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INNOVATION BEAT

The ‘big shift’ of VCs into climate tech

Bijan Sabet, cofounder and general partner of Spark Capital.Peter Prato

During the pandemic, many in the tech community and beyond have asked themselves a simple question: What should I do next?

The question has sparked a wave of resignations, a jump in entrepreneurs, and career changes for many. But for Bijan Sabet — cofounder of Boston VC firm Spark Capital, and early backer of Twitter and Tumblr — it forced him to rethink a question that’s always driven him: If he wasn’t a venture capitalist, where would he work?

As he mulled it over during the past two years, the answer became apparent for him: climate technology.

In a phone call on Wednesday, I caught up with Sabet to learn more about his shift, and how, among successful venture capitalists, he’s not alone in wanting to solve climate problems.

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Sabet said multiple factors went into his decision. Over the past year, a growing number of climate technology firms and funds came to him looking for investment, allowing him to analyze the strengths of the sector. Additionally, he saw the “best and brightest” founders flocking to climate tech. And on a personal level, the existential challenge of slowing the planet’s warming compelled him to contribute.

“This is where I want to spend my time,” he said. “This is what I want to do.”

With that, Sabet decided to step back from his role at Spark Capital and has become an angel investor, together with his wife, focused on early-stage companies that are attacking some of the world’s hardest problems.

So far, he’s invested in several climate-change venture funds, and “over six” startups, with some in the Boston area. He declined to name names, but the types of companies on his radar are electric vehicle firms, agriculture and water conservation solutions, climate change education initiatives, and direct carbon capture startups. (Venture capital funding for climate-change startups has soared in recent years, topping $37 billion in 2021, data shows.)

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Despite the rise in venture funding, he said, it’s not enough to solve these large problems. That will require government action and international cooperation. But VCs are still an important piece of the puzzle. “We just need more capital,” he said. “We need more people working on it.”

To that end, Sabet said he is not alone in moving in this direction. A number of prominent venture capitalists, who made their name investing in household consumer-tech startups, have shifted gears to focus more on repairing the climate. They include Chris Sacca, an early backer of Uber, Twitter, and Instagram; Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures, who invested in Etsy and Tumblr; and Antonio Rodriguez of Matrix Partners, a backer of Oculus and Care.com.

“It’s palpable,” Sabet said. “People are committed to really working on this problem ... It feels like a big shift.”



Pranshu Verma can be reached at pranshu.verma@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @pranshuverma_.