of the company’s contributions that go beyond the data.

Elemental's vision focuses on the long-term advantages of ecological innovation. It sees a future where products like Source's hydropanels meet immediate needs and grow community resilience and sustainability.

Philanthropy’s Role in Elemental Excelerator's Funding Strategy

According to Avra, philanthropy goes beyond generosity  – it's a strategic engine driving environmental innovation. Elemental Excelerator partners with philanthropists who share a vision for a sustainable future, emphasizing how their support fills in financial gaps and promotes growth in climate tech.

But philanthropic dollars at Elemental do a lot more than fill financial voids. They spark a chain reaction of innovation that helps projects evolve from developing ideas to real-world applications. This philanthropic approach boosts progress on early-stage innovations, making it easier for climate tech to reach more people.

“Philanthropy enables us to move quickly to push into areas that allow companies to scale that bridge more quickly. It allows us to be innovative and create new financial tools that reduce transaction costs [and] reduce friction. That enables access to funding in catalytic ways to get to the next stage and invest in the highest impact projects.” – Avra van der Zee

These funds also serve as a magnet, drawing in more private capital that multiplies the effects of philanthropic donations. This combination of philanthropy and venture capital allows investors to quickly see how their contributions can create a ripple effect of growth.

In essence, Elemental uses philanthropy as a bridge that connects donors with groundbreaking innovations and paves the way for private investments. The end result is the rapid scaling of environmental innovations that transform communities. 

How Elemental Excelerator’s OKRs Drive Culture

At Elemental Excelerator, OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) are a pillar of the corporate culture. Avra believes these OKRs influence everything at Elemental Excelerator by syncing daily tasks with the organization’s vision and fostering the growth mindset that is key to finding and funding new projects.

“We think of our OKR process as the roadmap to achieving [our five-year strategy]. So, we've developed various metrics to make sure that we're all moving in the right direction and aligned on where we're going. That alignment is top to bottom throughout the organization and infused across the different teams because we do a lot of different things to try to achieve the objectives of our five-year strategy.” – Avra van der Zee

This collective involvement gives every team member ownership of the company’s mission and helps them see how they contribute to achieving more significant goals. Regular touchpoints for reviewing and refining OKRs also keep the team in sync and ready to adapt and evolve in response to new discoveries or industry shifts.

Avra van der Zee's Optimism About the Future of Climate Solutions

Avra is optimistic about the positive change we can make to the environment as humans, but she believes we must believe that the change is possible. Right now is a pivotal moment for our planet’s future, and we can work hard to overcome significant environmental issues.

“We have to act like there's a solution. We have to do everything we can. I'm an inherent optimist. I can't not take the Pascal's wager approach and act like we can't try our hardest in every way possible. I think the solutions are there. I think a lot of things can and should and will come together to get us there.” – Avra van der Zee

Her optimism is fueled by her work at Environmental Excelerator and unprecedented funding in the climate sector that has promoted significant job growth in environmental work. These actions point to a thriving future where environmental initiatives drive economic prosperity.

She sees a world where even the smallest green initiatives create ripple effects, and the drive for profits can align with a greener future. Ultimately, this blend of sustainability initiatives and eco-minded capitalism can make a world focused on regenerative practices.

How to Get Involved With Environmental Excelerator

Avra’s advice is to start on the local level if you want to get involved with environmental change. Find local groups that make a direct impact on the environment around you. Working collectively on small ecological issues is the key to pushing the needle forward on positive global impact.

Another great way to cause ecological change is to vote. Sometimes it’s hard to see the effect your ballot has on governmental outcomes. However, voting on issues like climate today will dictate governmental policy on future events.

If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to give it a positive review on your favorite listening platform. It would be great to hear your feedback. Also, be sure to follow Cause and Purpose to learn more about the people working to drive impact in our world. 

And if you’re a funder looking to make an impact with your gifts, check out to learn how you can help us fund the highest-impact programs available.

Tune in to These Timestamps for More of My Discussion With Avra

[00:05:44] Meet Avra’s Noni

[00:07:21] Learn About Avra’s Father’s Medical Inventions

[00:14:18] Avra’s Move to Trespa

[00:16:08] Avra’s Decision to “Jump” into Transportation

[00:21:47] Learn More About Elemental Excelerator’s Investment Strategy

[00:26:03] Elemental Excelerator’s Evaluation Process

[00:31:58] How Elemental Excelerator Measures Impact

[00:36:19] Foreign Mobility, One of Avra’s Favorite Companies in the EE Portfolio

[00:42:19] How Elemental Works With Government Grants at Scale

[00:46:20] Where Philanthropy Fits into Elemental Excelerator

[00:49:44] The Importance of Storytelling at Elemental

[00:54:00] How the OKR Process Impacts Elemental Excelerator

[01:08:50] What Avra Is Excited About at This Point in Her Career

[01:11:15] Avra’s Take on the Planet’s Ecological Future

[01:16:30] Avra’s Favorite Board Member Moment With Made of Air

Special Thanks:

This episode would not have been possible without the amazing team at Bryson Gillette. Bryson Gillette is a California and Washington, D.C.-based, minority-owned, intentionally diverse strategic communications and public affairs firm dedicated to serving the needs of its clients and delivering results. We are a mission-driven organization that partners with organizations, companies, candidates, and individuals fighting to make the world more just, safe, healthy, and prosperous for all. Click here to learn more.

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Mike: Welcome to cause and purpose the show about the leaders, innovators, and change agents working on the front lines to solve some of the world's greatest social challenges. I'm Mike Spear and our guest today is Ava Vander Zee. She's the COO of one of my favorite environmental organizations, elemental accelerator, elemental accelerator has a unique model.

They're a nonprofit organization that operates as a venture capital firm. Funding high impact climate technology companies and helping them scale. In addition to Avra's fascinating personal stories, we cover topics ranging from climate justice to storytelling, to working with government grants, to how you can build and integrate performance tracking and management frameworks in ways that are empowering to your organization, rather than burdensome,

we also talk about how other nonprofit organizations might benefit from investing in for profit companies that align with their missions. So without further ado, here's our conversation with the COO of elemental accelerator, Avra van der Zee,

Avra, [00:01:00] thank you so much for joining us today. I knew when we first spoke that this would be an exciting conversation. I've looked up to Elemental Accelerator for a long time. So very excited to have you on the show and learn from you and hear what you have to say.

Avra: Thank you. Excited to be here today. I feel like we have a lot in common and a lot to chat about.

Mike: I think we do. I, and part of the reason that I say that is I think you have the family history to back this up a bit more than I do, but I've always had this sort of immigrant ethos felt like an outsider a little bit. You have a very interesting family background. You mentioned your dad's an inventor.

He's Friesian. Your mom was a Sephardic Jew. Tell us a little bit about your family, how you grew up. And I'm always so curious as well about this because of how it informs our future decisions as we enter , the workforce and take on entrepreneurial roles versus stuff that's more traditional.

Avra: It's true, right? I think by nature, I definitely love building. I love finding creative solutions. I think it came to me early, right? I grew up in [00:02:00] upstate New York with a Dutch dad. He's a Frisian Dutch dad, a doctor by day inventor by night.

And I think my siblings and I were very aware of human ingenuity and how human ingenuity allows communities to live and thrive, for example, on land that's below sea level via my father. And I also spent most of my childhood in Schenectady where you had General Electric and Knowles Atomic Power Lab.

So the importance of choice around energy sources and technology and the role of technology really imprinted early. Both of my parents are minorities within minorities, not necessarily in the traditional sense, but my dad is Dutch, but he's really Frisian. So the Frisian people, it's a separate language, it's a separate culture.

It's part of the Netherlands. It's in the North. But his first language was Frisian, then Dutch, and then German. He grew up in a German occupied village during the war and he was also [00:03:00] Catholic. So most of the Catholics in the Netherlands are from the South. So he was a Frisian from the North who was a Catholic.

When he was growing up, a lot of the Catholics couldn't find jobs in the North and so would have to go down to the South, to Delft, to other Southern cities to find work. So I think from his perspective growing up. He didn't fit into a category. He didn't fit into one defined culture.

He was hard to pigeonhole, so to speak. And my mom was similar. And I think that's probably what drew them together. You know, I only knew one of my grandparents, my Noni, my mom's mom my mom's parents were Sephardic Jews who came over via their parents in the 1910s and they spoke Ladino.

They spoke Ladino to each other. Ladino is a Spanish plus Hebrew language. I don't know how many people speak it, but I can't imagine more than 200,000. Same with Friesian. And, grew up in New York City. They were in East New York, they [00:04:00] were in Spanish, Harlem and they. really didn't necessarily fit into the sort of predominant Ashkenazi culture and so were themselves a sort of minority within a minority not at all mainstream which I think there was a freedom to that.

They didn't fit anywhere, which created a sense of opportunity. you could build the community you wanted. You could build the future you wanted or chart the course that worked for you. But also there was probably a sense of fear, right? That, without community, I think they were concerned that me and my siblings would be a little bit unmoored.

Mike: You mentioned your grandmother briefly, but I think that history is so cool. You mentioned her working in a diner. What was she like and what was her impact on you growing up?

Avra: Oh, she was incredible. So she again, I only had one grandparent, my Noni but she was so special. And she was so resilient. I think my

grandfather struggled with depression, [00:05:00] didn't always have a job. My mom had an older brother and she was just this, resilient, strong, Sweet, hardworking woman who loved us to the moon.

I felt unconditional love from her, unconditional support and she, I think I would say it was her that more than anyone else imbued the sense of hard work. And also that with hard work, she really loved her life. She loved being a grandmother. She loved being a mother. She loved cooking.

She would cook amazing Sephardic food, barakas and frittata and delicious, food that I still think of when I think of my community and my culture. That's what I think of food, more than anything else. And so she imbued this sense of hard work, but that hard work. and independence go hand in hand, that by working hard, she had independence to do things.

And Before we lived in Schenectady, we lived in Saratoga, and she would take the bus all the way up and visit us. And she was alone for the entire time I knew her, but but independent. And so [00:06:00] loving.

Mike: somebody like yourself, somebody, I think, like me as well, there, there's so many easier paths that we could have taken rather than going into social impact work or doing entrepreneurial things. What was it about your personality at that age or the environment that you grew up in that sort of pushed you down this path towards doing things that are related to social impact and, getting involved in innovation rather than, following a more traditional career path.

Avra: Often I think people have a story,, one story that was pivotal for me. I feel like my interest in creating and building and specifically environmental impact was not one moment or one story, but a series of, you know, series of events throughout my life including, just watching my dad with all his sort of wacky inventions.

He's a little bit of an absent minded professor, and I can't say I understand them all or even Any of them, he built this anesthesia machine when I was really young, it was based on this theory that the heart isn't a straightforward pump, it's twisting rather than just contracting [00:07:00] and he also created a device to inhale oxygen. Oh, three. He had this little, it was almost like, it looked like a bong, honestly, like he had this little like oxygen three bong that he would infuse it with oregano oil and just sit there and Inhale this oxygen three chamber. This is 20 years ago.

This is way before the new trend around oxygen which hilariously my sister who's a doctor at one point took away from him. Because she thought it was unsafe to put it on a high shelf, which is so funny to me because he's taller than she is a little bit funny, anyway, so I had this entrepreneurial dad and inventor dad, I had the sense of hard work and I had this, background of industry, that again, the sort of EE around me.

And I think for all of those reasons, social impact was always, I think my dad being a doctor, my mom being a social worker these are careers that really are about, the human condition and doing something meaningful with work. So that was always there. It was [00:08:00] adding to that, this idea of invention and creativity and problem solving. via building new things that imprinted over these moments seeing my dad being excited about the possibility and the potential of new inventions and new technology. And yeah, no it's not for the faint of heart, this work of building, of creating, of starting something new.

It's certainly not for the faint of heart, but it almost. Feels to me unavoidable.

Mike: Yeah. I feel the same way. I'm I remember distinctly from my childhood my dad in particular really saying, it's best to work for yourself. It's best to create your own path. I'm wondering, where your parents were in that, if they were supportive or encouraging you to do that, or if they might've been more comfortable with, you graduating and getting a job and et cetera, et cetera.

Avra: my secret is that I was a lawyer. So for a while they felt that they were safe with me. I think I'm afraid not to work. I have always valued work. Work has always been valued in my family. My brother and sister and [00:09:00] I, while very different and creative in different ways You know, divergent skills. We have one thing in common and that's that we've always focused on work.

We've worked through college, we worked in high school and it's almost. I have a fear that if I stop working like I'm, how sharks, if they stop swimming, they'll drown. I think I have that mentality ingrained in my mind. Work is a pathway to independence. Work is a pathway to adding value and being a productive citizen.

I may have taken it to an extreme. But that is this, that is the overarching feeling I have. And in some ways it gives me motivation. It keeps me, it gets me excited. I feel the, I do feel the value of a productive workweek or productive day or accomplishment. The pandemic was an interesting one because it was the first time I found myself, out of a job after the company I sold was, I'd been there for a while [00:10:00] and it was sold again.

of all the times to not have a job, six months pregnant in the pandemic was not what I was hoping for, was not what I was hoping for.

Mike: I believe it. And I had actually a similar experience. I left my last company in 2018 to start like a service business. And Essentially, I had a year I intentionally took a step back to refactor it and then went into the pandemic myself, without a strong sense of purpose. So it was difficult. I can relate to that.

I'm curious, what prompted you to choose law as a pathway for yourself?

Avra: I think it goes back to this concept of deriving value from work and being a contributing member of society via being a profession that adds value. So I think I went to law in part because I love reading. There's a, mis misnomer out there or mistaken [00:11:00] assumption that when you go to law school, it's all about reading and language.

It is that, but it's not the same type of reading and writing I love to do. I liked it. I liked it fine. I learned a lot. I made great friends. It was incredibly valuable as an education and it also enabled me to realize exactly what I wanted to be doing, which was that I love building, I love creation, and I want to work for organizations that are doing that and finding solutions to the world's hardest problems.

I went to law school. I worked at a law firm for two years. When you work at a law firm in the litigation team, you're often seeing situations where everything that could have possibly gone wrong has gone wrong up until that point, such that everyone is litigating and not, there's not, there hasn't been, a consensus around what the right outcomes are.

So I think my attempt to go to law school also derives from probably some, subconscious pressure to also have a job, be able to have [00:12:00] a safe profession identify a path that enables job opportunities and enables , consistent livelihood. It was when I was a lawyer that I realized how profoundly different legal careers and careers that start with a legal background can be.

And that I didn't need to. Give up on this dream to be creative or be part of the sort of creative solution driven entrepreneurial world, but that I could take this background and apply it to what was always felt my the, what always felt like more of my calling.

Mike: I'm curious, I, I don't want to go through necessarily every company you were at before elemental, but it does strike me, my career path has been very winding and twisting, but there's a definite for myself, a very clear through line. And for you, as I was looking at your work history, Trespa, modular construction, sustainability, and eliminating.

Construction waste, which I actually think is a really exciting opportunity. Shared e [00:13:00] bikes, rideshare, transportation, robotics. These are all startups and tech and interesting and niche ways, but all sort of climate related and indirectly. So I'm wondering the extent which that was. Intentional or was it more opportunity driven?

Were you had an opportunity for a job and one thing led to another?

Avra: That is a great question. And. Very kind. Everything makes sense in hindsight. At the time, I think it was equal parts being intentional about big picture goals and then seizing opportunities that came along the way. I, once I, the reason I went in house to join TRESPA and Green Street Holdings, where I had amazing mentors, the CEO of the organization was absolutely brilliant and had really high standards.

Which was a great place to start your career, right? Really great to cut your teeth with somebody who always expected more from you. And I, so I went to TRESPA early. I left the law [00:14:00] firm quite early. It was 2008. I was working on Lehman Brothers, the first financial crisis.

Mike: Oh, wow.

Avra: And they were a client. So I went to work for a client and I realized that by going in house, I had the potential to shift from litigation to building, to supporting a company that was poised for growth, that had this potential for a sustainable building design and rethinking how buildings are made.

We all know how buildings contribute to, to, to CO2 emissions and GHG emissions. So that felt intentional. in that the opportunity came to me and it felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity in the sense that I was fairly young in my career and it provided the opportunity to do this building that I so craved.

It was literally building, right? It was moving to a building company. And then and then I had an opportunity to move to the Netherlands with that company and decided to Really take the sustainability work one step further and try to find a technology [00:15:00] company in New York that also had some software was also part of this burgeoning whole trajectory makes a lot more sense, now.

But at the time, the move from a building company to transportation, electric transportation company, didn't always make a ton of sense to everyone. And I remember polling people about what to do and figuring out if this is the right move and getting a ton of advice. And a lot of the advice was like, it seemed like I was too young in my career to take a risk in joining a technology startup that potentially was very risky.

So I defied the advice that was given to me by many and joined jump. And it was at the stage of growth where they were very early in their fundraising journey. somewhere between 10 and 15 people. And. Very early in the fundraising journey and with a hardware product that also had a software element that required government procurement and a that lived in the public right away.

So it was so hard to fundraise for [00:16:00] this company. It was a nightmare. I mean, this is a time when venture capital was really looking at software as a service and probably only software as a service. Plus the recoil from, clean tech 1. 0. So it was incredibly hard to fundraise. The government procurement part really scared off investors.

We made it through and I was able to be at jump and be part of the, executive team as we went from. Series A to Series C to strategic acquisition by Uber.

Mike: Gotcha. not kidding when I say I've been a fan of elemental for a while. I've been aware of it. I don't know, maybe three or four years, probably right around the time when you came on is when I first discovered it. It's such an interesting model and I think it's unique in the space and really sets itself apart from many climate organizations.

I think climate in particular as a cause sector has a huge range of Qualities of organization. Some are great. Some are not doing, I think, a lot of good, but elemental really, I think, distinguishes itself. I'm [00:17:00] curious about your transition the private sector to working for elemental. how did that transition come about?

How'd you know it was time to make that jump? Was it something you were looking for? Was it more again, opportunistic? Tell us about that transition over.

Avra: Yeah, it's a great question. so One of the things I learned in my time scaling and selling Jump was that I absolutely love working and supporting entrepreneurs, working with entrepreneurs, supporting entrepreneurs. So when I was thinking about what to do next and knew that it would be in the capacity and in service of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, one way or another, as a investor, as a.

Person helping to grow a company or in some other capacity. But that was what I love to do. And working with entrepreneurs is exactly what I wanted to be doing. I had been coaching, I had been advising a number of startups. I had been asked to join a board or two. I was really thinking about the [00:18:00] next chapter to drive impact in this particular way, helping companies scale or organization scale. So I found my way to elemental interestingly because I was in this period of thinking about what to do next. And I talked to a friend, and the friend is a CEO of a fantastic building decarbonization company.

And he said, have you talked to Elemental recently? He was alumni of Elemental. Now, I had applied to Elemental. At jump in 2014 and been rejected. So jump had applied in 2014. It was energy accelerator then, and we were rejected. So I knew of elemental, I knew of the work, but I hadn't been on top of what they were up to recently.

I hadn't been tracking all of the amazing developments or growth beyond Hawaii and California. And so when I was talking to my friend on now, and he said, you really should talk to them and see what they're up to, because. In his words, I [00:19:00] don't know anyone doing more for climate than this organization.

So I got on the phone with them had a great conversation, I said, I'm not really sure if there's if it does not put us in touch, I'm not really sure if how I can help, but I want to help if you are ever in New York or I don't I'm really happy to send them your way. And they said, actually, we're hiring an entrepreneur in residence.

And I applied, I became their entrepreneur in residence and then I stayed and then I became their COO. So that was about three years ago. And I've been. With the organization now for that amount of time. And it has been beyond what I hoped when I think about supporting entrepreneurs and finding ways to fill gaps and really be in this climate ecosystem.

Because elemental really has innovation deep in its DNA. And working here is a chance to continually evaluate broader challenges and how we can help fill [00:20:00] gaps and how we can drive funding to the most impactful technologies that are bringing the most amount of community benefit and how we can go where others aren't.

And that's been really the last three years is how to do that more and more.

Mike: What is elemental accelerator? What's the elevator pitch and how is it unique in the climate space?

Avra: Accelerator is a non profit investor. We're focused on scaling climate solutions with deep community impact. We invest across sectors, so transportation, energy, buildings, water, food, ag, circular economy. Nature based solutions. And we have a track record of investing and supporting climate companies that are bringing community impact that are incorporating community feedback into the process of where climate projects are deployed.

People say all politics is local, all climate projects are local. To do climate projects well, there, Not happening in a vacuum. They're happening in [00:21:00] local communities. They're happening with people on the other end And so we find ways to partner with community groups and community Stakeholders like local government and workforce development agencies and community colleges To make sure that the projects that are deployed are doing so with feedback from that community and those local partners along the way So at this point, we have a portfolio of over 150 investments, investment companies.

Those portfolio companies have gone on to raise eight billion in follow on capital. So we're looking for big companies with big opportunity. They have impact, but to have more impact, they need to scale. We steward government and philanthropic funding to invest in portfolio companies. And we invest deeply and not just in the Helping companies scale, but also finding ways to provide innovative and creative ways to fill other, not just financing gaps, but support gaps in the market.

So [00:22:00] wraparound support like coaching on carbon finance policy, equity, fractional CFO work, corporate connections, diverse talent acquisition, follow on funding Funding partnerships from government and on and on and on. So last year was a really big year for us. We scaled significantly. We implemented more projects than ever before with more partners.

We made 37 new and follow on investments and other 12 cohort in 2023. I think 2024 is going to be an even bigger year.

Mike: Of the organizations in the portfolio, is it all for profit companies or is there, are there nonprofits? Is it a mix? What's the philosophy there?

Avra: We invest in for profit companies. Were later stage accelerator. So we're looking for companies that have, out of the lab technologies in the world with some customer traction. And we look to help those organizations scale. So you think of elemental we ingest funding [00:23:00] from philanthropy and from government funding sources, high friction capital.

We have a rigorous investing philosophy and compliance infrastructure that enables us to then invest that capital in ways that we think are low friction. So via simple investment structures, like something called a safe note, that's a simple agreement for future equity. This is something Y Combinator started.

So simple , convertible note type structure that enables the companies to use that funding for specific purpose. So what we do is when we invest, we often will say, we'd like to invest in this type of project and we will scope the project with the company. We will think about the community partners that should come to the table or the particular customers at issue.

And they'll apply to the elemental program with a project in mind. And while we're investing via the simple instrument, we're doing so with project [00:24:00] milestones. So it's a hybrid, right? The government grants often have very specific project based milestones, so we take the sort of best of the government model and the best of the venture capital model to provide what we think of as catalytic capital into companies to get them to the next stage of growth. We often invest in this sort of tranche.

Of work, which we call development work. So it's permitting, it's siting, it's working with community stakeholders. It's funding the necessary ground and market building that we know is needed to scale and that often other investors don't want to fund.

Mike: I think that's part of why I became a fan of the organization is that you guys really do get into the nitty gritty and the unsexy sort of very wonky stuff. That's so important as well as the community integration side of it. As you're looking at candidates for investment I'm sure there's thousands of startups out there that would sort of, at least on the surface, fit the bill of an investment from elemental [00:25:00] accelerator.

What are some of the things you really look for? What's the criteria and how do you evaluate? A company as a good fit for the portfolio.

Avra: Great question. as you mentioned, we receive a ton of applications. We have a multi step process where we take that pipeline and ultimately select, between 15 and 20 right now. Companies a year. So we select 15 and 20 companies per year based on this pipeline that begins at maybe over, hundreds.

The process is one thing. Big picture we're looking for. Is technology that We think we'll bring meaningful local benefit. It can be across the climate spectrum. So again, transportation, energy, circular economy.

We looked for some amount of de risking, some amount of commercial traction, some amount of investment to date. But really, can we add value? It's the same [00:26:00] way I approach being on a board, which we can also talk about it in a little bit, but can we at Elemental provide capital that is catalytic, that is, that, where others might not be?

Can we at elemental make our training at elemental provide some sort of value because it's our expertise. We have tons of partners. We have a framework for how we partner with communities called the square partnership model. We have this entire comprehensive training that we ask all of our portfolio members to go through.

So are they the type of company that would benefit from being part of this ecosystem, part of this curriculum and part of this network. We also try not to invest in the same exact. Type of technology twice. The good news is innovation is endless. So it's not that hard.

Mike: It's well also, the issue of climate is so complex and. Literally global that there's just so many avenues in

Avra: Yeah,

Mike: you mentioned, the catalytic support, you mentioned some uniqueness and what elemental accelerator can bring to the [00:27:00] table. What is that ongoing support and accountability look like, once you have a portfolio company in there, what's the oversight, what's the support, what's the relationship between.

Elementals team and the entrepreneurs.

Avra: that's great question. So elemental, we'd love to fill gaps. We'd love to try new things. One of the things we do is we provide ongoing prizes and support via investments to our existing ecosystem. So that's the big one, ongoing investments and prizes. The prizes can look like a lot of different things.

And it's a way to experiment to see if there's some valuable type of service we could provide that we can potentially scale. So extended policy coaching, a storytelling prize to make the technology relatable. We also, might have a prize around community partnerships to try to spur new collaborations.

And so ongoing prize access, ongoing follow on investments. We have work we've been doing for the last [00:28:00] year where we call it our scale up investments. We've been doubling down on our founders with deep impact. We've been providing follow on investments or catalytic investments. As they scale, especially when there's a co investment opportunity and the project has local impact that we think is really powerful.

So that's one I think Elemental's superpower is really the power of its community. Every year we have a summit for our CEOs. We get everyone together for a number of days. And the idea is that it's peer led learning. So they come together, we have some programming, but a lot of the programming is led by the other CEOs.

And at this point, because we have over 150 investments and we've been around for over a dozen years, the portfolio is a lot reflects a lot of different stages from, series a through, public. And so what we see is that the wisdom in the room is deep. It's profound and it's a group of people who are eager to share [00:29:00] and help lift up other entrepreneurs.

I One example of how we provide ongoing support might be something like a recent week in DC. So we had a tremendous week this week in DC where we convened portfolio companies and other business leaders for what we called our clean energy business and innovation week.

We brought together our portfolio with different administrative officials and stakeholders from government. The idea being let's bring innovation closer to policy. The idea being the IRA is a profound opportunity. It's the opportunity of our time and it's powerful for government stakeholders to also see these examples of technologies bringing real impact for real people. solutions for real people in communities around the country, not just in blue States, but in all 50 States. So it was a chance to draw these connections [00:30:00] and provide programming around meeting different stakeholders, talking to different agencies, showcasing technology solutions in relatable way that uplifts local stories.

And that was something we made available to our entire portfolio. so that's the type of thing that if you're part of the elemental portfolio, we had 30 companies in attendance of, over 150, They're all alumni. so it's that type of access, but it's really also, one of the sort of things I like to joke about is we have this, this annual shareholder survey that is.

So long but we get over 90 percent completion rate every year because have to complete it to come to the events. And so I think that's a pretty good sign. It's a pretty good uncommon economic indicator as it were,

Mike: Yeah. You mentioned, some incentives, prizes, follow on investments for the portfolio companies. If they're doing really well, I want to make sure we talk about that impact that these companies are creating. How does elemental accelerator think about impact and measure it across such a large [00:31:00] variety of companies and projects?

Avra: that is so hard and something we were thinking about every single day. One obvious and very top of mind metric for us is jobs created. So are they creating jobs?

Mike: not something you usually think about for a climate org.

Avra: I know. I know, but when we are diligencing a company, we're looking through their specific impact metrics.

We're doing a deep dive into how they're calculating, what methodologies are they using and , is it transformative in the sense that there's real impact there? And it's not just this. Sometimes if you slice the data really small, it looks really good. We have experts on the team.

We have the directors of innovation. It just isn't always going to be the same thing. It might be gallons of clean water. It might be reduced utility bills. It might be for charging infrastructure via a workforce development program, like with one of our charger help.

So take an adaptive [00:32:00] and data driven approach that looks at what the company is doing. And isn't, it doesn't, if we just looked at something, one measure, we would miss a whole world of technologies that are driving impact every day in people's lives, right?

Reduced utility bills can take a ton of different technologies to get you there, right? There's not one size fits all approach.

Mike: I would like to dive a little bit deeper into that. Some of the things you mentioned, reduced utility bills, gallons of water. Those are, it's impactful, but those are sort of outputs. how do you look at the difference that's actually making for the community long term?

What do gallons of clean water mean to the people you're talking about? What do the reduced utility bills mean to the people that are affected by those companies?

Avra: Yeah, it's a great question, right? So I think a great example is a company called Source. So Source uses sunlight and air to make drinking water anywhere. It's a renewable [00:33:00] off the grid drinking water system. Transforming moisture from the air right into pure water without any electric input at all. So what Source does, so you think about Source and we worked with Source a number of times.

So in terms of , our ongoing portfolio and community, Source is a great example of, a company that we've invested in once, invested in again, partnered with in 2022, we worked with them on our Square Partnership Prize, where they worked with an unincorporated area near Texas, where there were contaminated wells that left people without access to clean drinking water.

We worked with them and a few community stakeholders to install hydro panels. In 21 residences, and they're using that as a template that's replicable. They're now planning for a community garden. clean water can be used to grow crops for the residents. Source is a very late [00:34:00] stage successful company.

We could measure how many plastic water bottles they've eliminated. We could measure what these off the grid panels reduce in terms of, not having to have electrical input. the CO2 reduction. But the sort of real life impact on these 21 residences. is profound. And again, the benefit of having ongoing relationship with our portfolio companies and providing this type of support and these targeted prizes or these targeted partnerships is we have an understanding of what that impact looks like.

Is that huge? No, 21 residences, but it's part of a number of different, amazing initiatives that source has while they're scaling this technology that can be deployed in communities like Sandbranch and, around the world. So that's the type of data we collect, right? it's.

It's important to tell the story of the examples behind the metrics because that's what feels [00:35:00] so powerful.

Mike: I imagine you're similar In this way, I get giddy around like cool tech like that. If you can install a panel in somebody's house and it gives you renewable, clean water, like that just makes me excited. in addition to source, what are a couple of other real standouts within the portfolio that either are showing massive impact or that you just personally think is really cool tech.

Avra: Oh my God. It's hard to pick favorites. I love foreign mobility. So foreign mobility builds electric charging depots. Which enables accessible ownership right now they create huge depots near shipping yards and it's an integrated electric charging station.

We worked with them on a specific project in Long Beach. They worked there collaborating with the sort of Harbor trucking association. This project provides charging infrastructure, which both enables the charging, but also has an innovative financing model where it helps the fleets and the independent owners lease the [00:36:00] trucks.

So shipyards. and ports are some of the worst places to live in terms of cancer rates in terms of air pollution and about almost 40 million Americans live within three miles of a port. So this is a huge problem. Of course, of these 40 million people.

A high percentage or low income and minority populations disproportionately impacted by diesel emissions. So the project is one that models how decarbonizing this industry is called drainage. So how decarbonizing the drainage industry can prevent pollution in communities. So it's one, the move to EV, but it's very impactful to air quality right away, immediately in this hyperlocal way.

This stat is pretty powerful so one of the things that's really exciting about forum. Is the way they understand that electrifying drayage, this last mile trucking transport is they understand it also is very much an environmental issue.

And that people [00:37:00] who live in Wilmington, California, this is the neighborhood adjacent to the port of long beach are 98 percent more likely to contract cancer. And this is a port where you have 23, 000 trucks driving in and out every single day.

Mike: one

of the most active boards in the country.

Avra: yeah. Yeah. And California, of course, mandated the, that dry age be zero emission by 2030. In the next 12 years So yeah, not 20, 30, 20, 25. So it's a really important health issue and pollution issue and environmental , justice issue.

Mike: The environmental justice side of it, I think is something that doesn't get enough play. I maybe did a few years ago as we were talking about the Maldives, slowly being covered up in water. But what do you see? On the environmental justice side from your work at elemental or what some of the portfolio companies are tackling.

Avra: Yeah. I think a lot of our portfolio companies fundamentally understand the environmental justice issue. they're, building businesses, but they're mission driven, they're impact [00:38:00] driven. I know that's, in the heart of forum CEO, when he thinks about that 98 percent more likely to contract cancer rates.

And there's many different ways of addressing environmental justice. We need to do more. this is where policy is an important lever. I think some of the federal policies have been interesting because they focus on environmental justice in the form of justice 40.

So ensuring benefits, 40 percent of the funds are going to low and disadvantaged communities. But how it shows up and how we incorporate environmental justice into almost every kind of climate investment and climate policy is critically important. And so many of the people have been left behind by a technology boom.

to make sure we're listening and that we're going fast in some ways going really fast in terms of addressing climate issues and making sure we're deploying, but that in other areas, we're taking the time [00:39:00] to go slow, that community trust is going to be key to making sure the benefits of federal legislation and technology is embraced, but embraced with input.

So it's something trust is something we know is earned, right? and so I think making sure that from our perspective at elemental working through and creating models and frameworks to hopefully enable a sense of you, how that trust is earned, how that community input is valued, feels fundamental.


Mike: that's that inclusive stakeholdership piece and participatory design. I'm always telling our teams that we want to move fast, but doing it right is better than doing it fast. And that requires a lot of prep work.

Avra: So it's like moving fast on some things and moving slow on others. That's hard.


Mike: part of the art and science of doing this kind of work.

Avra: yeah, absolutely.

Mike: We actually have something similar to that in San Diego. As you're talking about it, I'm reminded we have a water quality [00:40:00] issue around The San Diego bay and it's upsetting for a lot of reasons, but what has become clear is that it's also a class issue. those areas do tend to be low income and they just get less resources and less attention from local government.

Avra: Exactly. And I think one of the magical things, not to go too into the weeds for your audience, but one of the magical things about the historic legislation around climate. Is it focuses on low and moderate income communities? There's a focus on, community input and buy in, but also making sure that the benefits of the climate investments are going to low and moderate income communities, going to LIDACs, going to frontline communities, going to disadvantaged populations in a way that hasn't been done with this level of comprehensiveness and thoughtfulness before.

Mike: you mentioned the IRA a few times for folks that don't know, we're referring to the very confusingly named Inflation Reduction Act. I still, I thought that was so funny when they [00:41:00] named it that, but it's mostly funding for climate initiatives.

I'm wondering about elemental accelerators, funding model about how you guys acquire funds both from philanthropy and government, but let's start with the IRA and other government grant programs, what is it like working with governments? , how does it function for you guys and for other people leading nonprofit organizations?

What are some things you've learned from working with government at that scale?

Avra: Yeah, it's a great question. So we were initially funded. In part by the DOE we received an Office of Naval Research grant. They've been a huge supporter and we've received funding from, dozens of different sources including philanthropy. As part of the IRA, we ourselves are working deeply with our portfolio companies to help them access funding directly.

We've not received funding from the IRA yet. We're applying to be part of coalitions responding to. really exciting, unique and innovative aspect of the IRA called the [00:42:00] Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. The idea is to build a self sustaining funding mechanism like a bank to invest in climate projects that have community impact and recycle those funds into future investments.

So highly innovative to create a policy mechanism that is self sustaining. So we are applying we're evaluating different ways that we can participate. At the same time, we're working with our portfolio companies to help them decode the amazing opportunities in front of them that are sometimes complex.

we have a policy lab that provides coaching around how to work with government, how to work with government stakeholders. for us, working with government partners has been fundamental to our entire history, to the context of how we've scaled.

They're one among many. We now have more philanthropic capital than we do government capital. They're one funder among many, but regardless of whether they are a funding source, Buyer, the federal government is the biggest customer in the [00:43:00] world. So that's very clear. They have a tremendous amount of power just by the power of the sort of pocket book of the government or so if, whether they're a funding partner, a buyer or a local partner in the form of.

The local city that has the ordinance that, is looking to accelerate climate action. There, there is a multiplicity of ways government stakeholders are absolutely instrumental to this green transition.

Mike: Gotcha. Is it an extremely bureaucratic process or? With some of these new bills that have passed, is it getting a bit easier for lack of a better way to phrase it?

Avra: there will always need to be some level of bureaucracy from the perspective of reporting and compliance and accountability, right? So there is. Inherently, some amount of oversight and rigor and reporting out that will be needed. I think the IRA has a lot of magic to it. I think it has magic and how it's infusing community infusing [00:44:00] focus on, disadvantaged communities, how it's trying to find ways of creating funding opportunities that have that level of, oversight and accountability, but also.

Enable innovation and speed. I think the speed is the name of the game right now, right? We know we need to solve the climate crisis. We know we need to do so quickly. We also know that there are political cycles. So we know that speed is the name of the game and we don't really have time to wait.

So I think there's been some innovation and I think that comms around how to access funding. I think the federal government works very hard to make the opportunities accessible to share them widely to make it simpler to understand what might be available for whom.

That being said, it's a lot. It's a historic amount of money. It's a historic opportunity. The opportunity doesn't come in one shape or size, there's credits, there's incentives there's the GGRF fund. So it's certainly a new world. And I think for [00:45:00] entrepreneurs who are trying to navigate it, it's not always straightforward.

Mike: I'm curious also about the philanthropy side. This is what I'm focused on with the startup that I've mentioned a few times with Altruous. But how are those conversations going or what's your strategy for approaching them with philanthropists when really what you're asking for is funding for.

Overhead and infrastructure and things that historically philanthropy doesn't like to fund.

Avra: Yeah, that's a great question. I think. The philanthropy world that we are talking to is very cognizant of information and financial asymmetry. And they see the opportunity that we see. And that opportunity that we see is one where there's a huge amount of capital for early stage startups. There's a huge amount of capital for growth stage companies.

There's also a tremendous amount of government funding on the sort of other side of this bridge between early stage and late stage. And so there's potential to be truly catalytic in this middle area, in this scale [00:46:00] gap, is what we call it at Elemental. So what we see is with a lot of the conversations we're having that we know that philanthropy enables us to move quickly to push into areas that, allow companies to scale that bridge more quickly, that it allows us to be innovative, to create new financial tools that reduce transaction costs that, reduce friction that enable access to funding in catalytic ways to get to the next stage and invest in the highest impact projects.

And I think what's really exciting is that in terms of storytelling, in terms of examples, we know that climate. Technologies are not an experiment in a lab or, an obscure scientific abstract, non concrete endeavor, but solutions that are reducing costs, that are making homes more affordable, that are [00:47:00] hitting everyday people in everyday ways.

And I think that the examples of investing in technologies. There's stories on the other end of those investments where a technology implemented with meaningful community feedback has the power to bring tangible, concrete, relatable benefits. And so we see our, hundreds of conversations and wonderful supporters, there's power to that.

There's potential in that. There's something very compelling and exciting both about. The entrepreneurs with, truly innovative technologies and the communities where those technologies are being implemented to great effect.

Mike: So they sort of get the big picture of it, I guess, you know, in short

Avra: and short. They see the potential that we see, and the potential is in providing funding where otherwise wouldn't be provided. And there's also something about leverage, right? This idea that public capital [00:48:00] or philanthropic capital can be used to then.

Entice private capital or build a bridge to private capital. It's the multiplier effect We like a 1 to 10 leverage where for every dollar that comes in, our portfolio companies are able to leverage 10 and following capital. But I think we see philanthropic capital as being hugely important, not just as a sort of one and done thing, Investment or gift, but as something that has a multiplier effect and catalyzes additional capital and has the potential to then be self sustaining.

Mike: Let's talk about the importance of storytelling at elemental and how that works in relation to funding in relation to awareness and how you draw in those stories from your portfolio companies and the communities you serve and get them out in the world.

Avra: Storytelling is top of mind at Elemental. We see the potential for storytelling to uplift the examples of technologies bringing real benefit. There's so many different ways we can tell this [00:49:00] story. It's a way of uplifting examples that have already been proven and implemented in the world.

And we've been investing in climate technologies for over a decade. And so there are untold examples of how it's impacted people's lives. The challenge is one of making sure that those stories, those examples, those case studies are hitting the right people or reaching the right people at the right time.

for listening. and we do storytelling in a whole host of ways. So when we think about storytelling, we think about, how to inspire action, inspiring action is one of elementals, three core pillars. It's part of our five year strategy. First pillar is investing in startup success.

The second pillar is partnering deeply. That's partnering with government, community groups, various important and instrumental stakeholders like corporates and Three, inspire action. How do we reach folks with the stories of startups and climate technology and [00:50:00] partnerships bringing community benefit?

So we think about that a number of different ways. We think about that as convening people together to share best ideas and best practices and think about co investing together. We use case studies to try to exemplify. How this can work in very specific examples. We experimented with prizes. We talked a little bit about some of our work.

One of our prizes was a storytelling prize where we made a video of how technology works in a home. The CEO there tells us that still the best way of expanding his technology is through this video that we made this sort of two minute fun video about how the company's called connector, how that product works in the home.

One of the challenges of being a impact organization is how do you measure your success? How are you holding yourself accountable?

Unlike a private company, you are driven by impact metrics. And so much of what we do at elemental is anchored around our five year strategy. And then we think of [00:51:00] our OKR process as the roadmap to achieving that strategy. So we've developed various different metrics to make sure that we're all moving in the right direction and aligned on where we're going, and that alignment is top to bottom throughout the organization, infused across the different teams, because we do a lot of different things to try to achieve the objectives of our five year strategy. we started, our OKR was about reaching 10 million people. It was a simple number, we wanted to reach a lot of people. Our CEO Dawn had a TED talk that itself over a million views, so we're very much on track for our 10 million, or reaching our 10 million. But what we realized about a year and a half ago is that we can reach all the people in the world, but if we're not reaching the right people with the right message, we're It's not as effective.

And so we recalibrated and now it's about influencing and connecting with and speaking to much more limited group of people with [00:52:00] the right messages at the right time. So that's where the power of convening comes in, where it's about bringing the stakeholders and the partners. That are doing things that are getting things done, that are excited to innovate, that are at the table, ready to invest, ready to reach across that bridge and pull with us a company to the other side, that's what's powerful right now.

And we've been really focused on that aspect of the work in addition to the case studies, in addition to the other concrete examples of how technology is deployed on the ground.

Mike: You mentioned OKRs, which I have to be honest, is, I think this is our 40th or 40 low forties recordings. I don't think it's ever come up before OKRs objectives and key results very common in the, for-profit and tech sector. But at nonprofits maybe not quite as much. I can say from experience, it takes a lot of hard work to get those right. So I'm. Curious, within elemental [00:53:00] how do you guys approach the OKR process? What are some lessons learned? How do you implement them? What's the role within the organization?

Avra: absolutely. So OKRs. Take a ton of time. That is just less than one go in with eyes open.

Mike: It's so easy to do them badly too.

Avra: Oh yeah. It takes a lot of time to the point where almost every word matters. The way we think about OKRs is we have a five year strategy. We have a strategic plan. The OKRs are the roadmap to achieve that five year strategy.

And we took a iterative refinement approach and. We created guardrails and scaffolding for check ins to make sure that we have set the right OKRs, set the right objectives, and then the key results, the measurement aspect, but also have baked into the process the acknowledgement That it is not locked and loaded and indelible.

This is the type of thing where we will need to refine over time and adapt [00:54:00] to the world around us. It is changing. When we started our OKRs, historic federal legislation and funding for climate technologies hadn't happened yet. So of course we're going to need to adapt, but we have, partner deeply to encompass the broader concept.

So we use OKRs, we set them almost two and a half years ago. We have both. Five year OKRs and one year OKRs. The one year OKRs we break into it's top line goals for the year. And then we break them into quarter and we have, connection points to make sure we're on target or more importantly, to acknowledge what has changed.

Things will definitely change, but it's about acknowledging the change, the rationale, the why. And the adjustment that comes from that, pivots are a part of every organization every company, every organization for profit nonprofit. So we use OKRs to translate these pillars into results. We set very specific, tangible goals, like we want to catalyze 20 billion into climate [00:55:00] technology.

they're specific. We need to know at the end of them, did we meet it or did we not meet it? It's okay if we didn't, but why? So we made sure that every single OKR has some sort of metric by which we can say we did or did not meet this goal.

And sure, it required a huge investment of the team's attention. We use workshops. The implementation process took. multiple meetings and workshops and cascades and conversations to ensure there was buy in that was really important to ensure that those objectives and key results those numbers, the 20 million into climate tech that we understood what that looked like this one particular okay are perhaps took five hours.

What does 20 billion mean? Where is it coming from? Et cetera, et cetera. For catalyzing solutions, what do we mean? Every word has to have a definition. We all need to be aligned on what that definition is. But then this idea of remaining flexible and focused at the same time, there's a tension [00:56:00] there.

And that was one that we really focused on making sure that we could approach these sort of multifaceted system problems with concrete deliverables then we infuse those OKRs throughout our team meetings, our board meetings. We use it as a way of communicating what we're working on and why.

So the repetition around using OKRs but then we also make sure that we are staying adaptable and innovative, which means there's a welcomeness to changing them as long as it is articulated and shared and there's a space to do so.

Mike: yeah. I love the way you talk about that. They're so challenging. They're so easy to do poorly. They carry a lot of weight. I think, a good simple rule of thumb is if it's not vitally important to the organization, it shouldn't be an OKR. Like it's, you gotta limit it.

It's got to be the top. You can do other stuff, but like the OKRs are like, iron clad, for the duration that they exist, but with that, there can be just so much pressure and emotion around attaining it or [00:57:00] not. But what I love about how you described it, it has that gravity to it, but it sounds from what you're saying.

And let me know if I'm reading too much into this, but it sounds from what you're saying, like a big part of having the OKR process at elemental accelerator is that it really drives a culture of learning. And innovation and improvement. How did you pull that off and presents it with your staff?

Cause that's another big issue. It's like you can create them, but to make sure it's top of mind for the team and they're working with them as a whole other challenge.

Avra: Oh, exactly. That is such a challenge. It's a, it's an exciting challenge, right? Because in terms of team engagement, in terms of a culture, there's absolutely a culture, one of our values is growth mindset. And we are learning and experimenting organization. We have a lot of things we do really well, but we are filling gaps where other funders, other organizations are not providing support.

That's in our DNA, right? So to do that, we need to be evaluating what worked, what didn't work and trying [00:58:00] new things and saying, Okay, we tried that. Maybe we're not gonna do that again. Let's move on to something else. So or this worked really well. We're now going to scale it. It's going to be part of our standard offering for every single portfolio company.

So we have this growth mindset culture. Which enables experimenting, encourages experimenting. Ideally we bake that into the OKRs, right? Like they're the top three priorities. And then there's this thing we're going to try. And the thing we're going to try, the goal of it is to learn five things, make sure we have a plan for how we do or do not want to scale it.

When I first launched the it took a lot of turns and meetings and conversations around how this could be used as a tool for alignment. And one of the powerful ways that we got, I think so much buy in and eagerness to embrace OKRs and our CEO is a champion from the [00:59:00] which helps, not only helps, but I would say is absolutely mandatory.

crucial. Is this idea that with this alignment, with this clarity around what the organization priorities are, you also have more ability to say no to things that there is more clarity around what is not a priority. So yes, these are the three priorities and as such, these other things are not priorities.

And so that alignment around a sort of culture of these are the things we're working on. We're so excited. It's cross team. It's important to the org. This is what we're saying yes to. I think again, creates a culture of, I know how my work relates to the mission. I know how my work relates to our five year plan and our objectives and where we're going.

And for so many folks who are in mission driven organizations, They're there for impact. They're there for mission. So to use OKRs as this alignment tool that enables constant reiteration affirmation of the mission and each [01:00:00] person's tie directly to that mission is so powerful. That's probably the most important thing.

And then the second aspect being. In the list of things to do in enabling prioritization, it also helps you identify or teams identify where they can say no.

Mike: Yeah. I love that approach to it. I think a lot of teams can look at, okay. I was, especially if they're new to it or it's new to the organization. It almost is like preemptive punishment. They almost like feel like they're in trouble before you actually even get to the, what the OKRs are. So I'm curiously, how you. Introduce it to folks beyond the CEO who might not have been as familiar, but how do you know what's in and what's out? How do you draw that boundary? Which is equally as important. How do you know inside what rises to the level of a top three OKR and what isn't nice to have, we can experiment, we can work on it if we have time, but it's not something we're all held accountable to as a team.

Avra: Yeah, it's a great question one best answered often with a workshop and in a [01:01:00] group and with a frame of what feels essential versus what does not feel essential. And that's why you prioritize. Okay, ours. You put the important ones first and you put the less important ones on the bottom, so that you know that the most important thing to focus on are these top three.

So one, I think , If you have that frame of what's essential and to answer the what's essential question, I think it's really important to start with why. Why do we have this OKR in the first place? If you can come back to the why, it's much easier to answer that. Is it essential or is it not essential?

If we have collaborated with all these partners and everyone's happy and they, haven't invested a single dollar into a climate company, and the goal is to invest in startup success. Is that success, right? So it's coming back to the why and what are we doing and for what purpose?

And then use that frame to answer the what's the most essential and would it feel successful to have achieved? Okay, our number four, but not [01:02:00] one, two and three.

Mike: I also think it's a fun opportunity as a leader allowing your teams to create their own individual. Okay. Ours that roll up to the team and the company. Okay. Ours as like a collaborative process where every individual sort of defines their own and then you do it as a mentor, in a way that they're then held accountable to.

That's all always how we've exactly. Exactly. It's a cascade, right? It's here's like a rough idea of the things we think are important for the org. Let's cascade this through teams to individual. Let's look back at the org wide ones. And if, five different teams are working on something that doesn't make it up to the org level.

Avra: Okay. R it's a sign that we forgot something, right? and you start with it. It's like this concentric circles. It's sort of almost the metaphor for cascade isn't my favorite cause it implies top to bottom where really it's sort of ripple effects. It's it's like a stone being tossed into a pod, right?

You're finding ways to. Make sure that you're talking to every aspect of the organization and that there is true alignment again for that sort of mission [01:03:00] point. So making sure it's not just at the leadership level, but then there are workshops within teams and then individuals are thinking about how their work ladders up.

One of the important things we did early is we made sure to provide an opportunity to say, we think these OKRs might be missing a few things, or this one OKR doesn't make any sense to us, so that it is not presented as something that's locked in stone. That is, immutable, but it's presented as something that is a draft for discussion.

I'm a huge fan of the straw person. Let's respond to something and see what's missing and then go from there as opposed to making it up. It's sometimes that's helpful to have an example. So presenting it as a draft, as one that is designed to solicit input feels very important. That was helpful for us.

Mike: how often do you revisit them? Is it annually quarterly?

Avra: Yeah, we create annual OKRs and we have two checkpoints that are more, [01:04:00] in depth where we evaluate and we refined, and that's at the six month period. And at the end of the year, and then we quarterly have managers with their direct reports, spend time evaluating their own one on ones via one on ones, their own.

Okay, ours. What changed? What they achieved where they could use more help. So it's a way of also creating a checkpoint or waypoint. If something is harder to achieve and needs to be revised, there's an inherent give in the system that enables that to happen on a regular basis every quarter. So twice a year and every quarter.

Mike: Yeah, I think it's important to say here that, there, there is a pretty well established structure to these, but it's just a tool and it is something that leaders can adapt to the needs of their own organization and make their own version of this.

Avra: Absolutely. And it's a tool that if you apply it to rigidly, you might miss the context shift that's happened in the industry around you and lose out on a strategic [01:05:00] opportunity or an important moment. And so it's just a tool, it's just a guide. We bake into our OKR, make room for opportunities, right?

That's one thing we do. It's in the DNA of Elemental to do that. So it's not something that you want, if you followed everything to the T, but missed out on some big opportunity that's also not success.

Mike: We've talked about 2023 as a big year. For elemental accelerator and rapid growth, team growth, funding more organizations and being poised for this year, potentially being even bigger. I'm curious what you're looking towards for this year, and I'm really curious about.

Any of these growing pains, like how do you cope with this kind of rapid scale?

Avra: It's a great question. We had a board member tell us that an organization that hits 50 people and we're about that a little bit North of that right now is Goldilocks size, meaning, we're like a little bit too big. To sit in the small chair and a little [01:06:00] bit too small to have the sort of resources and given the system with X, personnel that you can harness to work on a project.

If it comes up that it's just a challenging size, it's a challenging size for growth. And I think about that all the time. Ben Horowitz had a phrase that I like, which is there's no good executive. It's just is it the right executive for the right organization or company at the right time.

Something like that to paraphrase.

And I think about that all the time in terms of sort of tools and process and communication styles and how it changes through the life cycle of an organization. So how we communicate internally will change as we get bigger and bigger. I spent a lot more time as elemental COO thinking about internal communications than I ever did before.

I mentioned, Earlier this big week we had, it was so tremendous, so exciting. we had such amazing speakers and there was so much energy. Naturally, not every single person at the organization was there. Lots of folks were doing their amazing work, which [01:07:00] supported this clean energy business week.

But they weren't on the ground with us. So finding ways to both, explain the why of what we were doing, explain why it was so powerful, explain how it advanced our OKRs, but also, thank everyone for the work that they were doing to keep everything going, keep the lights on, keep the trains moving so that we could be there on the ground, convening these stakeholders in this powerful moment where, it feels like we're really poised to take advantage of.

The Inflation Reduction Act.

Mike: Yeah. So at this point, we've covered a lot. We talked about your upbringing, education, early career, the journey with elemental I want to zoom out a little bit just for a second and take the 30, 000 foot view. Looking at, Everything that you have in front of you and behind you, how does this moment in your life and your career feel unique and special?

Like, what are you excited about? How do you feel about the situation you're currently in? What does this point look like to you in your career?

Avra: No one has ever asked me this question before.

[01:08:00] I feel that this year is a tremendous opportunity to bring together, bring to bear, various streams of what I've been working on for the last 20 years. I feel that we are at this moment where so we had this event amidst this week we hosted this future of climate capital event and we were lucky enough to have senators and really powerful thought leaders in the room.

And one of the said, we need to do everything everywhere, all at once. And he was talking about the IRA and to maximize success. And how I feel about this moment in my career is a profound sense of being excited and lucky, but also that with that privilege of the work I'm doing on climate, the work I've been doing, we've been doing at Elemental and community, The fact that there's so many companies that are ready to [01:09:00] build right now and are just looking , for, a little catalytic capital and support to get to the next phase.

I also feel like there's not enough hours in the day that there is a responsibility to make the most of the next, year. And this profound opportunity that's been afforded by not just the historic funding, but the, a hundred X amount of capital that's going into climate. And the awareness that, climate solutions are out there and real and ready to go.

And so I'm excited. I'm also like buzzing, like there's not enough coffee. Like I need a 28 hour day. And if somebody could just tell me how to make my day a 28 hour day, I'd be really grateful. So if you have any ideas, like Yeah,

Mike: for all of us, given how fast the planet is spinning. It's an exciting place to be right.

It's an exciting moment.

Avra: Yeah,

Mike: How do you feel about the future? And I asked this because. Climate is [01:10:00] such a heavy can be such a heavy topic, and there's a lot of alarmism, I think, rightly, and probably some, some underestimating and some hyperbole as well, from your vantage point with the people you get to engage with and the the work that you get to do.

How do you feel about the future of climate? Where do you think we'll be in, in 10, 20 years as a planet?

Avra: Mike. I think the future of climate is being written right now. I don't have a magic eight ball. Those things don't exist anymore. Uncertain.

Mike: they should come back if not. Yeah.

Avra: Ask again. So the future of climate is being written now. it's Pascal's wager, right? You have to act like you believe in God, even if you don't.

And we have to act like there's a solution. We have to do everything we can. I'm an inherent optimist. I can't. Not take the Pascal's wager approach and act like we can't try our hardest in every way possible I think [01:11:00] their solutions are there. I think a lot of things can and should and will come together to get us there.

There's certainly is a universe where, breaks cut a certain way, but I am an optimist and I'm living with that optimism and not just living without optimism, I'm thinking about ways to sort of. act on that optimism. And so I am TBD, big TBD, but feeling optimistic because there's a lot that's working.

There's a lot that's happening. There's a lot that's working and we need to do more.

Mike: It's funny. You mentioned Pascal's wager. I have a similar outlook. Mine comes from actually my experience which I don't think I've told you, but my experience as a poker player

Avra: No, you did not tell me.

Mike: I think about it in terms of expected value.

Avra: Yeah.

Mike: I find it hard to not believe in climate change at this point. There's still people out there, I don't know why it's controversial, but it is, whatever. Point being, there's [01:12:00] such high upside to investing in climate solutions and so little downsides, but there's such severe consequences. For not doing so that if you believe it, it's a no brainer.

But if you don't, if you're skeptical, you think it's already too late, whatever the case might be, you're talking about leverage, value per dollar and things like that. Like it's insane to me not to invest in it not to at least picture that future and do what you can to get to it. Cause the upside is so great relative to the risk and the downside.

Avra: A hundred percent. A hundred percent. I think part of the reason I'm so optimistic is this is a tremendous economic opportunity for investment. And the last One of our partners, Climate Power, came out with a report on jobs created since the IRA started.

Mike: Yeah.

Avra: Our new favorite phrase of the show. But since the, legislation began to infuse capital into climate jobs and benefits and projects, [01:13:00] 272, 000 jobs in the last year that are climate jobs specifically.

And we're just getting started. So I might feel differently. I might feel less optimistic, but for this huge economic benefit that people are starting to see and the opportunity for investment. That's the capitalist, right? The capitalist forces are driving my optimism,

Mike: Yeah. I think capitalism is a big deal. I think there's so many potential results, so many potential consequences, to, to investment or not. Where it's even if you miss the target, there's still a benefit. There's still a financial benefit and you still have cleaner bodies of water and cleaner air to breathe and more parks and just all these things that even if it doesn't have the world changing impact that you're hoping it does is still a significant improvement for folks.


Avra: the jump bikes were like this when we would go in city, it was amazing how excited people [01:14:00] were mostly after they had tried riding them, they might have some skepticism naturally, but they would tell us stories about how. This, e bikes, public e bikes that were available again in the right of way.

Nobody necessarily, contemplated how hard that would be, but they were so excited about how the new access to a new form of transportation. change their daily commuting patterns that, folks who would wait on a train station and the train would sometimes come and sometimes not in the sort of Bayview area of San Francisco, all of a sudden had an option that they didn't have before.

And they loved it. It was fun. They enjoyed it. It was something that made them smile. they would say that they would get off of our bikes and they would, have be grinning from ear to ear because it was a fun way of getting around San Francisco or wherever we were.

Somebody joked to us that we ruined bikes. We just went ahead and ruined bike, the form of transportation because the e bikes were so fun to ride.

Mike: yeah, I [01:15:00] don't know if I mean if you're going to ride, you're going to ride and you can still pedal if you

Avra: Yeah, that was said by a non cyclist.

Mike: That's absurd, but I love solutions like that too, because it's got the climate benefit. It's got the physical health benefit, the emotional health benefit, all these things.

I've done some board service myself, and I find it to be one of the most rewarding aspects of my work. I know you're on some boards as well. Let's talk about board service for a second. Okay. How do you view your role as a board member?

How would you advise others to look at it and take it on?

Avra: Yeah.

Mike: board member moments?

Avra: Oh yeah. Yeah. Favorite board member moment being on a, dinner boat in Berlin with made of air just because Berlin is incredible. And this company made of air, it functionalizes biochar, fantastic team, tremendous product. Visiting Berlin is amazing.

Mike: can you explain what biochar is? I just learned about biochar recently from a friend of mine who works at PG&E. It seems like this magic substance, [01:16:00] what

Avra: it is magic. It is a magic substance. That's exactly what it is. It's a magic substance that has been utilized for centuries, ? So it's basically black carbon produced from biomass. It's through a burning process called paralysis for the P Y R O L, which I shouldn't spell it, called paralysis.

But it's a lightweight, basically black kind of residue or carbon. , I think about molecules or mud. It's made of carbon and ashes, and it's a result of paralysis, and it's in the form of charcoal. And it is made by, again, by burning, but it's, it's a way that has historically been a way of burning and disposing of agricultural and forestry waste.

And so it captures the carbon and so doing, and what made does is it takes biochar, so this organic material from agriculture and forestry waste that's been burned via paralysis [01:17:00] and it functionalizes it. There's a sort of like a recipe and a processing that enables it to be used as the components to products like.

building materials, trespass, potentially, right? Like your cladding sunglasses, kitchen cabinets, , windowsills, anything really. So the total adjustable market is huge. And the potential of it is incredible because you're taking waste. It also locks in carbon. So made of air.

I'm on the board of made of air. It's a fantastic company. And any chance to go to Berlin would be with these amazing amazing leaders is a one I feel privileged to say yes to. I think, you know, your first question is what makes a good board member? When I think about board membership, I think first and foremost, is there value you can add to joining a board?

I would say there's not one sort of typology for a good board member. It's more a question about for this particular board and this particular board service type, and they're different. [01:18:00] There's nonprofit and for profit. There's observer director, the chair and the chair of the made of air board. So it depends on what your role is.

Observers should probably observe the role of chair is very different. I spend a lot of time up communication structures and working with the CEO to ensure we feel like we're talking about the right things. There's proactive communication or communicating about the highest priority items.

There's feedback on the hard challenges. There are no surprises. But I think the first question is, one, can you add value? And then two, depending on the type of board, think about what the right role is to play, and there certainly are some universals. One is that. It takes time and it's a commitment.

So to do think about what your role is and do so when you know you have the right time, you've committed the time to do it. it requires concerted work. It's a honor for sure, but it's commitment and it's work. And then I think [01:19:00] from there, the universals around communication, the other one is whatever the board is.

No surprises. So the surprises are the last thing you want. And then the last thing I would say is I love being on, I'm on the board of made of air as a chair. I'm on a nonprofit board. I love being on these two particular boards. Because I think they make me better. I think because I wear multiple hats as an operator and in service of boards as a director or chair, I have these structured extracurriculars that sort of make me better across both of my roles, right?

I think I'm a better COO, Because I'm thinking about how I have this experience of advising one click higher from sort of board vantage point. And I think I'm a better board member because I have experience in some of the more tactical organization building aspects of, what it takes to go from, five year plan to execution on the ground.

And it forces a perspective shift. So what I learned scaling helps me [01:20:00] advise an amazing company as it's scaling. And what I learned advising and thinking about all the pieces and how board members think about things and investors think about things makes me more effective. And it helps me to zoom out and take a beat and think about a perspective shift when I'm really in the weeds executing.

And it's not all I do. Of course, there's a lot that's strategic but it's, When I'm in that mode, having the board membership is a sort of a reminder of what would I say to myself if I was my board member?

Mike: Yeah. No, I think that's a great way to put it. I've, I have the same experience where board membership. Improves my work elsewhere and my operator tactical strategic work definitely makes me a stronger board member. I also think a lot of people don't think necessarily about that role of being active as a board member.

I think people assume if they haven't done it or some boards are probably like this, especially in the nonprofit space where it's, you're the funder, you're essentially the money that comes in and support. But being a mentor, it's true, the accountability piece, but being a thought partner and mentor, I think is a huge part of it that people don't [01:21:00] necessarily know about if they haven't done it before.

Avra: Oh, absolutely. And it it's really important. I mean, it's lonely to be building a company, right? Or an organization. It's very lonely work. And so I think one of the roles I have. Is just to be a sounding board, right? Once a week, sounding board what's top of mind and where do you need help as a brainstorm partner or just somebody to listen or, I'm happy to jump into sort of the details too.

So I think that's a huge part of it. And. I think it creates a space for a CEO to also troubleshoot early and have a, not a, it's not a confident position, certainly not, but have a, brainstorm partner on the hard things.

Mike: Yeah. I think you want people to push you in the right way to be values aligned by people that you would want to hold you accountable as it is. I think. Yeah.

Avra: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah

Mike: we could talk about this stuff for hours, but we'll spare the audience. For that. I just have a few questions.

We're just fun popcorn style that [01:22:00] I like to ask folks as long as I have their ear for a little bit. Besides climate change, you can't say anything related to climate or the environment. But besides that, what do you feel is the most important cause humanity can be working on right now?

Avra: but it's all related to climate. I was going to say food security, food security. It's related to climate.

Mike: Yeah, that's true. That's a fair caveat. Who you mentioned some of the organizations some entrepreneurs who are folks that you've worked with or for or been exposed to or read about who have really. People you think are doing great work or just have a lot of wisdom to share in social impact or otherwise that have just informed your work.

Avra: I talked about this week a lot. I just coming off of it. It's Friday. It's been a very long week, but I was able to hear from some real brilliant thought leaders from Gina McCarthy to. Jennifer Granholm. I have to say Gina McCarthy is one of the most impressive folks I've heard or spoken to. I mean, Just the way [01:23:00] she, brings energy and wit and charisma.

And , she said something about, she was trying to, galvanizing leaders about energy leaders and from the private sector about, How important it is to show up and talk to government and public sector leaders about the incredible opportunities. And the way she just said to them, you have the best story to tell because it's your story.

This is a moment to work together, to empower the country. This is about investing in our country again. I mean, she just. related to it and said something that I don't think a lot of people hear, which is go out and tell your story because it is your story. And so that's why it's a good story. That's why it's the best story.

Mike: Yeah. Yeah. I've, I've struggled with that myself thinking I don't have a story to tell, but learning that's not the case.

Avra: Are you kidding? I was like, who wants to hear a podcast of me talking? This is so boring. I'm bored, but it's, it's. But it's my story, so it is what it is. It's boring or not boring, it's still my story, right? Yeah.

The CEO of Elemental is [01:24:00] incredible and I learned from her every day. So there's people who are far away, inspiring, public leaders. And I also have the fortune of working with somebody who I'm inspired by and learning from every single day.

Mike: That's the best case. I think I look for that as well as in terms of teams and folks that I want to work with.

speaking of that, if you didn't pursue law and if you didn't pursue startups and climate tech, what's a career path that Was intriguing to you that you might've taken any

Avra: I loved writing. When I was young, I would fill notebooks and notebooks full of stories. they were terrible, but I really enjoyed going into different worlds and inhabiting them for a while.

Mike: particular genre.

Avra: I would see something on the news, there was a Barbara Walters story from 2020 on, orphanages in Russia that was a 300 page, novel in quotes. Nobody can see me do the quotes.

It was truly terrible. It took months of my life. I was so invested in this sort of story and trying to make sense [01:25:00] of this horrible thing I'd seen on the news and turn it into something that I could digest and understand and and inhabit. I wasn't ready to watch the news and let it go away.

I felt like I needed to. Delve in a little bit.

Mike: So interesting. You've been at elemental for three years. I'm sure you'll be there for a lot longer. It's, it sounds like you want to stick around. But

When you finally are ready to eventually leave elemental accelerator, what's something that you would like to have accomplished that you just feel great about as you move into whatever the next chapter holds for you?

Avra: I would love. To address the information asymmetry issue that I am talking about in terms of access to capital, this is not going to be a pithy. There's no way to make this succinct and interesting. I would like to have made a dent in addressing information and access to capital asymmetry. I would like to do that by finding ways of providing [01:26:00] clarifying and mapping how to access capital from different sources to demystify it for entrepreneurs who are busy scaling technologies and implementing them on the ground and for whom it is very hard to understand where the different sources of capital are that will enable their scale.

So the dent I would like to leave is I'd like to pioneer some initiatives that address this information asymmetry so that we can scale climate technologies faster and better.

Mike: We have a lot to talk about. Lastly lastly people who are listening, how do they get involved and support elemental accelerator,

Avra: There's a thousand ways to get involved. how you can plug in depends on your local community and depends on where you are.

And there's so many ways to plug in to local environmental action. All politics is local. We've said that at the beginning. All climate projects are local. Think about what's around you. [01:27:00] There's a hundred ways to plug in without investing in something far away. Your community has projects, your community has groups, your community has initiatives.

Find a way to bring that action locally. It's right there. And also vote.

Mike: please go vote.

It's a great way to, that's a great way to, to end off. Avra, thank you so much for your time. This has been a great conversation. I've thoroughly enjoyed it. I've loved getting to know your story. I've learned a lot. And uh, I'm inspired by your work. Keep it up.

Avra: Thank you. It was so fun to chat today. Let's definitely follow up and keep talking.

Mike: Let's keep the conversation going.

Avra: Keep the conversation going. Bye.

Mike: I think we've talked your ears off enough for one episode, so we'll leave it there for now. Big thank you to Ava Van Der Zee for joining us, and thanks as well to the team at Bryson Gillette for making the introduction.

If you haven't heard of them or listen to the first episode of the season, Bryson Gillette is a mission driven strategic communications and public affairs firm. They partner with organizations, companies, political candidates, and [01:28:00] individuals fighting to make the world a more safe, just healthy and prosperous place for everyone.

You can learn more about Avra's work at elemental accelerator. org and in the show notes at cause and purpose. org. If you enjoyed the episode, please subscribe and leave us a review wherever you listen to podcasts and share it with a friend or colleague who you think might find it interesting or valuable cause and purpose is a production of Altruous.Org on behalf of myself, Avra and our entire team. Thanks so much for listening And we look forward to speaking with you again soon.

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Cause & Purpose is a production of Altruous, an impact discovery and management platform for the next generation of philanthropists. Learn more about our work by visiting

Original music composed by Justin Klump of Podcast Music and Sound.

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People in this episode

Mike Spear

Social entrepreneur, consultant, and podcast producer, Spear has been a member and critic of the impact sector since 2006. His work spans product, innovation, impact advising, storytelling, and go-to-market strategies. Part of the founding team at, specializing in helping social good organizations build amazing products, increase their impact, and scale.

Avra van der Zee

Avra is COO of Elemental Excelerator, a global climate technology accelerator and non-profit impact organization. As an entrepreneurial-minded executive with experience that spans the startup lifecycle—including rapid scaling, trial-by-fire dealmaking and the building of organizational culture—Avra devises, refines, and operationalizes EEx’s multifaceted strategy across all areas of the organization.


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