Entrepreneurial Mentorship

In the call to action of my TED talk on the Entrepreneur’s Journey, I exhorted seasoned entrepreneurs to answer the call to service by mentoring less experienced entrepreneurs.

Because entrepreneurship requires such different skills, heuristics, and calculi than other, much more common business arenas, having an experienced guide is invaluable to first-time entrepreneurs and can be the difference between success and failure. Furthermore, most successful entrepreneurs have themselves been the beneficiaries of mentorship so I would go even further to argue that it is a moral obligation to pay it forward to those in need.

In my own life, I have endeavored to provide mentorship to aspiring entrepreneurs in several arenas:

  • Employees – In my career I have had the honor to serve hundreds of employees as their leader. While it can be tempting in a fast-moving startup to focus just on what those employees can produce, I see my role first and foremost as helping them develop and grow. I am enormously proud that dozens of my former employees have gone on to found ventures of their own, creating billions of USD of value.
  • Academia – Wherever I have lived (and in some places I haven’t!) I have forged connections with universities to mentor entrepreneurial students, teach entrepreneurship courses, and advise startup efforts from students, faculty, and staff. There are few things more rewarding than hearing from former students whose class projects have taken off!

    My deepest relationship is with Rice, where I served as Entrepreneur In Residence for the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership and am now on the Board of the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. I mentor at my other alma maters, TJHSST and IMD, as well. During my years in Chapel Hill, I mentored at UNC – especially within the Adams Apprenticeship – Duke, and Elon. For years I have mentored remotely at the University of Wyoming’s burgeoning entrepreneurship program but, now that I have moved to Colorado, I may be close enough to start participating in person after COVID!
  • Accelerators – I have spent a lot of time participating in accelerator programs to help participants get off the ground. The Surge Accelerator, Groundwork Labs, 1789 Venture Lab, Launch Chapel Hill, The Ion Smart & Resilient Cities Accelerator and – of course – OwlSpark are several accelerators where I have hung my hat and where I have built lifelong relationships with hundreds of entrepreneurs.
  • Events – Startup Weekend, 3 Day Startup, and the Cleanweb Hackathon are short sprints to help entrepreneurs find each other and work on meaningful startup projects together – usually over the course of a weekend. I’m not aware of any startups launched during the events where I participated as a mentor that have taken off but I have made some great relationships and hopefully helped prepare some entrepreneurship neophytes gain the confidence to take the plunge later.

Mentorship has been incredibly rewarding for me and indeed my mentees have gone on to create orders of magnitude more impact than I have alone. However, there are only so many hours in the day so how can an entrepreneurial mentor optimize their time and impact? A few practices I follow:

  • Take all meetings: this is counter to the methodology of many sought after people, who prefer to gatekeep their time and connections, which I totally get. I have benefitted so greatly, though, from people taking my meeting requests, that I can’t help but pay that good will and karma forward.

    Rather than optimizing for # of meetings, instead I optimize for time and quality of those meetings. If I can’t help them, I’m clear about it early on. However, I have often found that I may actually be able to help after learning more when it wouldn’t have seemed so from the initial meeting request.

    Furthermore, I have found that sometimes years later I am in a position to help. For example, there was a student startup I mentored years ago. They were direct to consumer and in an industry I didn’t know well. I gave them some generic advice that didn’t seem very helpful to me. Apparently they thought it was very helpful, though, because the reached back out to me years later, having achieved so much success that they were being courted for acquisition. They then needed advice on negotiating acquisition terms, which is an area where I could provide very pointed value.

    Serendipity is so important to entrepreneurs and it is impossible for us to know a priori what will be helpful to them or how – sometimes a meeting with a more experienced entrepreneur provides less tangible benefit, like confidence-building. I also wonder if, when we act as gatekeepers, we introduce biases in advice and connection-making that result in unequal access.
  • Focus on mission-aligned entrepreneurs: Time is at a premium and life is short so I do focus my time on entrepreneurs working to transition the world to a sustainable, prosperous, and equitable energy economy. If you are working on a smoothie bar, I will still take the meeting but will work to connect you quickly with someone who is a more appropriate fit.
  • Focus on entrepreneurs with the greatest need: I try to focus my time on entrepreneurs who need the most help. The venture ecosystem is deeply inequitable and, if I can help level the playing field even just a little, that is time well spent.

    I was mentoring a team of Black founders who were having a hard time fundraising. They asked me to codeswitch their intro email/deck to “my” language and suddenly that had several VC suitors. To be clear, forcing historically underrepresented entrepreneurs to adhere to norms set by the mostly white, mostly male holders of power in venture is not the solution – but this instance was a stark reminder of the systemic barriers faced by entrepreneurs who don’t look and sound like me.

    If you are a rich white cis male from a top university, I will still take the meeting but I will focus much more of my time working with entrepreneurs who have systemic winds in their faces rather than at their backs.
  • Get out of the way: because my time is limited and because I am swamped with a million other things, often the most productive action I can take on behalf of entrepreneurs is to get out of the critical path by making an introduction or pointing them to a targeted resource. If they’re waiting on me for a detailed contribution, they will often be waiting a long time, and waiting is counterproductive for entrepreneurs.
  • Interrogate, don’t prescribe: I try never to tell entrepreneurs what to do. Firstly entrepreneurship research is full of evidence that so-called “experts” don’t know the right answer any better than neophytes. Secondly, new entrepreneurs gain more in the long run from forging neural pathways to develop answers themselves rather than being told what to do. As such, I try to ask probing questions and share relevant experiences. No one can walk the entrepreneur’s journey for them; all we can do is share context to help inform their path.

What do you think? This is – and will always be – a work in progress. How do you think about mentoring entrepreneurs? What key learnings from your own experience can you share?

The Mandalorian Review

TL;DR The Mandalorian is an OK show with high production value and occasional flashes of brilliance, occasional flashes of inexplicably low quality, but mostly mediocrity with a shiny veneer. It’s a fun romp of mindless fun but doesn’t capture what makes Star Wars special.

I usually review media properties in three sections: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Never has that felt so appropriate as with the Mandalorian, which is modeled very heavily on Westerns. WARNING: SPOILERS THERE BE BELOW!

The Good

  • The concept art shown at the end of each episode is amazing and it gives the impression that each episode is a comic book issue come to life.
  • The music is really well done; the main theme is captivating and it shows up in many different variations throughout the show.
  • Pedro Pascal does a really admirable job acting with his face covered 99% of the time.
  • The show really shines in the episodes that expand on the Mandalorian lore and bring the lone protagonist into the team sport that is Mandalorian combat. This is the way.
  • Although the tone of the show is Western, it isn’t afraid to explore other genres like horror, which keeps things interesting.
  • The fight choreography is mostly pretty good.

The Bad

  • Good though the fight choreography may be, much of the action is just . . . dumb. Crack sniper bounty hunters leave their sniper nests from which they are picking off storm troopers with impunity to go engage much larger numbers in hand to hand combat. Mandalorians stop using the blasters that are working very well to show off gadgets that are much less useful in the situation. Etc. etc. None of it matters anyway because the protagonists are invincible and are never in any real danger. Great action but, this action feels more like contrived set pieces. It feels very Game of Thrones Season 8 in its nonsensicalness.
  • It’s not just the why of the action that is nonsensical, but also the who. In literally 25% of the Season 2 episodes, the big bad boss at the end is a . . . career administrator . . . who happens to be amazing at hand to hand combat. In episode 5, for example, the magistrate is so intimidated by Ashoka Tano that she hires the titular protagonist to go hunt her. Yet, when Ashoka Tano – who went toe-to-toe with Darth Vader in one of the only good episodes of Rebels – confronts her, the magistrate is able to hold her own down to the very end because . . . reasons.
  • The show leans heavily on plot twists but they are all very clearly telegraphed. In the final episode, for example, the Mandalorian blows the dark troopers out the airlock but literally our only previous exposure to them has been them flying around – so it is obvious that they will fly right back to the ship. The only thing not obvious is that it will take them so long to get back because . . . that’s what the plot timing requires. For a show trying so hard to surprise us, there were very few surprises.
  • The worst episodes in Season 1 were filler side quests that didn’t result in the protagonist getting any closer to his goal; unfortunately there are many more episodes like that in Season 2. Shows like Stranger Things have demonstrated that you can pack a lot of development and complexity into an eight-episode season so it’s hard to settle for less from one of the richest IP universes around.
  • Gina Carano is not a good actress. She mostly smirks a lot and delivers her lines flatly.
  • The Mandalorian takes his mask off too often. He’s supposed to keep it on dogmatically all the time but he took it off in 25% of Season 2’s episodes. That really cheapens the effect and lessens the emotional impact of the final scene.

The Ugly

  • As I have complained about before, self-indulgent cameos really piss me off and The Mandalorian showrunner Dave Filoni loves to insert himself every chance he gets.
  • Much worse, though, is that most of the characters in the show are woefully underdeveloped so, as a consequence, I just don’t care about them.

    Nowhere is this more obvious than in Episode 5’s mercenary character played by Michael Biehn. Biehn winds up in a showdown against the Mandalorian at the end but . . . why would we care? We don’t have any evidence that he’s even good at shooting or that he poses any sort of threat to our invincible protagonist.

    Compare this to Biehn’s Ringo in Tombstone, whom we have seen demonstrate not only exceptional gunhandling skills but also cold-blooded sociopathy so that there is real tension when he faces off against Doc Holliday in the climax. Episode 5 is beautiful but, like most episodes, is all style and no substance.
  • The fan service here is nauseating. Disney seems obsessed with exploring things like krayt dragons, stolen Death Star plans, and the Kessel Run that have only had oblique references in prior canon. Some things, though, are better left to the imagination and Disney is batting .000 so far on trying to realize them, often actually contradicting prior imaginings.

    Luke at the end was eye rolling – not just due to the bad CGI but also due to his prior character arc culminating in his ascent to Jedidom by throwing away his light saber. Having him tear through a bunch of anonymous droids is silly and boring – did we learn nothing from the prequel trilogy?

    Boba Fett is the most egregious offender here, magically being brought back to life – but what would you expect from Filoni, who also brought back Darth Maul from certain death. I’m sure there’s some goofy retcon explanation but it’s all so lame it feels more like fan fiction than something produced by creative professionals with infinite budget. I would much rather see them creating rather than simply rehashing concluded characters and plots.

The Mandalorian isn’t a bad show, but it isn’t great either – which is too bad, because it has the potential to be great. It’s at its best when exploring and developing the mythology and teamwork of the Mandalorians and at its worst when mimicking Episode IX with mindless action and fan fiction. Some people love it (I find there to be a high correlation with people who loved Rogue One and Episode IX.), which is great for them; I’m always glad for more people to find new ways to connect with the Star Wars universe.

For me, though, this doesn’t really feel like Star Wars. Action and CGI not make Star Wars great. Star Wars has always been great because of its characters, which recent Disney efforts seem to have completely forgotten.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince Chapters 29 & 30

Another Harry Potter book finished – only one more and our 2yo will have “finished” them all!

Reflecting back on the end game of Half Blood Prince got me thinking about the burden of responsibility for products sold. I wonder where the Death Eaters procured their Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder. In my head canon I can’t really reconcile any of them patronizing the business of filthy blood traitors like the Weasleys so I think it more likely that they owl-ordered it straight from Peru – or procured it through some other channel. Not that it matters – just an interesting thought exercise.

Also the scene in the hospital wing with newly mangled Bill Weasley always makes me cry, impeding my ability to keep up the outlandish French accent with which I always read Fleur. We should all be so lucky to A. know, B. be, or C. be loved by someone as fierce as Fleur. Although entirely unworthy of it, I have the great fortune to be loved by someone(s) that fiercely, which is all the proof I will ever need that there is indeed magic in the world.

Rice Ring Ceremony

Last week was Rice’s first ever virtual Homecoming. Owl Together brought together thousands of alumni, students, parents, faculty, and staff to help people connect – to the university and with each other – despite the challenging times.

As President of the Association of Rice Alumni, I was invited to make some brief remarks at the annual Rice Ring Ceremony, where students who will soon graduate receive their Rice rings. It’s always a heartwarming event and this year did not disappoint, even if we weren’t all together in person. Below is a transcription of my remarks:

“Welcome, Rice students, families, faculty, staff, alumni, and especially welcome to all those who have just earned their Rice ring! It has been nearly 20 years since I earned my Rice ring, which means this ring has been a party to myriad wonderful stories.

One of my favorite Rice ring stories occurred back in 2009, when I was living in Europe. I was visiting Amsterdam for the weekend and was riding the tram. While I was standing, I noticed that a woman seated nearby was really staring at me. I thought she might look a little familiar but I couldn’t place her; it was a little weird!

When the tram went around the corner, I reached out to grab the pole for balance. At that moment, the woman exclaimed, “Bryan!” and came over to talk to me. It turned out to be Joy Roth, a former Rice Alumni Board member with whom I had volunteered in Houston. I hadn’t seen her for years since she had moved to Nigeria and certainly hadn’t expected to bump into her in Amsterdam! She had thought she recognized me but, when she saw the Rice ring on my hand as I reached for the pole, she became certain.

She joined me in standing at the pole and suddenly two other women approached us from the back of the tram, asking if we had attended Rice – they had seen our rings too! The front of the tram suddenly became an ad hoc Rice reunion!

  • I love this story because it demonstrates how the Rice ring is a symbol of your connectivity to 55,000 Rice alumni all around the world. Although those 55,000 alumni are geographically, demographically, academically, and professionally diverse, we all share a common bond: Rice chose us and we chose Rice! No matter where life takes you, there will always be a parliament of Owls to support you in whatever you need.

The Rice ring is also a connection back to the Rice campus. Rice was my Hogwarts; it is a place I hold dear and love to visit. During times like these, when traveling back to Houston is impractical, my Rice ring keeps me connected even from afar.

  • As much as the Rice ring is a symbol of shared experience, it is also differentiated to symbolize what was unique about your individual experience. Each Rice ring displays your year of graduation. Mine shows 2001 which, as a computer science major, still reminds me 20 years later of the .com crash and how I had four job offers with software comanies rescinded in the same day! But it also reminds me of meeting and beginning to date a fellow Lovetteer who is now my life partner.

Your rings show 2021, which will remind you of unprecedented – and hopefully unique – experiences. From Hurricane Harvey to COVID, you have experienced challenging times at Rice. Outside of Rice too these are challenging times, combining global crises of health, economy, climate, and democracy. But I think 20 years from now we will remember 2021 as the year we turned it all around – and we will remember the Class of 2021 as leading the way.

  • So, from all of us alumni all around the world, congratulations on earning your Rice ring!”

It took every ounce of strength for me to resist making Lord of the Rings references, but I managed to stay strong!

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince Chapters 27 & 28

Every time Hermione refers back to Hogwarts: A History, I can’t help but think that, if GRRM had written the Harry Potter series, he would have actually written and published Hogwarts: A History by now – and I, for one, would be eager to read it! The downside, of course, would be that Harry wouldn’t be The Boy Who Lived; he would be The Boy Who Died in the First Book . . . and Deathly Hallows wouldn’t even be finished yet!

Hogwarts: A History

Let’s talk about Dumbledore getting Draco to monolog. He clearly seems to be doing it intentionally so what do you think is the purpose?

  1. to “save Draco’s soul” by talking him down from committing murder
  2. to stall for time for others to come do the deed
  3. to stall for time for Snape specifically to come do the deed, which, as we find out in Book 7, was the 3D Wizard Chess plan all along
  4. to tease out certain details for Harry to hear whilst he is totally petrified
  5. simply for the reader’s benefit
  6. other?

The first time I read this passage, I had just received some very sad, disappointing news. I thought to myself that I needed a little fantastic escapism so I why not continue reading Harry Potter for the rest of the evening – but then I read this and couldn’t fall asleep for a long, long time. OOF, it was like a punch in the gut – not just Dumbledore’s death but the seeming betrayal by Snape, the sacrifice of Dumbledore to waste his last spell petrifying Harry rather than protecting himself, and the revelation that the locket was a fake to boot . . . OOF! This was a series low point and I read it while I was at a low point too – double OOF!

Side note: I talk a lot about Harry’s exceptionalism – especially when it comes to defensive magic. That makes it, well, exceptional, that he has struggled with nonverbal spells, which I like as it makes him a little less OP.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince Chapters 25 & 26

Let’s look at the ways Voldemort stores/guards his six horcruxes (listed below chronologically in the order in which they were made):

  1. Tom Riddle’s diary – he gives it to Lucius Malfoy to safeguard
  2. Marvolo Gaunt’s ring – he leaves under a floorboard in the dilapidated Gaunt house
  3. Helga Hufflepuff’s cup – he gives it to Bellatrix Lestrange to safeguard
  4. Salazar Slytherin’s locket – he hides it in an epic, well defended cave that is akin to a video game boss battle
  5. Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem – he hides it in the Hogwarts Room of Requirement
  6. Nagini – he keeps her close to him

He employs multiple storage strategies, which seems smart; that way, even if someone catches onto one of his strategies, they won’t necessarily be able to figure out the others. Some of his four different strategies make more sense than others, though:

Strategy 1: lend a horcrux to a trusted lieutenant for safekeeping. This doesn’t really seem in keeping with Voldemort’s character. He is incapable of trust so I can’t really see him letting something so precious be the charge of anyone other than himself. It also isn’t a great strategy because it is vulnerable to betrayal by or ineptitude of his followers.
Strategy 2: hide a horcrux in a place that is meaningful to him but inconspicuous to anyone else. This strategy is really smart and is really hard to crack. Harry only really finds the diadem due to plot convenience.
Strategy 3: hide a horcrux in a well defended, grandiose fortress. This strategy seems very in keeping with Voldemort’s character – what good is a trophy without an epic trophy case? It isn’t as smart as the previous strategy but, when you’re one of the most powerful wizards in the world and therefore likely to be capable of magicking very strong defenses, it does make sense to lean on your strengths.
Strategy 4: keep a horcrux very close to himself. This makes no sense objectively; the entire point of distributing your potential points of failure is to, well, distribute them. If Voldy’s body gets killed, he needs his failsafes that will revive him to be, well, safe. If they are near him, it exponentially increases the likelihood that they too will be wiped out. Here again, though, when you are one of the most powerful wizards in the world, you can’t be blamed too much for your confidence in your ability to protect a horcrux that is near you.

All this is to say that I think Voldy would have been better off employing more of Strategy 2. However, I think it would have been more in keeping with his character for him to have employed more of Strategy 3 – and frankly I would have found that to be really interesting! Imagine what kinds of other epicly defended fortresses Voldy might have created in addition to the cave! Either way, he should have eliminated Strategies 1 and 4 altogether.
• Is it me or do the hurdles in the cave seem sort of . . . arbitrary? Cut your hand open . . . find the invisible boat chain . . . fight off inferi . . . really only drinking the poison seems to serve the plot while the others seem sort of ancillary. Or perhaps I’m missing something?
• Unrelated thought about the death of Harry’s parents: why didn’t they just disapparate once Voldy arrived? Or at the least, why didn’t Lily disapparate with Harry whilst Voldy dispatched James? It seems like if you were in hiding from someone, you would have a quick exit plan in place in the event that you were found!

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince Chapters 23-24

My Harry Potter book club leader, Becca, proposed an interpretation that Harry, the unintended seventh horcrux, was also the unintended Gryffindor horcrux! I haven’t heard that before and i doubt that JKR intended it that way per se so I think it’s doubly brilliant! This Ravenclaw’s mind is blown! This theory especially appeals to my OCD since it completes the Hogwarts House Horcrux cycle.

This original contribution shall be known henceforth as the Becca Eller Theorem and I should say that it qualifies her beyond doubt to be the next Hogwarts History of Magic professor . . . you know, after the current one dies!

Voldemort's horcruxes
Voldemort’s horcruxes

On the subject of horcruxes, in book 7 Voldy realizes at some point that Harry is hunting them and has been successful in destroying some of them. Why wouldn’t Voldy create some new horcruxes quickly and send them off to hide in random places?? He was killing plenty of people so would have had plenty of opportunity to create new horcruxes.

It would have been the smart thing to do – but the fact that he doesn’t do it doesn’t ruin the plot for me. What Voldy does do is pretty consistent with his character.

Thought exercise: is each fragment of Voldy’s soul the same “size?” I mean, when he has split his soul into seven fragments, are they each equal? Or does only whatever remains of his soul in his body split each time a horcrux is made? If the latter, then his first horcrux would would hold 1/2 of his soul, his second would hold 1/4 of his soul, etc. After having made six horcruxes, all that would be left in Voldy’s body would be 1/64 of his original soul!

It’s very interesting that Harry is so skeptical of Dumbledore’s assertion of the special power of love as magic. Once again, his similarities to Voldy shine through!

Right Place Right Time For Climatetech

Gandalf the White

Many lives ago I was CTO of a startup that built the largest DVD rental machine network in the world. We were acquired by RedBox, our largest competitor at the time, but before that happened it was amazing to participate on the front lines of a market in the throes of massive disruption. One day we pitched Blockbuster on licensing their brand so we could be their non-store network. They laughed us out of the building. Less than a year later they came back begging us to license their brand. A few months later they were gone.

That mid-2000s startup was probably the most I’ve ever been in the right-place-right-time. I’ve spent my career ever since in climatetech largely feeling like I was in the right place at the wrong time. Recently, though, the winds have been changing. It seems that there is a new massive corporate climate commitment every week now, public sentiment is strong behind climate, and there is an increasing recognition that we will need new technologies to build the sustainable, prosperous, equitable energy future we all hope for. The feeling is palpable – and it is energizing!

Climatetech now feels like movie rental disruption did 15 years ago: right-place-right-time. The question is, who will be the Blockbusters and who will be the RedBox/NetFlix/etc? Third Derivative is working with our partners to co-create the latter!

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince Chapters 16 – 19

Chapter 16:

Scrimgeour’s characterization never made much sense to me. I always figured that a battle-hardened ex-Auror wouldn’t be the type to care about fake appearances and goofy politics.

Rufus Scrimgeour by Edgar Torné

Looking at modern militaries, though, maybe Scrimgeour’s characterization is right on. As I understand it, the farther up you go in the US military, the less you advance by being good at militarying and the more you advance by being good at politics – which I guess is why you often see high ranking generals and admirals in Presidential Cabinet positions. So kudos to JKR for realism but I still don’t have to like it!

Chapter 17:

I have always liked “pensieve” as one of JKR’s cleverer plays on words. Depending on how you pronounce it, it sounds like “pensive,” which means “thoughtful” – a very appropriate descriptor for anyone using such a magical device to organize their thoughts. The word “pensieve” itself is a compound of the root of “thought” in multiple romance languages (pensée en français, pensiero in intaliano – and possibly others?) and “sieve,” a sifter or strainer. So “pensieve” literally means “thought sifter.” The verb I most closely associate with a sieve is “to sift.” As such, although it isn’t terribly original, I propose to use “to pensift” to describe the action of using a pensieve.

Regarding the wonkiness of Slughorn’s altered memory, I always read it as a physical manifestation of the damage that had been done to it by Slughorn. Previously, “healthy” memories have been described as silky and flowy / liquidy. It makes sense then that a damaged memory might exhibit a damaged “molecular” structure as well, inhibiting its flowiness. Becca in my book club has a different idea that the memory – like the person who gave it – doesn’t want to be shared so actively resists.

Chapters 18 & 19:

The bezoar isn’t the only payoff from Harry’s first potion lesson. In Philosopher’s Stone, Harry loses a house point for his cheek. In Half Blood Prince, he earns 10 points for sheer cheek. It’s like he made a cheek investment with a 10x return over five years – not bad!

Third Derivative Six Month Update

It has been six months since I began as Cofounder and CEO of Third Derivative. Below is a very long assessment of how things are going but the TLDR is that I am really thriving in this role, loving my team, and feeling really good about this decision!

Third Derivative

What is Third Derivative?
A joint venture of the Rocky Mountain Institute and New Energy Nexus, we describe ourselves as a fully integrated ROCKET SHIP of climatetech innovation, bringing together startups, investors, corporates, and policy makers to commercialize, deploy, and scale solutions to the most pressing climate problems. https://third-derivative.org/

Why Third Derivative?
It will take $2-3 TRILLION per year and bringing 2-3 new Gigaton-scale technologies to market per year to meet climate goals and we’re . . . not on track – not even close.
We’re falling behind because commercializing, deploying, and scaling climatetech is hard. Climatetech startups often have greater capital needs and longer paths to market, making it harder for them to compete with software ventures for funding.

Commercializing climate tech often necessitates navigating complex, slow-moving corporate customers, where it might take a year just to figure out whom to talk to. All of this is set against a regulatory and policy landscape that favors incumbents, not disruptors.

We often think of startups as facing a valley of death on their path to scale, but climatetech startups face FOUR valleys of death and, each time they successfully navigate one, they have to start all over educating an entirely new set of stakeholders. At best this slows the rate of climatetech innovation; at worst, promising climatetech dies on the vine (I have experienced both outcomes in my previous ventures!).

The Third Derivative Solution
We are attempting to fix this broken system at unprecedented scale and speed. Third Derivative brings together the key stakeholders – startups, investors, corporates, and policy makers – to get everyone rowing in the same direction. We scour the globe for the most impactful climatetech startups that match the technology needs of our corporates and the investment theses of our investors.

Each startup receives $100,000 funding from at least one of our investor partners and, as they go through our accelerator program, the investors are working right alongside them to help them succeed (while also gaining unprecedented diligence for potential follow-on investment). At the same time, our team is facilitating dealmaking between the startup and our corporate partners – helping the corporate “speak startup” and vice versa. Meanwhile RMI is providing its unparalleled market insights and policy access to give every participant in our ecosystem an advantage.

By filling these key gaps, we’re hoping to bridge the climatetech valleys of death, not only increasing the RATE of success, but – almost as importantly – also increasing the SPEED of success. In so doing, we aim to derisk the entire climatetech innovation category, unlocking trillions of dollars of investment that is currently sitting on the sidelines.
Some more on our r’aison d’etre:

What Have We Accomplished?
In these six months, we have:

  • Built a small team of former climatetech entrepreneurs, VCs, business execs, and policy wonks – most of whom have never met each other in real life #thankscovid!
  • Designed a global, virtual program
  • Secured corporate partners spanning the sectors that need to come together to meet climate goals: tech (Microsoft, AT&T, Google), finance (Wells Fargo), energy (Shell, Berkshire Hathaway Energy), and transportation (FedEx) – still working to bring some heavy industry and auto/battery OEMs on board (close on several)
  • Secured 10 VC Investor partners capable of follow-on investing $2 Billion across four continents
  • Raised a $3 Million sidecar fund for individuals to invest across our entire portfolio
  • Received 630 startup applications from 61 countries – with 2/3 of the founders identifying as women, people of color, or veterans! – during a brief, six-week window

We are now expanding our team and working with our corporate and investor partners to select the 50 best fit startups to join our inaugural cohort, which we will announce Dec. 1. I’m running the venture like a startup: we are moving with deliberate urgency and are learning quickly. There is a LOT still to be done but I am incredibly proud of what this smart, scrappy team has accomplished in such a short time – and under challenging circumstances! 

What’s Next For Third Derivative?
After our public launch Dec. 1, we will likely begin prototyping several complementary initiatives:

  • expand our partner network; we are having to say “No” to some really promising startups that don’t happen to align with our small current group of corporate and investor partners.
  • launch our own VC fund for follow-on investments in our startups.
  • build a search fund and/or venture studio that connects talented entrepreneurs with world-changing innovators and stakes the commercialization of their climatetech.
  • initiate prizes and other open innovation contests to create new markets – RMI has had great success with this model in the Global Cooling Prize so we might imagine similar initiatives, e.g. a Global Hydrogen Prize, where the economics, policies, and incumbents don’t currently support disruptive innovation.

How’s Your Personal Life?
What personal life?? Not really. 🙂 We moved in June to Boulder and, even though we’re still working from home, it feels good to have the move behind us. There is still a lot of work to do on our house (and office!) before we feel truly settled but we are loving Boulder so far. Katie is enjoying her new postdoc and our 2yo is thriving under the care of his grandparents, who are here helping us out. We mostly keep to ourselves due to COVID and haven’t met many neighbors yet – but Boulder has so much natural beauty to explore that, even keeping to ourselves, we’re quite happy.

I’m the President of the Association of Rice Alumni this year, which is a challenging time due to COVID and questions about race, equity, and justice at a university that was founded by a slaveholder. We have a talented, diverse alumni Board, though, and an incredibly capable staff, so we are working through it all – one Zoom at a time!

This is the longest stretch I have gone without setting foot on IMD’s campus since I interviewed there 13 years ago. Consequently I feel a bit isolated and disconnected from my network there. The lack of business travel due to COVID has been great but I really am missing travel for pleasure- hopefully that will be practical again in 2021.

If You Made It This Far . . . 
THANK YOU for supporting me during this new chapter! It hasn’t been easy per se but it is a grand adventure and I am loving it. How are YOU doing? Please shoot me a note and catch me up as I am missing connecting with you all in this time of distancing.