Earth Day 2024: Lessons From the Climate Circle
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Earth Day 2024: Lessons From the Climate Circle

Get to know founders in the 2024 Harvard Climate Entrepreneurs Circle and what they've learned about climate innovation.

D'Urville Island, New Zealand

With 97 Harvard-led ventures incubated to date, our Harvard Climate Entrepreneurs Climate Circle is cultivating the next generation of climate entrepreneurs. Get inspired by a few of our founders this Earth Day.

Ian Speers, SPH '23

No matter what initial challenge you come to the table trying to solve, make sure that you map out and think about the climate implications of both the status quo and your proposed solutions. Climate change needs to be thought about early and often in this way and we cannot afford for it to be an afterthought or tack-on to a venture, innovation, or proposal. While everyone might not share that view or be as passionate as you are about addressing climate change, don’t let that dissuade you from keeping it as a focus of your work.

Make sure to connect and work with other like-minded people — take advantage of the climate-focused resources and organizations out there and don’t hide in a bubble. For example, connect with GreenProBono, Harvard Alumni for Climate and the Environment, and the Harvard Climate Entrepreneurs Circle.

Rana Hajirasouli, SPH Exec Ed '23

Once I started deep-diving into nature's systems and started exploring functions on a micro, meso, and macro level, I started to understand that we could build entirely new systems by mimicking it in design or process. To date, there have been thousands of inventions like this, from building self-healing concrete using bacteria, to emulating the design of Namibian desert beetles' fog-absorbing capacity in arid deserts for more sustainable water collection systems.

The possibilities are endless. Growing up in the desert, I thought we didn't have much biodiversity, but I was incredibly wrong. On the contrary, the most resilient ecosystems and organisms are the most fascinating to mimic because of the harsh and resource-scarce environments they operate in, having the potential to transform our understanding of the types of solutions we need to build to respond to climate change.

Joseph Williams, HBS '99

The moral or scientific argument about climate change may have validity in certain environments. However, it is not necessarily the best way to impact change on the ground when talking to a farmer. Change on the ground is most impacted by financial incentives. This is why our mission is to create mechanisms that financially reward sustainable behavior. Farmers, like most entrepreneurs or family businesses, are usually economically motivated.

Kevin Diau, HKS '23; Kyle Patel, HKS '23

Understanding what each team member envisions for the startup and ensuring these visions align is paramount. It helps prevent future conflicts and ensures everyone is on the same page, working towards a shared goal with a common understanding. The harmony of a team lies in striking the right balance between similarity and variety. If founders or team members are too similar, they might bring the same skills and viewpoints, creating blind spots in areas where the team lacks expertise.

On the other hand, if perspectives range too widely, a team might struggle to find common ground, leading to potential conflicts or misalignments in vision and approach. At 1Climate, we each bring our individual strengths, but our collective strength is knowing that we also cover each other’s weaknesses.

Adam Wasserman, HLS '97

When I began trying to learn about sustainable finance, it wasn’t easy — information about environmental, social, and governance issues is spread all over the place. Once you find what you were looking for, you’re often expected to read 50 pages about the differences between the International Sustainable Standards Board and the Global Reporting Initiative, or on the meaning of the dozen different colors of clean (or not so clean) hydrogen.

What we’ve done through Finpublica’s website is bring together and summarize as much open-source “ESG” information as possible. Our website’s goal is to let anyone quickly get up to speed on those sustainability topics they’re most interested in a matter of minutes.

Gautam Barua, HBS '97

I've had the good fortune of being able to develop my venture in partnership with a former colleague who not only leads a multi-billion-dollar real estate PE fund but also is well-connected with leaders across the industry. Over the past several years, real estate, like other sectors, has seen numerous pronouncements in favor of sustainability and climate, as well as a proliferation of ESG reporting. My former colleague has helped me learn about the actual mindset of industry execs. There are many pockets of resistance, if not antipathy, across the sector to taking real action on decarbonization.

Octavio Zapata, HBS '01

I came to realize that many executives still debate between business performance and the cost of environmental compliance. There are still no tools to steer corporate sustainability in a way that meets both, economic performance, and environmental compliance targets. Thus, Henua Technologies was born. Our software would combine environmental management technology, innovation, and business intelligence for companies of all sizes to implement sustainability, compliance, and process transformation programs that are efficient and profitable.

Future founders should know that customer acquisition may take longer than expected. This is not necessarily because of business model or product; startup dynamics and other factors can also slow you down. So, prepare yourself for it.