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Why a VC that started in Miami is investing big in climate solutions
Stonly Baptiste Blue discusses why he’s investing in companies building a sustainable - and prosperous - future. Take a listen here.
Stonly Baptiste Blue was born in Haiti, moved with his family to South Florida, and graduated from Miramar High School. He built multiple companies and helped pioneer Miami’s tech community by setting up shop at The LAB Miami co-working space in Wynwood when efforts were starting a decade ago.
Today, he’s the co-founder of Third Sphere, a $100 million venture capital fund investing in companies building a sustainable, healthy, and prosperous future. Blue and his co-founder, Shaun Abrahamson, are all-in on addressing climate change - or as Blue calls it, “climate changed,” noting that the shift has already happened.
“Everything will ultimately become impacted by climate,” said Blue. “Investment decisions, personal decisions will all ultimately be influenced by climate factors over the next coming decades. So why not get ahead of that.”
“The job to be done for us,” Blue continued, “is identifying the key pieces of tech, the key teams, that are going to be a part of the solution set that we can tap into.”
Blue joined us for our latest Opportunity Miami Interview where we discuss why he’s focused his professional life on climate tech investing, the sort of companies he’s targeting, and what will be the ingredients for successful climate tech hubs. You can watch it here.
It’s not often that we find our passion and spend a significant part of our professional lives pursuing it. But Blue has found his life’s work.
Blue said two things became clear to him that he needed to figure out after ten years of building random companies. One, the need for more leverage - namely, not just using his own money to build and grow companies but others as well. And, two, to care deeply about what he’s working on.
“Whether I had a successful exit, or not a successful outcome, in my earlier companies it all felt kind of empty because I didn’t know why I was working on it beyond chasing profit, chasing revenue,” said Blue. “Now I know why I am waking up and working on something no matter how hard it is.”
In 2013, he and Abrahamson, both working out of The LAB Miami in Wynwood, launched Urban Us. The company subsequently took on the name, Third Sphere, with a team that is fully distributed today, with Blue in San Francisco and Abrahamson in Los Angeles.
To date, Third Sphere has invested in more than 110 companies that, among other things, aim to create a world that has clean, affordable energy (BlocPower, Gradient, Swell), efficient transport (kiwibot, Wright, Circuit), and bountiful food production that doesn’t harm the environment (Bowery) nor stockpile landfills with food waste (mill).
They are part of an investment push that includes climate tech VCs who have been featured previously on Opportunity Miami, including 2150 VC, Lowercarbon Capital, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, and Volo Earth Ventures. Last year Third Sphere ranked third globally on the Climate50 list of top climate VCs. Blue was featured in Fortune in August as a top climate tech VC to watch.
“Scientists have known about climate change for almost 100 years now. We were lacking entrepreneurs, and the funding of those entrepreneurs, to get things off the shelf and out into the world,” said Blue.
PLACES THIS FUTURE WILL BE BUILT
To Blue, two things will be critical in determining what places emerge - such as Miami - as climate tech hubs. The two are government policy and investment capital.
New York City, for instance, is winning appeal as a place for climate tech innovation because of Local Law 97, passed in 2019, which aims to achieve significant energy efficiency in buildings across one of the biggest and most dynamic commercial real estate markets in the world. A similar law across Greater Miami could have a transformative impact.
The New York law has galvanized investment around retrofitting existing buildings and constructing new buildings with more sustainable footprints that “has motivated solution providers like entrepreneurs to show up with their ideas, with their solutions and now they have customers ready to buy,” Blue said.
New York has done a great job of signaling that “we really need entrepreneurs focused on these things,” Blue added. We previously profiled one of these companies, New York-based BlocPower, in an Opportunity Miami Interview with Ian Harris. Watch it here.
Meanwhile, more investment capital in a city will serve as a magnet for climate tech entrepreneurs to build companies there. That remains an advantage for the Bay Area, he said.
Today, Miami’s budding climate tech community is home to VCs like Avila Ventures and Mission One Capital, which are focused on climate tech. Endeavor Miami has focused an EndeavorLAB cohort on climate tech entrepreneurs and the recently launched Miami-Dade Innovation Authority is focusing its initial challenge on an environmental problem.
With forward-thinking policy and available investment dollars, talent will follow to those places, Blue said.
“It makes all the sense in the world for Miami to be a nexus of those two powers,” said Blue, whose long connection with Miami includes meeting his wife, Tamar, and his co-founder, Shaun, at The LAB Miami in Wynwood.
In many ways, the work of climate tech entrepreneurship and investing is a race against time. As the impacts of a changed climate continue to be felt, it’s a race to show that the transition to a sustainable, net-zero economy will generate profits, jobs, and prosperity. A big responsibility is on the VCs, like Third Sphere, to make good decisions in backing promising entrepreneurs with groundbreaking ideas.
But when asked if he’s optimistic, Blue brushed aside the question.
“My work does not depend on how optimistic I am feeling. And, two, I can't seem to find my crystal ball.”
Instead, Blue said, “It’s all about doing the work, and just getting up and doing one more thing that day, and that’s what motivates me.”
Opportunity Miami is a platform for people passionate about Miami’s future. As always, we would love to hear from you. If you have a company or entrepreneur to suggest or an idea to share that relates to building Miami’s future, email us at email@example.com. We invite you to subscribe to our YouTube channel to watch our Interviews and On Site video series featuring leaders shaping Miami's future. Please also follow us on our social media channels. If you were forwarded this newsletter, you can subscribe by clicking here. And if you are new to Opportunity Miami, you can learn about our mission and work here.
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