Disrupting Environmental Destruction

Source: Ben Duke

“Disruption” is a word that gets tossed around business a lot these days. But what if we could disrupt not just the way we do business, but the fate of our species and our planet?

The World In 2050

What will the world look like in 2050?

On our current path, coastal cities will flood, billions will live with terrible air pollution, and more and more lands and water will lose the ability to produce food for our global population, which will reach nearly 10 billion—so many of them will go hungry and thirsty, all while the natural world diminishes.

In October 2018, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) published a study that outlined two scenarios of what the future might hold. One shows the state of humanity and the natural world if we continue with “business as usual,” and the other offers a more positive future for both us and the environment if we switch gears and move towards a more sustainable path.

We all know that if we want a better future, we—as in, humanity—need to change. But how? Well-meaning acts like switching out incandescent light bulbs and carrying reusable grocery bags just aren’t going to be enough. While acts like these are important and necessary, we need more changes and at a larger scale. And the next 10 years will be crucial if we are to find our way to a sustainable future.

Can we change our course so that we move towards the sustainable path? And how do we get there?

Huge Advances in Technology

“We need a technology revolution to help us get on that path to a sustainable 2050,” says August Ritter, Program Director for The Sustainability Accelerator, a partnership between Techstars and The Nature Conservancy. “We asked ourselves: What can TNC do to help advance technology and disruption in conservation?”

Their answer: an accelerator focused on supporting entrepreneurs trying to address global issues, like climate change or sustainably providing food and water to our planet’s growing population.

Startups move fast, an important consideration given how much change needs to happen in the next 10 years if we are to switch course. They also come at problems from a new angle, and bring new technologies to bear on these difficult and far-reaching dilemmas.

All conservation and sustainability efforts are great, but using new technologies and ways of doing business that are already transforming the global economy are necessary to transform the global environment and take sustainability to scale. It is time to reconsider “business as usual.”  

Inspiring the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

“We need to inspire the next generation of technologists and entrepreneurs,” August said. He ticked off a series of goals for The Sustainability Accelerator: success stories to show that this path forward is possible; demonstrating to investors that they can earn a tangible ROI by investing in early stage companies with a focus on sustainability; integrating technology and learning from the startup community about how they solve problems—fast.

The inaugural 2018 accelerator was a huge success, and TNC is running pilots with six startups that came through the program. TNC has high hopes for the next class as well.

August loves a quote from Jeff Hammerbacher, an early Facebook employee and founder of Cloudera: “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.”

August offers an alternate path for today’s keenest problem solvers: “We need to be inspiring entrepreneurs to solve problems that matter. We need the best minds of this generation working  to transform the world by 2050 into a place where both people and nature can thrive.”

Want to disrupt environmental catastrophe? August outlined the big questions he thinks startups can help answer in his piece, “An Invitation to Solve for a More Sustainable Future.”








Calling Passionate Entrepreneurs Who Want To Save The Planet: Applications Are Open For The Techstars Sustainability Accelerator, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy

Over the last 15 years, I’ve had the privilege to get to know hundreds of companies as a mentor, advisor, and investor. As I reflect on those companies, one pattern stands out. The successful entrepreneurs I know have integrated the passionate pursuit of a larger purpose into their business.

I experienced the power of purpose firsthand during my ten years at Rally Software as an executive from first revenue through our successful IPO. From the outside, it looked like we were creating the agile category. Inside, our larger purpose was based on the belief that empowered people who actually want to come to work are essential for solving today’s big, complex problems like climate change.

A similar larger purpose—the belief that entrepreneurs create a better future—drew me to Techstars four years ago. As a Managing Director for Techstars Boulder in 2015 and 2016, I saw the passion larger purpose creates inside companies, and how that energy fuels success.

Two years ago Amy Batchelor and Brad Feld held an event at their home where I again experienced the power of having larger purpose when I heard Mark Tercek, the CEO of The Nature Conservancy, speak. I was impressed to hear how The Nature Conservancy was leveraging finance, policy, and technology to create a world where people and nature thrive together. It was inspiring to see what can be accomplished when strong leadership, the best scientists and dedicated supporters are driven by such a powerful purpose.

Today, I’m thrilled to announce that I’m putting my investor hat back on and joining the team at the Techstars Sustainability Accelerator, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy as Managing Director. I’m excited to continue the great work Jenna Walker started, and join Hannah Davis and August Ritter in helping entrepreneurs with businesses that can make a material contribution to building a world where people and nature can thrive together.

Applications are currently open through April 7th for the second year of the Techstars Sustainability Accelerator, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy. We are seeking for-profit entrepreneurs with commercially viable technologies who are passionately pursuing solutions to challenges like these:

  • Make the case for natural climate solutions;
  • Inspire climate action;
  • Conserve working forests;
  • Advance nature-based solutions to lessen the impacts of climate change;
  • Rethink agricultural practices;
  • Improve Fishery Health;
  • Improve the sustainability of aquaculture;
  • Protect water at its source;
  • Better facilitate water market transactions;
  • Integrate nature into urban growth planning;
  • Increase climate change resilience;
  • Decrease the footprint of human settlements;
  • Build a model of sustainable energy development;
  • Inform smart infrastructure decision-making;
  • Expand community-led conservation;
  • Better protect our land, water, and oceans;
  • Catalyze transformational change to achieve a world where people and nature thrive.

One of the driving forces in my life is best described in Steve Faber’s motto: “Do what you love in the service of people who love what you do.” If this resonates with you, I look forward to getting to know more about you and your company.








Announcing Techstars Sustainability Accelerator, in Partnership with The Nature Conservancy

The Techstars Sustainability Accelerator, in Partnership with The Nature Conservancy, will ensure that we innovate to make the world a better place to live. Techstars and The Nature Conservancy are seeking entrepreneurs with commercially viable technologies that can rapidly scale to help sustainably provide food and water and address global issues like climate change.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, The Nature Conservancy’s creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to the world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together.

The Techstars Sustainability Accelerator, in Partnership with The Nature Conservancy will be based in Denver, Colorado. Applications open in January 2018 and will launch in July 2018. The mentorship-driven accelerator program will connect entrepreneurs, conservationists, corporate partners, and investors to deliver products that can put the world on a path to sustainability. In addition, conservationists will learn from entrepreneurs how to quickly innovate and scale commercially viable businesses.

This marks the second Techstars Accelerator program in partnership with a non profit organization. Techstars is excited to blend its expertise in disrupting industries through innovation with The Nature Conservancy’s expertise in conservation and sustainability. Mission-driven, for-profit companies are encouraged to apply.

Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. With an accelerator portfolio market cap of more than $10 billion, Techstars has 34 accelerators and thousands of Techstars Startup Program events in nearly 170 countries.