Climate Program Confirms Outstanding Startup Potential
The fourth and final session of the Climate Stream of the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL)-HEC program saw eight of the nine startups achieve the ultimate objective of their nine-month journey: joining the CDL community and its unique global ecosystem. HEC Paris hosted this third year of CDL Climate in central Paris. It featured the first concrete engagement to CDL by HEC partner Schneider Electric.
CDL-HEC participants under the distant shadow of the Sacré Coeur.
The Espace La Rochefoucauld is a stone’s throw from the luscious Musée Gustave Moreau and, from its fifth-floor terrace, one can spot the white towers of the Sacré Coeur. It was a fitting setting on May 11 for the CDL mentors, founders, partners, supporting ecosystem and HEC faculty to gather for a final round of intense debate with climate startups and what behooves them in building a prosperous future. In a program refined over the past decade by CDL founder Ajay Agrawal and his team at Rotman School of Management in Toronto, they had overcome all obstacles to reach this fourth stage. CDL creates an objectives-based accelerator program for massively scalable, seed-stage, science- and technology-based ventures. In the past decade, it has helped bring in over CAD $28 billion in equity value for the hundreds of startups who have finished the program.
This year’s Climate stream began in September 2022 with 19 startups presenting their work in a climate sector of unprecedented diversity. There were out-of-the-box solutions to offer double savings to greenhouse owners; long-term energy storage through aqua-batteries; proposed solutions for food production and soil remediation; hard-to-abate industries for steelmakers; and so much more. By the Super Session scheduled for June 13 (see below), there will be eight startups graduating into the CDL fold.
“Once again we’ve witnessed the quality of the discussions within our mentors’ rooms, the sharpness of the advice and the brutal honesty with which it is given,” noted the event host, CDL-HEC Director Aymeric Penven. He co-organized the daylong exchange at the Espace which featured 22 mentors - seasoned business angels with decades of experience in sustainability, deep-tech, engineering, climate financial risk and much more.
They included LafargeHolcim CSO Magali Anderson, Wyvern CTO Christine Tovee, Natixis associate Olivier Perquel (H85) and entrepreneur/UN consultant on climate issues, Ron Tembo. These entrepreneurs were joined by several of the HEC academics who have helped steer the program, notably Hélène Musikas, Carlos Serrano and Sebastian Becker. The latter, Associate Professor in the Accounting Department, is taking over from Thomas Åstebro as the school’s CDL Academic Site Lead.
Fast and Furious
As Penven noted, the exchanges behind closed doors with representatives of the eight startups were fast and furious. Having scaled the challenges imposed for the first three rounds, the young entrepreneurs had already earned the respect and enthusiasm of the mentors, but still needed to go the extra mile.
A random selection of remarks in the exchange with the mentors went something like this:“I love what you’re doing for the subsistence farmers, but you need financing to pivot and have a single clear focus.”
“Your company shows huge potential, these are low-hanging fruits, but you can’t be distracted by your fundraising.” “You don’t need to communicate anymore, you have to calibrate your models better and collect more data, that’s the key.” “You have to hope carbon credits are more regulated. But you don’t build a company on hope alone!” “You need to motivate your team more to retain them! So, it has to be more hands on.” “You’re in a field with a lot of competition and have dug yourself into a hole. You have to sell something, stop the belly-staring, times have changed.”
The no-holds-barred approach of the mentors did not surprise the two representatives of new CDL-HEC partners Schneider Electric. “I’m from the America’s myself, half Colombian, half American. So I’m very familiar with this methodology,” said Emiliana Martinez De Bedout, the company’s Global Strategy & Sustainability representative. “At certain times we have to present things in a politically correct manner. But I would argue that, in order to have the impact that we’re all striving for in this program, we need to be brutally honest and create an open dialogue. There were high school students watching on today, and I feel it was very instructive for them to witness this clear exchange and not just hear communication or marketing pitches. This is how you have real impact.”
Since September 2022, De Bedout has been managing the Future Ready Project at Schneider. She insists the company has nothing to prove in the sustainability department: “We’ve been in the Corporate Knights’ Global 100 list of Most Sustainable Corporations for the 12 year running now. Here, we’re focused on startups devoted to solving the climate change crisis but I would encourage everyone involved to always keep in mind the social and governance aspects in all these topics. All in all, we’re delighted to be a part of this community for the first time. We really need to work in community to focus on innovation and entrepreneurship, to make the possible impact actually happen.” The engagement at the side of the CDL-HEC program is part of Schneider’s latest partnership with the business school, signed on January 17, 2023. Its objective is to support research and development towards an equitable transition to a decarbonated and inclusive economy.
Raining Good Advice
For François Mercier and Camila Auvray, this fourth session was the cherry on the cake for an intense but rich year. They are part of the ten-person team behind HD Rain. The French company uses space technology which is revolutionizing the weather industry around the world. Thanks to its sensors, the company provides better access to information and resilience to meteorological disasters. “With our data, we provide the authorities with data that helps public safety and agricultural actors, as well as insurers,” explained Mercier at the lunch break. How did the startup’s Chief Scientist Officer respond to the lively CDL exchange of the morning? “It was great. They insisted on our need to focus more. We started a few years ago with pioneering technology but we almost had too many markets out there. So, the mentors advised us to concentrate on just one, and build a watertight value proposition. That way, we can scale up quickly.” For HD Rain’s Partnerships Manager, Camila Auvray, it was vital to have such feedback: “When we work in our little bubble, we tend to, you know, keep our heads down and be single-minded. That’s why it’s refreshing to have external feedback from people with unparalleled experience. And their comments were very positive, they will help to focus our strategy better.”
On to Super Session N°5
This strategy could center on the Côte d’Ivoire where HD Rain has been working with the authorities for four years: “We know the terrain well,” explained Mercier. “It began with a government project where we deployed 150 sensors in Abidjan. Now, the goal is to provide accurate data in a country which has none, in order to protect people, goods and services in different sectors. We believe this will improve the Côte d’Ivoire’s resilience and performances. We’ve also seen the need for reliable data for the parametric insurance companies. Thanks to our data, we hope it will provide the trust for insurers to galvanize local business and agriculture.
The Creative Destruction Lab’s 20+ streams reaches their climax with the fifth Super Session, scheduled for June 13-14. Set in Toronto, it will once again feature high-potential startup founders, seasoned entrepreneurs, investors and scientists, all converging on the Canadian city to discuss ways to further their networks, ideas and feedback. This will include reflections on the latest fledging stream to join the CDL fold, Artificial Intelligence. It features a partnership, signed on April 17, between HEC, the school’s Foundation and the algorithmic trading firm XTX Markets.
A delegation from HEC Paris will be present and provide in-depth reports on the entire summit.