Still Exuberant? A Chat With Climate VCs at Prelude Ventures, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, and DCVC

Our classic panel of VCs is back at the SOSV Climate Tech Summit (Sept 26-27 / free & virtual). What are top investors thinking about their future investments? Climate tech founders need to know! 

A CTVC report indicates that climate tech funding is resilient but feeling 2023’s shaky macro conditions. Funding for climate tech fell 40% year over year in the first half of 2023 with late-stage and growth-stage investments seeing the biggest slump. Yet, deal count climbed 8% year over year, driven by early-stage funding. Notably, repeat climate tech investors joined fewer deals while generalist investors stepped up their participation. 

What do climate tech VCs make of these shifts? Where is the deal flow strong or weak? How are the conditions for follow-on funding, scaling, and deployment? How has the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) changed things for their portfolio?

For answers, we turned to three top VCs in climate tech.

San Francisco-based Prelude Ventures has invested in early-stage climate tech startups since 2013 and counts multiple climate tech unicorns such as Form Energy and Pivot Bio in its portfolio Prelude recently participated in a $50M Series C for Persefoni, a carbon management and accounting platform, and a $25M round for Terabase, a construction automation platform for utility-scale solar. This year, Prelude also co-led a $20M Series A for Ebb Carbon, which accelerates the ocean’s natural ability to convert CO2 to bicarbonate. Managing Director and Co-Founder Gabriel Kra, known for his TED Talk on why to be optimistic about the climate, shared Prelude’s perspective on the panel.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), founded by Bill Gates in 2016, has raised two $1B funds for climate tech investments—and is currently raising a third fund. The firm targets ideas with the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least half a gigaton per year. Its portfolio features ten climate unicorns including mineral exploration company KoBold Metals and fusion energy pioneer Commonwealth Fusion Systems. Recent investments include $17M for Dioxycle, which aims to produce ethylene from recycled carbon emissions, and GeologicAI, a mineral discovery firm that uses robots. Christina Karapataki, Partner at BEV, joined the panel. 

DCVC, founded in 2011, is a deep tech firm with over $3B AUM and more than 200 investments. DCVC recently raised a $1B deep tech fund to invest in climate, energy, and materials startups (categories that often overlap). Its portfolio company Oklo, an advanced fission technology company, recently announced plans to go public via a merger with AltC Acquisition Corp., a SPAC launched by OpenAI co-founder Sam Altman. Recent DCVC investments include CH4 Global, which makes seaweed-based cattle feed to reduce methane emissions, and Verdigris Technologies, a smart building company that eliminates electricity waste. Dr. Rachel Slaybaugh, DCVC Partner and PhD in nuclear engineering and engineering physics, spoke on the panel.       

What should worry climate tech founders, and what should give them hope? Find out by watching the full session below—and tune into the rest of the sessions here.

Learn more about the Summit.

The Speakers

Gabriel Kra photo

Gabriel Kra

Gabriel Kra co-founded Prelude Ventures in 2013, after almost 25 years as an investor, entrepreneur, scientist, activist, and ski-bum. He serves on the Boards of Directors of Renew Financial, Ripple Foods, Sense Labs, Natron Energy, ClearMetal, Raxium, and Form Energy, and is active with Meati, Metalenz, Zymergen, Planet, Catalog, and Spark Thermionics. Gabriel also serves on the Board of Directors of Activate and The CREO Syndicate, and on advisory boards for Prime Coalition and Carbon180. ​Gabriel holds MBAs from the Columbia Business School and the Haas School of Business, University of California at Berkeley, an MS in atmospheric chemistry from SUNY Stony Brook and a BA in philosophy from Columbia College.

Christina Karapataki photo

Christina Karapataki

Christina Karapataki is an investor with experience building companies and commercializing technology in the energy and sustainability sectors. In 2017, Christina joined Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a fund that invests in companies addressing climate and sustainability challenges. She focuses on decarbonization solutions for the electricity, transportation and manufacturing sectors. Christina has a passion for working with extraordinary entrepreneurs and helping move technology out-of-the-lab and into the real world. Previously, Christina worked as a Venture Principal at the Schlumberger corporate venture capital group.Christina holds BA and MEng degrees in Chemical Engineering from the University of Cambridge and an MS degree in Technology and Policy from MIT.

Dr. Rachel Slaybaugh photo

Dr. Rachel Slaybaugh

Dr. Rachel Slaybaugh is an investor at DCVC, focused on climate, sustainability, and energy investments. Before joining DCVC, Rachel was an Associate Professor of Nuclear Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Concurrent to being a professor, Rachel was a Division Director at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where she ran the Cyclotron Road Division. She served as a Program Director at the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E, where she created the nuclear fission program and managed the agriculture portfolio as well as solar and virtual reality teams. Rachel received a BS in nuclear engineering from Pennsylvania State University, where she served as a licensed nuclear reactor operator, and a PhD in nuclear engineering and engineering physics from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.