Is Climate Change the Greatest Entrepreneurship Opportunity of our Time?

Professor of Management Tom Dean at CSU Business School writes about how ‘sustainable venturing’ is a new type of business creation pathway where sustainably-minded entrepreneurs seek to capitalize on market failures created by the environmental and climate impact of heavy industries. Could this new type of entrepreneur arise to capitalize on what Professor Sir David King has dubbed “the biggest opportunity of our age?”

Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google. Colossal corporates which have captured massive market share through timely execution and exceptional ingenuity. These companies have built recognizable brands that are so familiar to our everyday lives that it’s hard to imagine they were once nothing more than startups led by virtually unknown, but nevertheless ambitious entrepreneurs. Now with the promise of low cost super computing, advanced machine learning, AI and ever ‘smarter’ devices we may be witnessing the birth of another wave of high tech giants. It’s an exciting time to be working in tech and who knows where the next Google or Facebook may take us. But one thing is for certain — as the earth’s climate continues down its path toward dangerous destabilization, we know that no matter how many billions in annual revenues are generated by profit-seeking insurgents, the future is looking increasingly bleak for the 1 billion or so people living in parts of the globe that stand to be the most affected by climate change.

Just as Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg probably didn’t have climate change in mind when they built their businesses, it seems like a lot of entrepreneurs these days aren’t really thinking about climate change either. And why should they? Angel investors and VCs aren’t accounting for long-term socioeconomic and environmental impacts in their financial models. Forget the moral imperative to act on climate change. Predicting the future is hard enough without having to worry about the implications that supply chain disruptionfood price volatility and ‘mega-catastrophes’ will have for growing businesses. VCs are also beholden to their investors who in turn, want to see big exits. Venturing requires a strong stomach, given the high failure rate of most startups. Why make things more complex and difficult than they already are, possibly adding layers of risk to already risky bets?

Of course, this doesn’t bode well for humanity’s prospects for combatting climate change, which according to Rex Tillerson is first and foremost an “engineering problem.” If our best and brightest electrical and electronic engineers have gone to work on AI for hedge funds and investment banks, the chances of a Larry Page of cleantech emerging are few and far between. It’s up to the sustainable entrepreneurs who put climate change at the heart of everything they invent to design new, bold, high growth businesses that can compete for talent with the likes of Wall Street and Fleet Street.