In recent months, we’ve been excited to share what we’ve been working toward for the past two years, a three-pronged strategy that will help position Australia as a global leader in climate technology, and fulfil our mission to back the region’s most visionary founders.
Alongside Greenhouse and our pledge to the IGCC’s Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative, we recently announced the launch of the Investible Climate Tech Fund — a $100 million target fund that will back early-stage startups that are contributing to a decarbonised future.
Patrick Sieb, an experienced climate technology investor and operator, has been working hard to help bring this vision to life since joining our team earlier this year. In his role as Investment Director for the Fund, Patrick works alongside our growing team to source, screen, secure and support the next generation of early-stage startups in the climate sector.
In this interview, Patrick shares his insights on what climate tech can learn from infrastructure investing, and where he derives his passion for the world of startups.
Tell us about your experience and how you came to be involved with climate technology.
My 20+ years of experience in investment banking across a diverse range of industries, businesses and technologies have been a great preparation to work in climate technology.
During that journey, which was focused on infrastructure, I’ve had exposure to quite a number of sectors relevant for climate tech, including transport (e.g. ports, tollroads, airports), building & cities (e.g. schools, hospitals), industry (e.g. water desalination, mining) and energy (e.g. power plants). As these sectors are instrumental to decarbonisation, my foundational knowledge has proven very useful in the climate space.
I understand these sectors well, but importantly, I understand what is relevant to the players and how to approach them, which is really critical for startups looking to operate in that space. I’ve also been passionate about tech and startups for a really long time, and made my first meaningful angel investment more than eight years ago.
Six years ago, I took a long service leave to help found a startup. I have been very active in the space ever since. I also have enough of a scientific base from my aeronautical engineering studies to be dangerous (or at least ask the right questions).
Working on climate tech feels like a natural evolution and it is very exciting to be doing something that I am passionate about, that can make a big difference.
Can you describe your role and key focus with Investible?
As Investment Director, I am responsible—along with Tom Kline—for leading the investment team across all aspects of the investment process, including sourcing and screening investment opportunities as well as supporting portfolio companies.
I must say that as an angel investor, I was pro-actively seeking to see every deal in the market and thought I was pretty good at it. Since joining investible, I’ve been amazed at the breadth of additional opportunities we come across, it’s very impressive! We have a number of unique sources like our Club Investible members (Investible’s group of HNW individuals who invest in funds and co-invest alongside us), our Advisory Panel (composed of Climate and related tech experts) and generally, our presence in the early stage ecosystem in Sydney and Singapore is second to none.
On the screening, we follow the well proven methodology investible has refined over a decade, along with a set of very effective tools and metrics. Of course for our fund we have the additional climate overlay.
The Investible model is centred around fully supporting founders in the early-stage, a philosophy that really aligns with my own, and my approach to investing.
After all the Fund preparation it’s great to be actively in due diligence on a number of transactions and we expect to have a number of investments made before the end of the year.
As an advisor to a number of startups, what have you learned about scaling a technology business?
I have so much admiration for founders. By definition, they’re navigating uncharted territory, with no obvious direction on how to achieve their goals or overcome the many huge obstacles along the way. My experience working with founders confirms some of the qualities often touted: determination, resilience, curiosity and vision.
The analogy of surfing is apt, when it comes to timing. If you are too early and need to create the market, you are likely to expend a lot of energy doing so. If you are too late, there will be a lot of other players to compete with. Catching the wave at the right time is an art (and sometimes a bit of luck).
Last point is around hardware, which I have a fair amount of experience with (only so much of climate change can be solved with software alone). It’s generally harder (classic pun), but there are ways to vastly reduce the pain points such as licensing to reduce the capital intensity or smaller production batches to have a more iterative process. The flip side is that a combination of hardware and software can create a fantastic moat.
What can corporates learn from the startup sector with regard to investing in climate tech?
I think the benefits for corporates of adopting new technology and working with startups (or even adopting a startup mindset) is well documented and recognised. In respect of climate, it is probably even more important. That’s because corporates have evolved over time to be very efficient in doing what they do best. Asking them to suddenly change how they do things to decarbonise can be very hard.
In many cases technology can help create efficiencies, facilitate the transition or in some cases create a completely new solution for their problem. I think the corporate-startup relationship can be highly mutually beneficial if handled properly. This is exactly the area my experience lends itself to. An example of this is helping a tech startup get an introduction to the right port executive that was looking for a microgrid solution to help switch to renewables, where there is otherwise no obvious person in charge of energy or innovation.
As an investor, what are you most excited to see in this space?
Climate is very, very broad – in a way almost everything has an impact on climate and vice versa. That is part of what makes it so complicated, and so interesting. The good news is a lot of the fundamental technologies we need already exist. Therefore I love to see hyper-scalable solutions that leverage things we already have to be more efficient or smart ways to make solutions more accessible, more attractive or cheaper.
Additionally, I’m drawn to niche solutions that really solve a specific pain point, but also have adjacent applications, sectors or geographies that can be incrementally tackled. I like the fact that a number of horizontal technologies are becoming quite mature (e.g. IoT, AI, nanotechnologies, biotech and many more) and can be combined together along with domain expertise to bring very powerful solutions.
We have already seen a number of potential investment opportunities leveraging these strategies.
What will be the major challenges and opportunities for building a more sustainable civilisation?
It’s a really big challenge – how do we raise living standards and build the required new infrastructure all over the world without jeopardising the planet and our future? I know technology can play an important part, particularly where it’s the obvious choice. If technology makes it cheaper or better (preferably both), it makes it a relatively easy decision.
Renewables are by far the cheapest form of producing electricity and are fast-becoming the default choice. Equally important are peripheral or enabling technologies that for example, make the deployment of renewables faster. But where technology has not yet reached that point, government policy and public pressure are valuable to ensure the more sustainable options are prioritised. The earlier the transition, the cheaper and more accretive it will be to all aspects of society and the economy.
What is your personal philosophy?
Increasingly it is about recognising that everything in the world is very complex and interrelated, but the clarity and beauty of it all is focusing on your north star, your core values, what is important to you.
What excites you about joining the Investible team?
It’s a unique combination of great people starting with Investible co-founders Creel and Trevor complemented by a fantastic and diverse team, a decade-long experience in early stage startups, a genuine desire across the organisation to make a difference on climate and the cross-benefit of the various initiatives to help founders.
Greenhouse is particularly exciting as it will soon be the leading climate hub in Australia. Overall I think Investible has brought together the right ingredients to be the centre for climate related innovation. Leveraging all that to help make climate tech founders super successful is what really excites me most.