Historically, the Black community in the U.S. has been disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change. Relegated for decades to a vulnerable economic and social class, the community is nearly always at risk of facing the brunt of natural disasters, no matter where they occur.
This issue has inspired many Black founders and investors to enter the climate space, given that the conversation of today’s current crisis is led by white people and is hence missing some key perspectives.
“It’s crucial we see more Black investors and creators tackling climate change because the battle against this existential crisis demands everyone’s intellectual prowess, personal character and uniquely lived experience,” Stonly Blue, managing partner at early-stage venture firm Third Sphere, told TechCrunch+. “When Black individuals are given the space and autonomy to expand their ambitions beyond societal ‘survival,’ the potential for innovation is immense.”
The Black climate tech community is growing, according to investors and founders TechCrunch+ spoke to. But while funding to underrepresented founders in the space is dismal, it represents the sheer potential that remains.
Last year, U.S.-based Black climate tech founders received only 1% of all capital invested in climate tech startups, according to Crunchbase. That’s $214 million out of $21.5 billion. In the first quarter of this year, it was even lower: such founders raised $24 million of the $3.4 billion allocated or only 0.7%.
Data visualization by Miranda Halpern; created with Flourish
While striking, these investment levels are quite close to what Black founders have raised overall. Last year, Black founders raised 1.2% of all venture funding, and last quarter, they received 0.69%. That stubbornly low figure is almost certainly not representative of Black participation in climate tech, even though the actual number of Black people involved in the space is unknown. The lack of funding and dearth of DEI data suggests that the venture community writ large is overlooking a vast amount of untapped potential.
“The planet will burn if we don’t maximize the talent and genius embedded in the entire human race,” Donnel Baird, founder and CEO of BlocPower, said.
The early innings for Black climate tech
According to Blue, a growing number of Black venture capitalists are starting to take an interest in climate tech. Many hail from the energy, mobility or infrastructure sectors, as they intersect with the need for climate action.
On the other hand, those building the tech often have to work with material science, hard technology or industrial processes, and due to the time and complexity involved, they often choose against venture funding. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t economic opportunity in backing those who do.
Anthony Oni, a managing partner at Energy Impact Partners, noted that this sector would eventually become the largest economic and wealth-building opportunity in this lifetime, and the startup ecosystem can’t afford to ignore ideas, no matter their origin.