How to be a Beacon and Trigger 1.5 Billion New Funding as a Fearless Nonprofit

with 🎙️ Kimberly Baker – Director of Water Innovation at the Elemental Excelerator

💧 Elemental is a non-profit Growth Accelerator supporting entrepreneurs who are building world-changing companies.

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What we covered:

🍏 How Elemental picks and selects 15 to 20 companies out of 5’000 informal discussions and 800 applications every year.

🍏 How those companies behave and grow once they have joined the Excellerator – eventually raising an astonishing 1.5 billion follow-on funding

🍏 Elemental’s special kick, and what it means to be nonprofit when you’re a growth accelerator

🍏 How Diversity is a fundamental part of sustainable development (and how to promote and develop it)

🔥 … and of course, we concluded with the 𝙧𝙖𝙥𝙞𝙙 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙚 𝙦𝙪𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 🔥 


Teaser:


Resources:

➡️ Send your warm regards to Kim on LinkedIn

➡️ Visit Elemental’s Website

➡️ Tune in on their Scaling to Zero Podcast

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is on Linkedin ➡️


Full Transcript:

These are computer generated, so expect some typos 🙂

Antoine Walter:

Hi, Kim, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. Nice to be chatting with you today.

Kimberly Baker:

Thanks for having me. Nice to be chatting with you today.

Antoine Walter:

You are in a very amazing place, you know, for me, based in cold Europe, you’re based in long beach. So can we just start with a postcard from there? How’s the weather today? How is it to be based in long beach? Just to make me Jealous.

Kimberly Baker:

Oh, I hope not. Well, as you might have guessed, it’s beautiful and sunny outside. It’s definitely a California Christmas or holiday season here where enjoying, you know, getting outside a little bit with the family walks on the beach. And our neighborhood is just completely decked out in Christmas lights, every house, head to toe. It’s pretty awesome.

Antoine Walter:

Christmas lights on the beach, I think never saw that. Good. So we are starting with me being jealous. That’s a very good start. Let’s start actually with you elect to understand where you’re coming from, and then we will dig a bit more into what your you’re at right now at, at elemental. But just before I’d like to understand your path, where did you come from to end up in your role today? What brought you to your place?

Antoine Walter:

Of course. Well, speaking of postcards, perhaps I’ll take you on a small journey from the East coast to the West coast of the United States. I grew up on the East coast in Rhode Island, a small town, which is definitely centered around the ocean and the livelihood of what it looks like to integrate that into your everyday lives. As an undergrad, I completed my degree in engineering and at that point, perhaps it was the East coast influence that my ultimate goal was just to have a job that was reliable and self-sustain myself and not necessarily push the boundaries outside of the box. I ultimately focused on engineering afterschool because the college counselor said I was good at math and that it would be a good idea. So I did it. And you ask how I got here and it’s really about a path of reflection. And so I finished up college and got in my car and drove across the country with a couple of friends, which is its own adventure in itself.

Kimberly Baker

But I started a very traditional position in the sector as a consulting engineer. And at the very onset I was focused in remediation and I can still smell the smell of a refinery to this day. If you’re kind of driving down the road and you catch a whiff, it’s like that visceral reaction that anyone who’s probably been there would have. And it also, you know, this is a bit of a side note, but it also makes me open my heart for the communities that live directly next to you and industrial process, like a refinery where the way the wind is blowing on one particular day really impacts their lives. But anyway, so after that, I dabbled a little bit in what’s today, known as sustainability, working on the California climate action registry and really focused on some of these topics. Sustainability was a buzzword and although the re work in remediation was extremely important and it still is extremely important for me, a little bit of reflection allowed me to realize that there’s a path forward to address and target these very large problems that we all face from the onset as opposed to cleaning up the aftermath.

So I went back to school and completed my MBA in sustainable management. And I then started a very early stage company in industrial wastewater treatment. Learned a lot of lessons, saw a lot of things, talk to a lot of people. And I decided that after three or four years of focusing primarily on that, that I was going to go work for a growth stage company in the drinking water sector. So that company got acquired. I stayed for about a year, post the acquisition, and then I joined elemental and it’s kind of this beautiful story, which took me from the East coast to the West coast, but it really blends all of those different perspectives and experiences together.

Antoine Walter:

So you mentioned sustainability of being a buzzword, but what’s beyond the buzz word for you.

Kimberly Baker

Hmm. That’s a great question. And I think something that we’ve talked about a lot previously and in all of the different roles that I’ve had is that sustainability can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different groups of people or even individuals themselves. And when I think about sustainability, I think of something that is self-sustaining in fact, but also that leaves a positive impact on the world, or even like an added impact in a positive way on the world.

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Antoine Walter:

So that positive impact that positive way. Is it kind of what you’re doing today at elemental? Let’s just start by what elemental is. Can you tell us in a couple of words?

Kimberly Baker

Yes, of course. So my role at elemental is as the director of water innovation, hence my time here today with you talking about water. So broadly, the program is a startup accelerator and we help entrepreneurs who have these big, really challenging, amazing ideas, and these incredible technologies to back them. We help them achieve commercial success faster than they may be able to do going at it alone. And this is really important for those working in the climate space, especially in water, because as the world changes around us, we’re all watching the impact of climate change and the impact of water equity and water access. And so the way we actually engage with these early stage companies, it can mean anything from coaching, which is some of the work we do with the earlier side of companies through the physical deployment of their technology directly into the real world, so that they have the proof point necessary for the critical path of their startup. We’re a, and we’re focused across more sectors than just water. You heard me mention the climate technology or the climate space. And so we focus on energy, mobility, agriculture, circular economy, and water.

Antoine Walter:

And so your focus is on water. So I guess you might have four counterparts within eliminator, which deal with the other ones.

Kimberly Baker

Exactly, exactly. Yeah. We’ve got a portfolio of companies. There are several of us in my position as we call ourselves the directors of innovation, the DXI highs, and we work together, but we also work directly and more deeply in each of the sectors that we represent.

Antoine Walter:

So elements are just announced your ninth court about two months ago when we released that episode and this cohort has 19 new companies with join your 117 companies that you’re already having portfolio. I mean, altogether, but I’m wondering how many applications do you receive every year

Kimberly Baker

In short, a lot, we actually touch about 5,000 or so companies every year. And we see about 800 that actually do apply.

Antoine Walter:

What do you mean by touching? Do you mean you actively and proactively address those companies? Or how does that work?

Kimberly Baker

A little bit of both. I’d say we’ve got a team focused on what we call pipeline. So the pipeline, the inbound, and we cultivate the relationships within our network. Sometimes be track companies for many years until we feel like the timing is right for us to engage with them. And then we receive inbound. And so from the network perspective, it might mean myself or another DXI director of innovation on the team has met some number of companies through an engagement related to a conference or a judging opportunity. And so all of the things that we do and all of the conversations that we have, we’re constantly looking for the next, most exciting company out there.

Antoine Walter:

So you mentioned that there are multiple stages where these companies can be early stages, where it’s about coaching up to the point where it’s about product market fit and so forth and so on. So from this 5,000 companies that you touch, how many of them are in each phase?

Kimberly Baker

It’s a process that we go through as we see the application materials and we invite them to the follow on rounds. Typically there’s about three rounds of the application process. The first round we’re looking for things like key baseline criteria and technical fit. Is there a positive impact, for example, across one of our sector verticals. And we narrow it down from there in the beginning, we’re looking for those criteria, like, do they have a working prototype in two full-time employees? And as we whittle it down and get from that 800 number, usually to about 300 ish in the next round, we’re looking for things like project fit, business model, are they addressing a system wide kind of large scale change? If it’s a project, is the project achievable in the timeframe that we have to work within. And then as we narrow it down, even further to our last rounds, we’re interviewing teams and references and customers and potential partnerships that might come in as our part of our project together.

Kimberly Baker

That’s typically somewhere between, I’d say that 80 and 150 number. And finally we whittle it down to about 20 companies is usually the max and every year it depends. It’s somewhere between 15 and 20 companies that we formally engage with and ask them if they’d like to be welcomed into our portfolio. But throughout that process, as you might imagine, we fall in love with a lot of companies, a lot of teams. And since we’re a nonprofit, we’re uniquely positioned in this space to do the most that we can in terms of bringing valuable opportunities and valuable impact to the companies that do apply to work with us.

Antoine Walter:

So that nonprofit element is intriguing to me because usually you would see an accelerator of being a place where you invest money just to make a nice profit out of it. I mean, I see that mainly as the main purpose of most of the accelerators. So I’m just wondering if you don’t target the profits, do you target the impact and which kind of impact

Kimberly Baker

Yes. Great question. We do target the impact. We’re definitely looking for, you know, commercially successful businesses at the end of the day. That’s absolutely what we’d like to see, but we look at impact in terms of social impact, environmental impact, and also scalability. And one way that we measure that scalability aspect is the concept of if the work that they do with us, especially through the project-based tracks, which we call demonstration projects, can that company achieve 10 X or 20 X scale in the upcoming years? And that might seem a little vague to some, and there’s a number of different ways that we evaluate it and that we track it. And we do that through something that we call inflection points. And the way I described that in terms of maybe a personal take on it is these are the large things that are stored in our memory bank that we might remember, you know, for 10 years or even decades later.

And so if we continue on our journey, maybe I’ll continue on with the postcard theme we started with. It’s like maybe one of those times I spent a lot of time in Yosemite. It’s that first time you’re driving by half dome and it sort of catches your breath in and makes you pause. It’s not necessarily the number of stoplights or turns that we took to get to the view of half dome. It’s that big, giant life altering memory that you have. And so the way that would translate to a business is something like a financing milestone or a revenue model that might get flipped differently to either expand or introduce a product into a particular industry, vertical that we work in. It can be a policy. That’s a game changing opportunity for a company, or now, especially here in America, what’s most top of mind is equity and access. And in reality, that’s something that we’ve been doing from the onset of our work, making sure that equity is built from within these companies, instead of it being an afterthought.

Antoine Walter:

That’s interesting. And actually the, the target of 10 X or 20 X is quite bold. That means that you have one year or two to really bring those company eats more than an inflection point at that point, it’s really, they have to, to explode the whole to achieve that. If there’s a trigger, I like to know it because, you know, I’d certainly make use of making 10, X or 20 X on whatever I’m doing.

Kimberly Baker

Absolutely wouldn’t everybody. I mean, definitely it’s the goal. And we do see a number of our companies having this incredible follow on success. One way that is natural to track that is through the exits. We’ve had 13 acquisitions in one IPO in our portfolio. We’ve only got 10 companies that are out of business in the entire portfolio and 70% have gone on to raise additional funding. And actually we’ve got two water companies that have exited out of less than 10 in the portfolio. And so that’s a natural thing that we track other things that would maybe kind of make, make this story for somebody who’s reaching that 10 X or 20 X scale is a major partnership that could open a whole new geographical market or type of opportunity. And we think about that in terms of who are the best partners to quickly elevate a company to its next level. And then I’ve got a couple of other companies which have transitioned from capital based infrastructure companies in the water sector to a services based model, which has just essentially sped up their opportunity to reach a greater audience within the same market while also expanding their ability to focus on other customer verticals at the same time.

Antoine Walter:

Again, I’m coming back to that story of where those companies are when you meet them, you mentioned that they have to have a working prototype and two employees, but in most of the cases, do they already achieve the product market fits or do they achieve it through the program and through the course of what you’re doing with them,

Kimberly Baker

This is a good time to share a little bit more about the way that we engage with the companies directly. And we do it in three main ways. And this is how it’s been working previously. Our go to market track is for those early stage companies that may fit the more traditional accelerator type of model. That’s a coaching based track. And we’re looking to have them paired with coaches based on their needs for their own company. And so for nine months after they’re welcomed into our portfolio, they work with the coaches on operational scale up or sales or customer discovery. And those coaches are helping orient the company for growth. The other two tracks are truly for not your typical startup. We call them early stage or even growth stage companies. We see companies that are typically in our sweet spot somewhere between series or actually somewhere between seed stage and series C even. And so those companies are orienting their work with us around a particular deployment project in one of the regions where we’re deeply connected.

Antoine Walter:

So for those companies, it would be more to, to bring them to scale. So to do the scale-up phase and for the other one, it’s really about finding their sweet spots. Yeah. Their secret sauce to the market. If, if I get it right again.

Kimberly Baker

Yes, exactly. That’s true.

Antoine Walter:

So from your, your current core to the ninth cohort focusing on the water companies, which ones would be in which stage

Kimberly Baker

Near is our earliest stage company, they’re in the go to market track and they’re working on coaching based models. Like I just described. And then we’ve got the two later stage companies, which are Cambrin innovation working on a deployment project in the Hawaii region. And we’ve got transcend, which is working on a project in the APAC region.

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17+ hours of tips, technical advice, business hints, entrepreneurial inspiration, and market insights condensed in a MASSIVE 94 PAGES INFOGRAPHIC

20 chapters featuring 19 experts, each one addressing a specific chunk of the water industry cake

An evergreen source of Water Expertise at your fingertips to support you through 2021 and the years to come

Book Cover: Don't Waste Water Podcast, Season 1 in a nutshell

Antoine Walter:

So let me just make some advertising here at transcend was with us for episode 17 near is going to be with us for the first episode of the second season. And Cambria is going to be with us phobias of three and four because we doubled the topics of the second season. So I think we cover three fascinating, take a at the markets, incredible talking with them. I really, I can see what, what you’re suing in them. And I think the feedback we got from at is the first episode, which is live. So the one with RA from transcend is clearly that the market seems to, to agree with you. So good news.

Kimberly Baker

And that’s to be honest, something that we look for during our diligence process and the way that we orient our projects, we talked briefly about the concept of partnerships to achieve that inflection point or that commercial growth, but truly, really during our due diligence process, we’re talking with the communities where we are connected. We’re talking with the partnerships that we do have and our network to make sure that there is that interest large scale. And when we formulate these projects or demonstrations, we actually ask that there’s cost share, which to us is that commercial poll. And it demonstrates that I’m not the only one that thinks they’re amazing.

Antoine Walter:

How often do you work with them? Is it like a daily touch base weekly once in a while when they need you, how does that work?

Kimberly Baker

It depends. We really get in deep with the companies that we work with. I’m a mom. So I guess I can say this, but sometimes we call ourselves the mom, we have the hard conversations. We are the cheerleaders. Sometimes I do take board observer roles as do others on my team. So we’re on regularly scheduled meetings out of, you know, cadence that’s decided at the onset. Typically it’s at least monthly, but typically it ends up being more. But ultimately we’re walking hand in hand with whichever company it is that might be marching towards, you know, their first view of half dome or their closing around of financing, et cetera. And so we’re there when, when they ultimately need us most, we’re also there to make sure that we’re meeting the milestones that are connected to the project work that we do. And I’d say that we’re sort of in it once we’re in it with a company we’re in it forever. And what I mean by that is these are long lasting relationships. We become trusted friends, advisors, shoulders to lean on all of the above. And we really value the peer to peer aspect within the portfolio. And so we continuously forever invite our leadership teams to come back and participate in peer to peer learning and a variety of events that we host throughout the year.

Antoine Walter:

So this is the actual cohort, but what about the next ones? You know, when I was discussing with Lango TEVAR from near, he mentioned to reach out to you because he said, if, if someone knows the future, that’s you?

Kimberly Baker

Well, that was very kind of him. That’s awesome. Yeah. I mean, I love this job because it gives us the opportunity to, in a way, act like that surgeon and do a deep dive into a company and kind of pinpoint exactly what’s needed to move it forward. But on the flip side, I do take a broad view of the sector in terms of where we focus. The opportunity is quite large. We don’t take any one focus, wastewater, drinking, water, storm, water, et cetera. We take a broad view, a landscape across all of that. And I don’t have it quite ready to share just yet. So maybe we can do another, another podcast here in a couple of months, but ultimately we do orient D particular solutions around not only what we’re seeing as gaps in the market around maybe solutions that are not readily available or solutions that might need additional support to make them commercially viable or interesting, but we also take a place-based approach.

And so we’re working with the communities where we’re deeply rooted to identify a particular need in the region that might go unmet. So again, it’s sort of broad scape and, and very narrow in focus. I will say the one thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about, I think the rest of the world is talking a lot in water about digital and AI and machine learning. And the thing that’s really registered with me lately. And it’s likely because spend a lot of our hours of our days talking about the equity piece and the social justice piece of the work is HR management and workforce development. And so I’d love to see an opportunity and an application that makes sense for the utilities or maybe the industrial players to better engage with their employees, maintain health and safety and elevate employee retention possibilities as well.

Antoine Walter:

That’s really fascinating because from my experience, what I see at least in old-school Europe, the water sector, as such as sometimes a difficulty, that there is a Fuji duration of people which are about to retire and the, that knowledge is going to retire with them. There’s kind of a gap in the knowledge and in, in the, the sexiness, if I might say so from the water industry. So for sure, I think there’s a battle there to help new entrance into and to make sure that people achieve themselves in the water industry and both on the personal and and knowledge side. So I think that resonates at least with me. So it’s interesting that you mentioned that one question actually, you mentioned AI and the machine learning and digital, and those are buzzwords by excellence. And what I found interesting is that within the focus that you have on your website, this is one of the focus of the companies you’re looking for. But you know, if you’re mentioning nowadays in a genuine conversation with someone, you know, it’s about innovation and startups and going to say, yeah, of course it’s digital, but it’s interesting to see it’s not only digital, it’s not only AI, it’s not only machine learning. There’s something beside that. So for you, is it one area among others or is it something which is really for real focus of most companies today?

Kimberly Baker

Well, I believe the pattern really stems from the history of our organization. We come from a place of helping Hawaii meet its renewable energy goals. And of course, if you look at the energy sector, there’s plenty of automation and cloud-based software that have been incredibly successful, but also at the core of what’s helped transform the sector is very concrete hardware based solutions. And so the future that I see for the work that we do within our portfolio and that we see kind of coming in to the conversations that we have as well, is that we’ll likely have both, right. They’ll likely be a technology that has the opportunity and the ability to host in the cloud or a technology that might be ultimately software, but that has a sensor capability that informs the software can do by the way, is a great company that’s in our portfolio, that is a sensor based company, but really the magic is in their ability to kind of define and predict what future events might hold.

And so, yes, it’s definitely a theme. And I think it’s natural that you see it pop up in a number of places because even technologies today, as we move into the future, that might be considered capital investments or hardware based solutions, we’ll most likely have to have some overlay of a digital capability as we move into the next decade and the next step applications. And I think that will come even more tying it back to the workforce piece. I think that will come even more as we start to see a younger, newer generation that is more familiar with some of the digital tools that are out there already.

Antoine Walter:

Just the one second advertising can do excellent guests from episode six. If you want to go back to that one, now going back to what you just said, I have to stop advertising myself. You mentioned the importance of place and community and, and you, you mentioned how, why are you mentioned California? That is to what I understood an important element of what you’re doing at elemental. So can you expand us a bit more, how you focus there is in terms of place and community. Yeah,

Kimberly Baker

Definitely. And we work deeply with the communities where we deploy these projects and as we develop these projects, we certainly consider what the community needs at the center of it. And it’s like peeling back the layer of an onion. If you start at the center with the people that are really on the ground and the people that are really involved or the people that might live next to this particular process or application, just like you catch a sniff of that refinery, when winds blowing towards a certain community, we want to make sure that we’re thinking through all of the unintended consequences or, or the potential growth for a place. And so if a place has a particular need, we work with them to solve it simultaneously. I should mention as well though, that we are placed agnostic in terms of where our company’s hell from this year, we had applications from, I believe 60 plus countries around the world. And we don’t require that companies pick up and move anywhere. It’s just where we want to start. It’s just where we’re starting. Our engagement together is located in the places that we work.

Antoine Walter:

So that means if I’m a company based in, I don’t know, Denmark, I can work with you and my first customer interactions and customer projects that you will be helping with will be based in Hawaii, for instance.

Kimberly Baker

Yes, exactly. And even before everybody was at home in this pandemic, we were spending a lot of time on zoom and on video calls because we do work with companies that are located all over the world.

Antoine Walter:

So you give some number about the companies you were working with and what their fate was. And most of them were successful. I mean, I don’t know if the numbers are different than in the U S but in Europe. If you average lifetime expectancy of a startup is four years. So that means you’ve been in almost a decade and you have less than 10%, which are out of business. So you’re incredibly above the market numbers. Nevertheless, what brings a company down despite all your help and support? I know it’s really a negative way to look at things, but I’m just wondering,

Kimberly Baker

It’s a variety of things. And sometimes you as an entrepreneur this year, if, if this year proved anything to all of us, it’s that you have to be prepared for the unexpected. And sometimes there, there are potentially those extenuating circumstances, whether it relates to policy or a corporate leader, building a solution faster than, you know, the earliest stage company might be able to, but I’d say most often, and to spin it back to the positive, maybe I’d say most often focus focus is a really big one because I have been there. I’ve been in the shoes of an early stage entrepreneur where budgets are tight teams are lean decisions. Even the smallest decision can have such a huge impact on what the future looks like. And if a team is able to focus and remain aligned in what they’re trying to achieve and what their future looks like and not get distracted by the things that are perhaps details along the way, but not the big urgent strategic problems, I believe there’ll be successful. And I think sometimes the success rate is based on or not the ability to ultimately focus what they want to do.

Antoine Walter:

So that is your secret sauce to have this. Because again, to me, it’s incredible numbers less than 10%. I mean, let’s take the positive way 90, more than 90% of your companies, which are really whether they’re still in business or even better, which grew two levels, which are absolutely incredible. That is because of the separate source of focus.

Kimberly Baker

And I add one, two, I’d add one, which is the partnership, right? Because to have something that’s a viable solution, we talked about this earlier. It really comes down to who are the people involved and whose voices are at the table. And if you’re creating that in a way that’s just, and futuristic thinking and deeply rooted in what the business is about, it will eventually elevate the company to the next level. And one example of that is in the water sector, we see this very long sales cycle and it creates a huge dilemma. I’d say for both investors and these early stage companies, and everyone is sort of trying to figure out how to short circuit that. And what I’m thinking about for my companies is how do I support the sales process or the opportunities or the sales channels that are available through the concept of a partner and a partner sometimes may be a massive corporation, but a partner can also be equally as valuable when the partnership comes from something that’s a community-based organization that really truly understands how to engage with the customers that will be using the particular product that’s at hand.

And so we think outside the box we try to get creative. We tell stories in a very unique way that you might not always see in the sector. The sector tends to be very black and white. It’s either your partner. You’re not a partner. You know, you’re a leading utility, you’re not a leading utility, but there’s a lot of color beyond that. And there’s a lot of relationships that really can help elevate the opportunity for an early stage company. It actually makes me think of a story which I’ll share from Rhode Island from back in my hometown. And this story comes from the early months here in the United States when COVID-19 became the center of everybody’s world. And ultimately Rhode Island is the second most dense state. And it has the ninth oldest population, which I didn’t know until I read this article, but the governor of Rhode Island formulated her position around COVID-19 testing through public private partnerships.

And this is exactly what we’re doing. We’re leveraging public and private partnerships to make lasting business decisions and create these lasting opportunities and relationships. And so in the beginning, when many States around the U S were sort of in this panic or frozen mode, trying to figure out where to turn and what to do next, she turned to a truly innovative thing, which is this creative partnership model. And so we orient ourselves around what we call a square partnership. And it’s exactly what I’m describing, where the technology providers at the table, the communities at the table, the corporate partners at the table, and the end use customers at the table. And she brought together just exactly that she had the technology, the local community and the large corporate players paired with the government. She was working with Salesforce, emphasis, survey monkey, CVS, all to roll out her COVID testing capabilities.

And it actually worked. And I’ve said, partnerships is super important to success, but it’s also, it’s about the entrepreneurs. It’s about the teams. And going back to this example in Rhode Island, the governor didn’t have this come easily. It’s fully her dedication and the grit that it takes to have hard conversations have, you know, a number of people tell you no and keep persevering through it. And so I do think if the right people are invited to the table, the things like the long sales cycle can get shortened, and we can overcome some of the major barriers to innovation in these climate tech sectors, which present very challenging environments to early stage companies to be successful.

Antoine Walter:

Actually difficult question there, I think, but you mentioned these long sales cycle, which is for sure something which is specific to the water sector or which at least is the rule in the water sector. What about the other ones which were following inside elemental? Is the water any different there? Because you know, when you’re talking with water professionals to tell you we are in a very conservative industry and yeah, I would subscribe to that. I’m just wondering if we are the only one or if we are just thinking that the grass is greener in other industries,

Kimberly Baker

Right? Yes. We have this conversation across all of the sectors. So many ways people talk about this a lot, but in so many ways, the water sector parallels the energy sector. We’re just a bit behind where the energy sector has already evolved and been taken to. But a great example is a really fun success story that we’ve had just in the recent weeks here, which is flying in electric airplane. And it’s, if you think I’m able to sit here and say, Oh yeah, there’s less regulations around putting people in a new type of an aircraft and putting them up in the sky. The answer’s probably no that the team behind that spend many years working towards this goal, they developed deep, deep, deep relationships with the corporate partners that are at hand. And they also had an incredible amount of community engagement. This is on the ground in Hawaii, as well as the support from the policy makers that are involved. And so I don’t think the water industry is alone. Perhaps some of our challenges are unique related to the regulatory environment. And the fact that human health is at stake in terms of drinking water and wastewater management. But if you think about it, human health is also directly at stake, putting an airplane into the sky. That’s also some of our secret sauce. We pull these parallels together internally for the ability of our entrepreneurial leaders, to be able to share those lessons across the board and their struggles, quite honestly,

Antoine Walter:

What should we do? One more advertising. The story you just told I listened to it in the scaling to zero podcast, which is your podcast that elemental very, very interesting episode. I think it’s episode two. I recommend that. I think it’s a very good listen and it’s, it’s inspiring. I think especially given the topic and not let be closed the, the ads for, for that episode,

Kimberly Baker

But I’ll maybe take it full circle and let you know that there is a water company in our portfolio coming up on our next episode, which may air by the time this one does, but lots of overlap as you can see,

Antoine Walter:

That’s crossovers. And actually, you mentioned something with your previous story of the governor and you mentioned she, so I assume that that’s a female governor and that’s a topic which I’d like to, to address with you. You know, I’m, I’m a father of two daughters and sometimes I’m concerned when I’m looking around in our industry, I would say it’s 90 person, men around people, which are in it when I say 90, it’s like, I think an understatement and sometimes there’s some fresh air. And you sound to me like one of these sources of fresh air, your organization is led by a woman as well. And I was wondering if that was a coincidence, if that, that played a role, if that is something that you are monitoring, that’s something that you are looking for to make an impact also on the gender diversity, what’s your take there?

Kimberly Baker

The short answer is yes, absolutely. The longer answer is of course it is as a female led organization. Of course it is top of mind to have both females and underrepresented founders included in our portfolio and to be able to elevate the stories and, and work that is being done by those diverse groups of people. And so, yes, we do monitor it as an accelerator, as you might imagine, especially because we’re impact focused. We are collecting a number of metrics, both from our application season, as well as our own portfolio. And, you know, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. And so it’s something that we’re certainly measuring and we’re not perfect at it. It’s definitely a place of learning for us as an organization this year. And, and we learn from those around us and it’s an ongoing kind of key focus area, but this past application season.

So for cohort nine, we had 59% of our applicants companies had a female or person that identifies as female on their executive team. So yes, absolutely. It’s something that we pay attention to. That’s one example of a metric we collect. But we also have other maybe less quantitative, more qualitative things that we’re focusing on too. For example, we have an opportunity for the female executives in our portfolio to have specific coaching engagements that we support financially to make sure that their voice is heard and that their career path within their own organization has a key place to expand to. It’s something that we cared deeply about in terms of the female representation and the people that come from diverse backgrounds, whether it’s formerly incarcerated or people of color, we want to be representing them just as equally as we are everybody else.

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17+ hours of tips, technical advice, business hints, entrepreneurial inspiration, and market insights condensed in a MASSIVE 94 PAGES INFOGRAPHIC

20 chapters featuring 19 experts, each one addressing a specific chunk of the water industry cake

An evergreen source of Water Expertise at your fingertips to support you through 2021 and the years to come

Book Cover: Don't Waste Water Podcast, Season 1 in a nutshell

Antoine Walter:

So basically entrepreneurship should be a reflection of the associated and not like a privilege of, of a certain type people if I get to read. And if I hope I get you right.

Kimberly Baker

Yeah. Thanks. Thanks for that. That’s, that’s very true. And we’re currently working on a number of tools and resources that will be on our platform here in the next year. So in 2021, we’ll be releasing a lot of our work and open sourcing it for others to join on with us on this journey that we have together.

Antoine Walter:

I’m sure that’s just going to be an amazing help because I just had looked at some numbers, which are publicized last week in France. And they were, they were saying that, you know, roughly as much male and female people wants to create their startup or company or whatever. But when you look at the numbers, 70% of the founders are male or identify as male. And that means that there’s still a portion and a consequent portion of people who just don’t dare for whatever reason to go on that path or don’t allow themselves to go on that path. And I think that that’s the fresh air, which we need to bring to go to that sustainable development because sustainable development is not just, I mean, we addressed it that first word, but it’s not just about environment. It’s also about business. It’s also about people and you cannot achieve sustainable development if you don’t involve everybody. And involving everybody means that we have to, to reflect the society in the way that we address it. And, and sorry, I don’t want you to be the one talking. I mean, it’s, it’s your, your stage, but that’s important to me. So I just, I’m just glad that you’re, you’re pushing into that direction. So, so thanks for that.

Kimberly Baker

Yeah. Thank you. I mean, this is definitely a conversation that we need as many people to be having as possible. And so anytime there’s a chance to have it, it’s, it’s super important. And you mentioned your two daughters and one of my proudest moments, I think, as a mom was recently during, during this quarantine worlds where everyone’s kind of in it together. And I guess she’s been listening to me talk probably more than I realized, but there was a commercial on TV or we were watching something and she basically said something to the effect of renewable is better. Right. Mama and I’m I’m I just looked at her and I was like, where did you even learn those words? But yes, she, she just turned four last week. So she was three when she said that, but that’s a really proud moment when we start to kind of generate the enthusiasm in these really young little minds.

It’s pretty awesome. And then the other thing just a reflection to share back at you is yes, this year has been incredibly challenging for so many reasons. And I think especially on women in the workforce, trying to maintain both positions as the primary caregiver, in many cases, not, not in all, but in many cases, juggling zoom school or whatever that might look like. But one reflection I had recently actually working with one of my portfolio companies is in a lot of ways, everybody working home has leveled the playing field a bit because there’s no more expectation that female leaders are on planes for weeks at a time in order to, you know, present or close a deal or fly to wherever it may be that someone thinks they’re absolutely needed. There’s no commute. So the moms aren’t getting pulled out of the house at, you know, kind of a 12 hour per day timeframe.

And finally, when I think about my previous role at the drinking water company, I was a senior product manager and sales was ultimately something that we were thinking about every day, all day long, how do you close a sale? And there were so many times in the industry that is predominantly male driven, where I felt like I was sort of struggling to even get invited to the conversations. I don’t golf. I don’t hunt. I’m not necessarily going to be the first one that someone’s going to invite to have a drink with them, you know, after the meeting happens. And so for a lot of reasons, I feel like the playing field has been leveled because everybody’s home, nobody’s commuting, nobody’s really playing golf either to close business deals. It’s really come down to those long lasting personal relationships. Yes.

Antoine Walter:

Amazing. Because that means that an outcome of that strange time where we’re living right now is that the work-life balance might have improved and level between male. Female says that’s a positive way to look at what just happened.

Kimberly Baker

Yeah. In some ways yes. In some ways, no, but definitely, definitely a thought. Yeah.

Antoine Walter:

Well, you mentioned your, your previous role and just wondering, and that would be the, the end of our deep dive. Do you sometimes have this, this temptation to say, okay, I have so many good advices and so many partners in this big family of people out there and the contact and the network. Why wouldn’t you go back to a actual business with your own company and, and leverage all of that.

Kimberly Baker

You’re really getting in deep aren’t you. Well, and first of all, let me say, I’m not the one with all the answers. And oftentimes it’s just the place that we come from to be able to surface the difficult conversations to help the founders find their own way and their own answers. It’s sort of up to us to kind of push the envelope again, kind of in, in that mom, like a way right. Has to be the one, having those difficult conversations. But I think, you know, what I started by sharing is sort of the reflection of how did I end up here and is remediation the way that I, I want to impact the world. And of course it’s important, but maybe not the way that I want to come about it. I think for the first time in my career, I’ve, I’ve been very thoughtful about having landed in this position. And what it’s enabled me to do is collect all of the previous experiences from the variety of places I’ve sat within the sector and really sit back and, and be able to provide support for those around me. And I think for once it’s exactly where I want to be. So it’s really fun and really empowering and it’s really encouraging and exciting at the same time.

Antoine Walter:

Would that be a good summary if I say that your role today is to be a catalyst? Yes, absolutely. So with that thoughtful conclusion, I propose you to, to switch to the rapid fire questions, if that’s fine for you. Yes, let’s do it.

Get Season 1's Summary!

17+ hours of tips, technical advice, business hints, entrepreneurial inspiration, and market insights condensed in a MASSIVE 94 PAGES INFOGRAPHIC

20 chapters featuring 19 experts, each one addressing a specific chunk of the water industry cake

An evergreen source of Water Expertise at your fingertips to support you through 2021 and the years to come

Book Cover: Don't Waste Water Podcast, Season 1 in a nutshell

Rapid fire questions.

Antoine Walter:

So in that last section, I’ll try to keep the questions short, but you’ll see that I’m always the one which is making it longer, but if you can keep your answers short, if we stay with the purpose of this rapid fire questions. So let me start with the first one. What is the most exciting project you’ve been working on and why?

Kimberly Baker

Well, I’ll share a project that’s internal to elemental, which is a invitation only matchmaking platform. And I mentioned the goal to provide more opportunity for early stage companies sits at the center of what we’re up to. And so this matchmaking platform has meant for companies that apply to our program to be able to easier connect with sources of capital as well as potential partners. And so that will be getting rolled out shortly and I’m very excited about it.

Antoine Walter:

So that’s an internal platform done by elemental.

Kimberly Baker

Yes, that’s right. Our partnerships team has been working diligently on pulling it all off.

Antoine Walter:

Okay. So what’s your favorite part of your current job?

Kimberly Baker

That’s a tough one. I love doing something different every day. I love all the moving pieces, but I’d say generally speaking is working with the portfolio companies. It’s really getting to the meat of the problems and helping them solve them.

Antoine Walter:

What is the trend to watch out for in the water industry?

Kimberly Baker

He talks about this a little bit and perhaps I’ll give you two quick thoughts to summarize it, but I think the workforce management solution, the concept of that, as well as the concept of innovation around what the business model looks like itself,

Antoine Walter:

You have to elaborate a bit more on that one. What do you mean by, by the evolution of the business model?

Kimberly Baker

I’m seeing a lot of early stage companies and even throughout the pandemic, their ability to pivot quickly to sort of accommodate budgets and timelines, but the services based model turning a primarily capital project into services contracts, and that brings them recurring net revenue and also the potential for an alternative source of capital to support the future of their growth, which could be something like project finance.

Antoine Walter:

So everything can be turned into a service. So what are the service utilities as a service? That’s what you mean? Yes. Yes. I think that’s a fascinating turn that our industries is taking right now. And that’s what we will be discussing with, with Cambrian. So I think I’m not going to spoil it too much in that field, but that’s for sure a fascinating trend

Kimberly Baker

Spoiler alert.

Antoine Walter:

That’s the thing you care about the most when you’re working on a new project and what is the one you care the least

Kimberly Baker

Good question. I might bring us back to our postcard images here. I care about the criteria of success and I care about proper engagement around what the partnership model looks like to get there. And so ultimately I’m planning for that big picture item, that huge milestone that is seeing half dome for the first time. And the thing I care about the least is I don’t really care about the exact steps to get there. Entrepreneurship is messy. The process changes all the time. And so if you don’t check all 10 boxes and maybe it took you eight to get to see that image of half dome to get to close that round of funding or open your new geography, that’s great. It means you’re going in the right direction.

Antoine Walter:

Interesting one, do you have sources to recommend, to keep up with the water and wastewater market trends?

Kimberly Baker

I’m a big believer in our organization is to have all of the information that you need is right within the room at hand. And the way I’ll relate that to our work is the entrepreneurs. If we’re really truly trying to figure out what’s cutting edge and what’s going to solve the big challenges in the industry. Yes, of course the major players have their own systems and their own gaps in their own needs and their own sort of R and D work happening. But if we were to turn it around and look at perhaps the blogs or the personal social media accounts of the entrepreneurs, I think you’ll be really surprised with what we’re able to identify as opportunity. An example that I’ll give you is recently one of our portfolio companies, Fred sense, posted on their blog about their work around COVID detection in wastewater. And so that’s definitely a topic of conversation this year and definitely a direction that we will see in the industry. And so if you want to know what’s new and exciting as the entrepreneur, because they’re the ones building it.

Antoine Walter:

And that’s the case because they are close to the markets because they are agile because they’re, they’re ready to to leverage whatever is happening. So they are really, they have all their antennas out there in the market or what, what’s the triggering thing? Why are there they’re the right source?

Kimberly Baker

Absolutely. I mean, all of the things you just mentioned, of course they don’t have the same financial resources and, or perhaps the same, you know, years of experience behind them that a corporation might, but by nature they have to innovate and they have to kind of be pushing the boundaries of what the future looks like in order for their business to be successful. So as a CEO or as an executive leader that’s definitely something that everybody has their ear to the ground to track.

Antoine Walter:

Very interesting. Take last question. Would you have someone to recommend that we should definitely invite to that same microphone?

Kimberly Baker

Well, I must say we, we mentioned many throughout I’m excited that you’re already connecting with a lot of Fred sense who I just mentioned definitely is a good one. Source global recently rebranded from zero mass water. They’re doing a lot in this space. That’s perhaps the more nontraditional space of the drinking water sector, but their alternative. Well, for one, their alternative business model solution is unique. And I think they play a really unique place in the entire water system and they can serve a need for those that may not have direct connections to piped water. The other two that I’ll mention, I talked a lot about Hawaii. I talked a lot about, you know, working deeply with the communities. One of our close partners is Stuart Coleman, and I can give you his contact information. He’s working in Hawaii around the water and wastewater issues, but perhaps the most top of mine issue is that there’s a mandate to close 88,000 cesspools in the region and talk about directly impacting the community. Those are a lot of homeowners that are seeking viable solutions. And so he’s working very closely to that. And then formally, lastly, I’ll mention my former colleague, Ethan, Brooke, who did his master’s thesis on THM reduction, tri how a methane reduction in the drinking water system. And he’s now working with utilities across the world to maintain the water quality for all of us to drink.

Antoine Walter:

Awesome with that. I think we can feel seasoned too. That’s really good.

Kimberly Baker

I know, right? Lots of, lots of content for you.

Antoine Walter:

Well, Kim, thanks a lot for all the constitutes shared after I apologize, I took your left and right. And dragged your left and right. Because there are so many topics which I would like to discuss with you. So I’m sorry if it sounded a bit messy, but to me that was really interesting. So thanks much for that.

Kimberly Baker

Yeah. Thank you. It’s always fun.

Antoine Walter:

And I hope to to have you again, maybe next year for your next cohort, or in two years in five years to check the, the, the, the path of companies.

Kimberly Baker

I love that. I think geez, I, I knew you had a good number of them on, but I didn’t realize the exact amount of overlap so funny. Yeah. I think that would be great. And you know, like I said, we’ve got a bunch of new, like open sourced kind of platform opportunities coming. And so we could even focus on one of the tools more so than the, the portfolio.

Antoine Walter:

That would be fascinating. So thanks a lot, Kim. And

Kimberly Baker

Well, it’s late for you, so I appreciate it. No worries. All have A good holiday we’re close. We’re almost there!

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