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What is Impact Investing and how will it affect the future of our Built Environment? With Greg Smithies and Jonathan Schulhof

16.3.22

For the final episode of the Propcast season 8, Louisa is joined by Greg Smithies, Partner and Co-Head of Climate Tech at Fifth Wall and Jonathan Schulhof, Co-Founder and CEO of FootPrint Coalition Ventures. They talk through their roles and what their funds are doing within the climate and sustainable technology space, explaining the growth and trends that they have seen in the market at the macro and micro level. They speak about what the future looks like for impact investing and the built environment, and what we can personally do to reduce our carbon footprint. 

Resources:

Companies Mentioned:

Shout Outs:

Key Insights From This Episode: 

  • The technologies we’re investing in on the climate side are good for the planet, cheaper for the consumer and give higher returns. – Greg
  • We might be in the golden age of climate and impact investing. – Greg
  • We’ve had a washout of cleantech 1.0 companies that weren’t sustainable without subsidy. – John
  • It is a travesty for the planet that for the last 20 years the world’s best and brightest went through and spent all of their time doing ad click-through optimization. – Greg
  • When you look at a problem that no one’s looked at in the last 200 years, you can come up with some solutions that are cheaper, better and faster. – Greg 
  • People are really looking and examining the food supply and thinking about how we can scale in a way that’s compatible with the planet. – John
  • 70% of the world’s natural gas is burnt inside buildings for either powering them or heating them. – Greg

About Our Guests:

Greg Smithies, Partner and Co-Head of Climate Tech at Fifth Wall.

Greg is a Partner at Fifth Wall, where he co-leads the Climate Technology Investment team. Prior to joining Fifth Wall, Greg was a Partner at BMW i Ventures where he led the Sustainability investing practice, investing in companies such as Prometheus Fuels, and PureCycle (NASDAQ: ROCH). Before joining BMW i Ventures, Greg led Finance & Operations for both The Boring Company and Neuralink simultaneously.

Greg started his investment career at Battery Ventures where he covered early-stage enterprise technology startups, as well as industrial technology buyouts. Successful exits from his work there include Nutanix (NASDAQ: NTNX), AppDynamics (acquired by Cisco Systems, Inc.), and IST (acquired by Scott Brand).

Greg was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and currently lives in Oakland, CA. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School where he received a BS in Economics and a BS in Computer Science.

Founded in 2016, Fifth Wall, a Certified B Corporation, is the largest venture capital firm focused on technology-driven innovation for the global real estate industry. With approximately $3.0 billion in commitments and capital under management, Fifth Wall connects many of the world’s largest owners and operators of real estate with the entrepreneurs who are redefining the future of the Built World. Fifth Wall is backed by a global mix of more than 90 strategic investors from more than 15 countries.

Jonathan Schulhof is co-founder and CEO of FootPrint Coalition Ventures, a digital publishing and venture firm he started in partnership with Robert Downey Jr., to back environmentally focused sustainable technologies. FootPrint is a cross-platform digital publisher that features sustainable technology in news and short form video content for social media, and long-form series for streaming networks. FootPrint uses its publishing activity to originate and add value to investments in high growth companies. FootPrint then makes these investments accessible to investors that want to join in our movement through funds and through co-investment syndicates. We invest in areas such as alternative proteins, biodegradable plastics, electric vehicle motors, and energy storage.  

Jon has over 20 years of experience investing in clean technology startups.  He was a founder and lead investor in Motivate, which owned and operated Citibike and the other leading North American bike sharing systems (sold to Lyft).  He started Loom Media to finance the rollout of free public electric vehicle charging systems, and other smart city amenities sponsored by corporate media (now part of WPP).  Earlier in his career, Jon created ColdWatt, a high efficiency power electronics company (sold to Flextronics); and Glori Energy, a microbially enhanced oil recovery business (IPO). 

In addition to his cleantech work, Jon serves as non-executive chairman of GTI Capital Group, a permanent capital investor in India.  Jon started this company while living in New Delhi from 2010 through 2012.  GTI’s holdings include Air Works (aviation maintenance), Samhi (hotels), and WebEngage (B2B SaaS tools for ecommerce).  GTI has several prior exits including Brattle Foods (refrigerated logistics, sold to Future Group), National Stock Exchange (sold through secondary trades), Sandhar (autoparts, IPO), and Nova Medical Centers (healthcare services, sold to Apollo). 

Jon was a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and served on the Board of Northside Center for Early Childhood Development for 10 years.  He is now a mentor at iMentor.  Jon holds a law degree from Stanford, and attended Dartmouth College.

About Our Host

Louisa Dickins

https://www.linkedin.com/in/louisa-dickins-ab065392/

Louisa started her career in property working at a well-known estate agency in London. Realising her people skills, she moved over to Lloyd May to pursue a career in recruitment. She now is a Director at LMRE, who are a specialist recruitment firm driven by PropTech and recruitment professionals, and Louisa oversees their 5 core areas. Louisa co-founded LMRE and provides a constructive recruitment platform to the new disruptors in real estate. Louisa is also on the board of Directors at UK PropTech Association (UKPA).

About LMRE

www.lmre.tech

LMRE believe there is a better way to recruit. LMRE focus on a more comprehensive, client led focus delivering exceptional talent to the place at the time. They are passionate about the industry and passionate about people’s careers. LMRE spend time with each client to become and an extension of the business, and their transparency and core values help them grow with the sector. LMRE simplify recruitment and innovate with our clients and evolve the people driven, PropTech community.

Timestamps:

[02:05] Greg, can you talk us through your journey? 

  • I co-head the climate investment team at Fifth Wall. 
  • I set up and founded the climate investing team for BMW. 
  • Prior to BMW, I was in Elon Musk’s world for a number of years. I was head of finance and operations at two of his companies. 
  • I started my investing career at a fund called Battery Ventures.

[06:10] John, can you talk us through your journey? 

  • I have a law degree from Stanford. 
  • I started several companies that were venture-backed, the first was Coldwatt. 
  • I started my first asset management company as an investor in India and set up a permanent capital vehicle for investing. 
  • I partnered with Stephen M. Ross, Jeff Blau and Harvey Spievak and we turned around Citi Bike.  
  • Finally, I set up Footprint Coalition with Robert Downey Jr. 

[14:20] Greg, can you talk us through impact investing and how it’s going to affect our built environment? 

  • Impact investing has historically gotten a little bit of a negative connotation to it because in the capital markets people have always said there’s real investing and then there is impact investing.
  • A lot of these technologies that people used to think were expensive are now incredibly cheap.

[16:50] John, in your 20 years, what major changes have you seen? 

  • We’ve had a wash out of clean tech 1.0 companies that weren’t sustainable without subsidy.
  • Technology is accelerating, the world looks nothing today like it did 15 years ago.
  • The talent that has followed the capital that is flooding into this market is truly amazing.

[22:30] With technologies such as Carbon Cure and cross-laminated timber, it is expensive for buildings to put into practice and will the cost of these buildings be higher? 

  • This technology is safer because these things are lighter and they’re easier to transport. 
  • It’s cheaper, it’s better for the planets, your buildings go up faster and they weigh less. 
  • We’ve got to climb up a little bit of a mountain when it comes to training engineers and getting permitting done.

[24:50] John, you have experience in alternative proteins, can you expand on that and give an example of a technology in that space? 

  • People are really looking and examining the food supply and thinking about how we can scale in a way that’s compatible with the planet.
  • We look for investments in areas where through alternative methods of production, we can create more dense sources of the very things that we need to eat and that are healthier and just better alternatives.
  • Zero Acre Farms ferment vegetable oil and if you’re able to do that you have a much more energy dense way of producing that food without having to go and cut palm forest. 

[28:00] Is there something our audience could be looking for to play their part in the future of the built environment? 

  • The simplest thing you can do inside buildings is turning your thermostat down.
  • What we need is to allow people to voice their opinions and give CEOs and the people who make policy decisions, the power and the space to change how they do business.

[30:55] The ‘LMRE’ part, Louisa asks the guests to talk about; 

1.Lessons learned in your career

    • Greg:  ‘Catch Me If You Can’ and ‘Inventing Anna’, these people were to do outstanding things because they had the moxie and the guts to try. 
    • Greg: You fail at 100% of the things you don’t try.
    • John:  Never underestimate the power of human incentives.

2.Mention a person, product or service

    • Greg: Sealed.com
    • John: My wife

3.Rewarding parts of working in the space:

    • Greg: When you work on anything in climate tech it is quite rewarding inherently because the technologies you’re working on are here to try and save the world.
    • John: I love the community feedback.   

4.What are you most Excited about for the future of the space?:

    • John: I drove a 1968 Volkswagen bus and this one was kitted with a salvaged Tesla engine.

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