Paving the Way: Climate Tech Startup Pivots to Advance its Mission
- Mar 28, 2023
CEO and Founder of Carbon Limit Tim Sperry is committed to being part of something bigger than himself. In this TechTalk episode, Tim has a conversation with EisnerAmper's East Coast Technology and Life Sciences professional Fritz Spencer about his “passion project” and how an unexpected pivot helped position his startup at the forefront of a major environmental issue.
Fritz Spencer:Hello and welcome to TechTalk, an EisnerAmper podcast. I'm your East Coast host, Fritz Spencer, a professional with a technology and life sciences practice at EisnerAmper. With me today is our very special guest, Tim Sperry, CEO and founder of Carbon Limit. Tim has taken his South Florida based company to the forefront of a major environmental issue with his carbon capture technology. Today we'll be discussing founding a company and a journey that ensues environmental and social governance, or ESG, and tech growth in the South Florida ecosphere.
To our listeners, thank you for tuning in today because today's conversation may give you a new perspective, and influence your next business decision. Tim, it's great to have you here with me today. Thanks for joining me, and a big congrats on being featured in the Florida Atlantic University's Tech Runway incubator and accelerator program.
Tim Sperry:Hey, great to be here. Thanks so much for having me. Excited to have this conversation.
FS:Awesome, me as well. Tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and Carbon Limit; how it started and kind of where you've ended up today.
TS:Sure. I have a background in carbon capture technology, negative emission technology, and Carbon Limit really is a passion project and a business to scale to gigaton scale of carbon removal. We want to help decarbonize the dirtiest industries, and nothing better than starting with probably the biggest polluting out there, which is the cement and concrete industry.
FS:Thanks. And concrete, as you said, is central to your business. Now, what led you to hone in on that material?
TS:Actually, we made that determination during our Techstars program. We got into a Techstars program when we opened the business in 2021, and the accelerator partner was The Heritage Group, and they have a bunch of businesses, cement, concrete, specialty chemicals, that whole world. As we were pivoting during the Mentor Madness of Techstars, if anyone's familiar it's a really intense process, we decided to take our technology out of a direct air capture box and put it into a concrete replacement, cement replacement for concrete. So it was really out of a pivot.
FS:Out of a pivot, got it. So being an environmentally conscious company which has a focus on climate change, how would you say your company's prioritized ESG principles within your own organization?
TS:As a climate tech company and as a very mission-driven company, everyone within our company actually has their own reason for being attracted to and for being engaged with our mission. We really come from a place of just wanting to do good. We're not really looking to just print money and create our own legacies. We really want to actually help people. It really boils down to we're doing something that's bigger than ourselves, and it's not just for ourselves, but our families and future generations. When you're trying to solve a mega problem like CO2 pollution, it really brings in the best and brightest minds. We have amazing people on our team and we're really proud of that.
FS:I'm so glad to hear that your team has been growing in a very successful manner. Speaking of growing, you've grown your business and participated in accelerators like you mentioned, Techstars, and Google Climate's Change Accelerator, which you said led to a significant pivoting point. Can you tell us a little bit more about those programs and what they meant to Carbon Limit?
TS:Yeah, sure. So before I got into any accelerator programs, I kind of thought they're a waste of time; kind of boiler plate, everyone knows how to write a business plan, and marketing is this and so on and so forth. But actually getting into some really quality programs like Techstars and the Google Climate Change Accelerator not only helped us kind of define our business and just work on some of the weaker points in our business and understand from a cap table perspective to fundraising, which not many people know how to do so well, it really helped us grow our business at an incredibly fast pace. But even better than that, it created a really amazing network; a network of customers, a network of strategic partners, and a network of really great investors.
I really say if you have an alignment with an accelerator as a startup, find the right one for you. And if you can get into it, especially if it's a difficult one like the Climate Change Accelerator with Google and Techstars, do it. Super critical for early business, early stage pre-seed to seed companies.
FS:Great, thanks. You mentioned that you have a lot of mentors and networking around these programs. I'm sure you have trusted advisors that are assisting you throughout the entire process. How have you leveraged those advisors like us at EisnerAmper as well to get Carbon Limit where it is today?
TS:Yeah, no, super critical. We been lucky and grateful to be engaging with you guys and finding some potential investors, some strategic customers. You never know where you find them, and finding them through a warm relationship and a warm introduction like with you guys and an investor or a potential customer, it creates a really great relationship. We've got quite a bit of value out of our mentors for all the programs, which some of them turned into our advisors, and one of them actually turned into our lead investor for our pre-seed round. So you never know what you're going to get. It's really, really great. It's a way to grow your business in multiples.
FS:I'm glad to hear that those mentors have really worked out for you guys. We've talked a little bit about climate change, but I'd like to pivot to the climate of growth in technology startups in South Florida. What have you seen shape that ecosphere, and why do you think it's happening now?
TS:Yeah, really interesting. I think a big piece of that momentum is when COVID happened and people started moving here from California, from New York, New Jersey, like they always do anyways. But you got your VCs, you got a lot of startups that are coming down here, and then climate became a big topic.
When we started in 2021, honestly we fell into this right at the right place, right time. We are pushing our product as a carbon capturing cement additive ad mix, that you can put this additive into concrete and it gives it the ability to capture CO2 from the air and store it permanently in our roads, bridges, and buildings. Really simple, really easy, but a legacy company in 2021 didn't care. They wanted price and performance. Later on that year when the Global Cement and Concrete Association committed to net zero, they wanted sustainability too.
When we started, Florida almost didn't want to have anything to do with us. And then come 2022, 2023, there's a huge, huge interest. We actually just came back from that Aspens Idea Climate Conference, and it was awesome to see all of the interest, all of the appetite for innovation and for adopting things that would otherwise generally not get adopted outside of an early adopter like a Google for something like what we're doing. I think really just the state of affairs and just what's happening now and carving credits and the IRA, I think that was a huge precursor and great for us. Great timing.
FS:Great, thanks for that. I love to hear about your product too. I didn't really hear too much about it in your intro, if you want to give us a good breakdown of what it is that you guys are creating and selling or investing in.
TS:Carbon Limit has a carbon capturing technology. It's a simple additive that you can put into concrete. So just imagine building a road, a bridge, a building. You can add this special additive to it, and once you've built that road, bridge, or building, it gives it the ability to actively attract CO2 from the air, and then it mineralizes it permanently in the concrete. So it does two things that are really cool. One, quantifiably lowers the carbon footprint of that concrete project; and two, generates high quality carbon credits. Now carbon credits are becoming a really big buzzword, and carbon credits are really starting to take a huge piece of market share and generate just a mega market share on its own. So really an interesting thing, and it's a really big global interest that we've seen from our customers. Our customers specifically are cement and concrete companies and concrete precasters, so anyone that's making the cementing concrete or making concrete products that we make today.
FS:Great. Yeah, I was seeing some interesting statistics on how much concrete is put into these new buildings. Being able to decrease their carbon footprint with carbon capture, it seems really amazing.
TS:Yeah, it's incredible the rate at which we're developing right now. I think the statistic was that for the next 40 years every month we're building the equivalent of a New York City. That's insane. That's a lot of concrete. That's the most manmade used material on this planet, so if we can use it to capture CO2, I think that's a pretty good starting point.
FS:Especially when it's so destructive in its process of being created-
FS:... for a carbon footprint. One thing we like to hone in here on TechTalk is that conversations are the foundation of successful companies. So lastly, I'd like to ask you a question that we include in all of our TechTalk episodes, which is what's one conversation you've had that continues to influence you today?
TS:I guess I would say it's not one conversation, but it's really from a lot of the books that I read. I love to read books, and I think any entrepreneur, especially a visionary entrepreneur, should read a lot of them. Not fiction, but self-development, hacking your subconscious, whatever it is that you get your hands on that helps fuel you and helps you grow. Growth and development are really a huge piece of how I do what I do. I wake up at four in the morning as well, and that's a big piece of my productivity hack.
Probably the most impactful book that I've read and that aided to something that I think anyone can integrate into their business, which is why I want to bring this up, would be from Buddha and the Badass. Buddha and the Badass has a really interesting way, it's not like a spiritual book, but it is like a development book, it is kind of a business book, it's kind of all things. In there they talk about with your business, you need to focus on your own foundational values. This is something that's always resonated with me. A lot of people try to make their business democratized and have everyone fit into it, and it really all has to come from, I think, the founder. There's of course organizational foundation values that may have a bunch of democratization to it, but your foundational values need to come from who you are, what you're all about, what drives you, what fulfills you, what's your passion about. But really, people need to understand you from your business and what you stand for. If they have to figure it out on their own, I think it's a mistake.
I know this is a long-winded answer, but we've created a company manifesto. That company manifesto outlines the foundational values, what we stand for, what we're all about. So you can really either see yourself fitting into our organization or not fitting in, which is actually even better because then you mitigate some of the wrong people coming into your team, which, let's face it, burns resources, runway, and everything else, and maybe company culture's instruction as a result.
But the other thing that was really cool was there's something called the three most important questions. This is something where they read your company manifesto, your core values, and then the three most important questions are actually for the new hire that's coming in. It's for them to fill out kind of what they want to get out of, whether it's life, whether it's this business, whatever it is. But what's really, I think, powerful about them filling that out and giving it to you is first of all, they trust you with the answers, and second of all, you get an idea of what they're all about and you can help them later. That way of building that relationship I think is just so critical and so powerful, and it's why our company culture is what it is and it's why we do what we do. We're like a family, and I know everyone says that, but we truly are. It really makes a big, big difference and you can tell. Our superpower is the way we connect and the drama free environment that we maintain.
FS:Relationships are so important, and the conversations that we have really are what build those relationships. Whether or not the idea spurs from a book or from a mentor, those conversations happen and they're valuable. So Tim, I want to thank you for taking the time to have this conversation with me today. I really appreciate it.
TS:It's been my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me, and look forward to many great things with you guys as well. Keep going, and thank you for this.
FS:Of course, looking forward to a long lasting relationship and lots less CO2 emissions.
TS:Hey, there you go.
FS:And also, I'd like to wish a special thanks to our listeners for tuning into TechTalk. We would love to hear your thoughts and feedback on today's episode, so please do leave a review, a comment, hit the like button. But most importantly, subscribe to stay up to date with the latest here at TechTalk. I'm your East Coast host, Fritz Spencer, and I look forward to seeing you next time here on EisnerAmper's TechTalk.
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Fritz Spencer is a Audit Senior with audit and accounting experience serving both public and private entities.
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