During London Climate Action Week, Slaughter and May were invited to be a panellist for the Undaunted Innovation Hub Panel event at The Royal Institution on 27 June.
The panel, chaired by Undaunted's director Alyssa Gilbert, considered how emerging climate innovators can be supported by the UK tech ecosystem. I joined Roland Emmans (Head of UK Technology Sector and Growth Lending, HSBC), Rob Godfrey (Co-Founder, Treeconomy) and Osas Omoigiade (CEO and Co-Founder, Deep.Meta) on the panel.
Slaughter and May is a long time supporter of Undaunted – a partnership between the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London and the Royal Institution, aimed at tackling climate change through innovation.
Here are four key takeaways arising out of the thought-provoking discussion:
Importance of connections
Early-stage climate tech start-ups often struggle at first to build the connections they need to raise awareness of their work, find a community of other innovators to collaborate with, and, crucially, attract investors. Start-ups might also find it difficult to appear credible to others if they lack a network of established connections to vouch for them.
Professional advisors, such as law firms and banks, are well-positioned to support innovators, not only by providing specialist advice, but also by being able to facilitate introductions between start-ups and corporates who are looking for potential investment opportunities which align with their decarbonisation and sustainability ambitions. Additionally, initiatives such as Slaughter and May's Fast Forward programme and Undaunted's The Greenhouse accelerator programme can also help facilitate connections between start-ups and investors, as well as between different innovators – which Treeconomy (as part of the Fast Forward programme) testified to during the panel.
Importance of good storytelling
One area of weakness for some start-ups is around storytelling and communications. While founders may be technical experts, they may sometimes have focused less on packaging their complex work into compelling stories. From an investor's perspective, it is important that innovators come prepared to clearly and concisely outline their problem statement. It is also key that start-ups identify who the audience for their product is, as this will inform and strengthen their communication strategy.
Finding the right investors
Not every investor will be the right fit for a start-up, but there are a few points which can help ensure a productive investor-innovator relationship:
- Investor-founder relationship: investors should get to know the founder, as the business may undergo changes and investors will need to be willing to support the start-up during these periods of transition.
- Common understanding of terms: when a start-up is looking for funding, it might be tempted to quickly accept the first offer it receives. However, it is key that the start-up fully understands and is comfortable with the terms of any offer being made (Lawyers can of course help with this!).
- Mission alignment: investors should be mission-aligned to the start-up – innovators should look at what investors have previously said and done in the climate and sustainability space to evaluate whether there is an alignment of values and ambitions.
- Non-financial value-adds: aside from providing funding to start-ups, corporate investors can add value in other ways, for example, by having relevant knowledge to the start-up and the sector in which it operates, and also by having a network that is relevant to the business.
London as a hub for climate tech innovation
Historically, people have looked to the US for climate tech innovation, but this has now changed, with London becoming a hub globally due to it housing a trifecta of people who buy (corporates), people who build (innovators), and people who fund (investors) climate tech, making the city a unique hotspot for innovation. This is further aided by London's culture of environmental consciousness and investment in the climate tech industry, meaning there is a wealth of talent to drive innovation.
Overall, this panel discussion has highlighted some of the many challenges emerging climate tech innovators face, as well as the ways in which professional advisors and founders can work together to accelerate innovation in climate tech, particularly in London.
Climate tech is a topic we will continue to explore further over the coming months and will look to publish further insights on the subject, including on data, AI, tax incentives and protecting innovation – published both via this blog as well as our longer form Horizon Scanning series, which you can subscribe to here.
If you are part of the climate tech community and would like to discuss the latest sector trends, or need help taking your venture to the next stage, feel free to get in touch with Oly Moir at firstname.lastname@example.org