Carbon13, ‘an extraordinary catalyst for change’, begins creating start-ups to solve climate crisis
Ten intrepid Cambridge entrepreneurs are participating in the most unusual accelerator yet: Carbon13’s inaugural Venture Builder programme builds commercial teams for sustainable businesses with no name or business plan – except to massively reduce carbon emissions.
Carbon13, the self-styled “venture builder for the climate emergency” founded in 2019, has been developed by Cambridge-based business expertise. The main founder is CEO Chris Coleridge, senior faculty in management practice at Cambridge Judge Business School.
The other co-founders are Dr Nicky Dee, Michael Langguth, Katy Ford and Frank Knowles.
Carbon13’s core goal is “to create scalable ventures with the combined potential to reduce CO2 emissions by 400 million tonnes or 1 per cent of global emissions” every year.
“We have solutions,” says Chris. “We just need to enable more of them, and bring them to life faster, by bringing teams together and giving them the confidence, expert advice and investment to drive forward with their plans and ambitions.”
The team’s acceleration programme, Venture Builder, has been set up to help 1,000 entrepreneurs build 150 start-ups, each of which has the potential to reduce emissions by at least 10 million tonnes per annum.
Every Venture Builder programme lasts eight months: the first got under way in March. The first phase mixes 60 sustainable start-up enthusiasts together to develop teams which go on to design a business model from scratch.
The challenging thesis has appeal for Cambridge entrepreneurs and nascent entrepreneurs. For five of the ten Cambridge attendees at the first Carbon13 programme, the most obvious ingredient is enthusiasm.
“It’s excellent, a life-changing opportunity!” said Dr Jonathan Bean, who has a Masters in theoretical physics from the University of Cambridge. “Everyone involved is truly amazing!”
Dr Bean is keeping an open mind about what sort of company he wants to help build but notes: “I don’t see single product/innovation as a viable solution as we need to build portfolios of innovations to have the impact that we want.”
Amyas Phillips, a engineer at Arm for seven years, turned down two full-time jobs to be on Venture Builder.
“Climate change is the biggest, most urgent problem we face as humanity, so helping to solve that is a big motivation, maybe the biggest there could be,” he said. “I see Carbon13 as improving my odds of success enormously, not just with the coaching and access to finance but from having a cohort of like-minded people for support.”
Amyas is also enjoying the buzz.
“I love it! I get up every day fizzing to get back to it. It’s such a change from what I was doing, this has been one of the longest two weeks of my life. I did not expect it but the most energising thing is working with 59 very different and capable people.
“Everyone is keen to make the most of this opportunity and build successful businesses but the purpose-driven element, the 10 million tonnes a year goal, really creates an esprit de corps.”
Simrun Basuita has “always worked in and around start-ups”.
He said: “A few years ago I decided I wanted to make my career about solving climate change.”
Next thing he knew he’d joined the most ambitious climate reduction programme yet.
“I was helping my friend set up a climate-focused VC fund,” he explains of how he got involved. “I ended up talking to Chris, thought Carbon13 was awesome and sent me the link. I applied and the rest is history... It’s an incredible experience already, I feel like I’ve learnt loads and we’re only on week three.”
Alessandra Caggiano, eLuminate founder and former head of strategic partnerships at This Land, particularly appreciates “the sheer ambition of the project”.
She said: “I am loving the motivation everyone brings to the programme, from the organisers to the facilitators and of course the participants.
“The knowledge and expertise we all bring, alongside our individual networks, make for an extraordinary catalyst for change. There is a real sense of momentum and everyone is giving this programme their best shot; we’re just a couple of weeks in and I can truly say this has been a life-changing experience already.”
Another of the Cambridge Carbon13 entrepreneurs is Tim Chambers, a Zimbabwean-born “persistent entrepreneur”. Tim has an idea for a sustainable business and is “very much on the ‘looking for a team’ side”.
“In 2012 I started a cold storage company, off-grid using solar, selling mainly to Africa,” Tim says. “So I’ve stepped out of the CEO role to start a couple of new businesses, and I’m exploring the new business idea as part of Carbon13 – I’m quite heavily involved in bringing that to market.”
Some of those in at Carbon 13’s first cohort have ideas to commercialise, others have the skills to commercialise products and services and are looking for an idea. At some point the optimal elements for this carbon reduction programme should collide.
“They have to form teams,” explains marketing manager Sara Jones of the three-phase programme. Phase 1 lasts seven weeks and is focused on networking – participants receive a monthly stipend of £1,000 during phase 1. Phase 2 lasts two months. “At the end of Phase 2, our investment committee will review your progress and milestones achieved, your venture’s potential commercial viability, potential for scaling and impact on CO2e emissions.”
If you pass, your business receives £75,000 for Phase 3, at the end of which you are out on the open market.