27 September 2022 |

Cash for climate data companies


Over the past weeks, there’s been a flurry of financing activity for companies that focus on creating, aggregating, and processing different types of data relevant to climate and energy. 

Two weeks ago, we wrote about the new space race, i.e., one in which companies compete to commoditize better satellite imagery and earth observation data. This week offered another example of a company raising fresh funds in that space, namely $71M Series B for SpinLaunch, which is developing an alternative satellite launching technology. 

And before we covered the space, we also covered the rush of companies trying to identify and fix methane emissions and leaks in oil & gas pipelines. Low and behold, we’ve got another company to add to that article from this week, too: Flyscan raised a $3.5M pre-Series A for its remote sensing and visual detection platform for, you guessed it, leaks in oil & gas pipelines.

But adding to past coverage alone wouldn’t do this data gold rush service. Lots is happening beyond areas discussed recently, too: 

  • 4M Analytics raised $30M in Series A funding to help utilities with subsurface infrastructure mapping
  • Pano raised a $20M Series A for its combined hardware + AI-powered software business designed tailored to help with wildfire mitigation efforts
  • Yard Stick PBC secured $18M in grants for its soil spectroscopy technology (think soil carbon sequestration measurement)
  • Calumino raised a $10.3M Series A for its thermal sensing IoT technology
  • CivRobotics raised a $5M seed round for its autonomous surveying solution that can be deployed in service of infrastructure development

We won’t dig into each one of these raises and companies at this moment, though I intend to line up interviews with many of them. Instead, let’s see the forest for the trees here, where trees are the individual companies and deals, and the forest is the whole investment landscape. 

For me, the story here is a follow-on wave of capital that’s responding to the dollars pouring into renewable energy and infrastructure development. For instance, following all the dollars greenlit to build out new energy infrastructure in the U.S. – and in advance of permitting reform that, while contentious, may well help accelerate this infrastructure development – companies and investors are placing bets on data solutions that can help facilitate the planning, construction, and deployment of all that infrastructure.

Take CivRobotics, for instance. Their robots make land surveying or solar farming more automatic and easy. These types of firms lend themselves well to earlier-stage venture firms that are crowded out of investing in renewable energy assets directly, but still want to get in on the ‘fun.’ 

To be sure, not all these companies necessarily focus on renewable energy or infrastructure development. The climate theme is so broad and so hot that it accommodates all kinds of applications: 

  • Pano’s solution fits more squarely in the climate adaptation vertical; it will help fire departments fight and prevent wildfires.
  • Calumino’s thermal IoT solutions will help building owners and operators identify energy leaks.
  • Yard Stick PBC has a significant role to play in scaling carbon removal and sequestration via regenerative ag. 

But all these firms are also distinct from the usual venture investments in enterprise software, say for solar installers or utility account management. Instead, they often combine hardware and software to measure and analyze real-world data and are a bit more directly tied (in my opinion at least) to deploying more ‘core’ climate solutions than other software.

The net-net

Folks often ask me what I’m ‘seeing in climate tech’ these days. I usually draw a blank; we see and cover so much in this newsletter; beyond that, it can be hard to distill clear takeaways, especially on the spot. 

Here’s one answer: Investment in the climate tech data layer, which spans everything from earth observation from satellites to LiDAR methane emissions detection and everything else covered in this newsletter today, is super hot right now. These solutions offer a comfortable home for venture investors across stages, lend themselves well to revenue-based financing down the road, and are a more straightforward entry point for the wealth of talent from ‘traditional’ tech that wants to work in climate

Never miss an opportunity to work in a picture of Lake Tahoe (photo credit to Ben Carless)

All that said, funding and financing for all these startups is the first step in a scaling and deployment cycle, not the last. 

As I wrote concerning the space race, I’m eager to watch firms ink meaningful agreements and do the work. One example of this came with Vibrant Planet this week. Covered previously in Keep Cool, Vibrant Planet’s tech solution helps stakeholders align on and plan conservation and restoration efforts. This week, they announced their work with the Tahoe Fund and Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation to plan wildfire mitigation efforts and forest restoration work in the Tahoe region (near and dear to my heart). That’s on the heels of their Series A back in June. While a welcome piece of good news, this is a helpful data point that illustrates how actually deploying tech after announcing a raise and / or a software roll-out can still take months. 

Hopefully, before the year’s end, more companies we see raising money now will announce partnerships of their own to get to work deploying solar projects, improving HVAC efficiency, or whatever else they’re up to. Finally, lest we overlook a critical next step that almost universally follows fundraising, to get to that point, these companies will all need to hire well, turning financial capital into human capital to do the work. They’re probably all good places to check-out if you’re looking for a role, and we’ll add some of their roles to our job board.