Interview with Chante Harris, Director of Climate Investment & Partnerships at SecondMuse
Chante Harris, Director of Climate Investment & Partnerships at SecondMuse
Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I have with me Chante Harris. Chante is the Director of Climate Investments and Partnerships at SecondMuse. She’s also a Venture Partner at both Nextgen Venture Partners and Republic. And she is also the co-founder of WOCCS, which is Women of Color, Collective and Sustainability. And she’s joining us from New York. Welcome.
Chante: Hi Catherine, thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Catherine: So tell us all about these roles and companies that you’re involved with?
Chante: Yeah. So as you mentioned, I lead climate investment and partnerships for SecondMuse. SecondMuse is a global innovation and impact firm. We’ve been around for over 10 years. And really, our thesis is how do we build future economies that are more inclusive, sustainable and regenerative. And the way that we think about that is by looking at emerging technologies and industries, and focusing in on the entrepreneurs that build economies locally, and giving them the resources, the funding the networks, the mentors that they need to thrive. And ultimately, the goal is to not only have them thrive, but have an ecosystem of partners and collaborators thrive alongside them. And so that’s how we think about our work. I lead our climate tech work, which is really focused on de risking early stage climate tech, what was formerly known as clean tech. And now, climate check has reemerged as a more expansive way of thinking about climate as a whole. And I think moving past solely focusing on renewable energy, which was really, I think, the main component of clean tech decades ago, and now climate is permeating every aspect of business. And so what does it mean to find the next innovator and founder, give them the hands-on support that they need, help them fundraise think through their data rooms, their cap tables, and also support them and getting plugged into the ecosystem and different opportunities that they have in the US. So that’s what we do with Venture for Climate Check, the climate tech venture studio I run, that’s my day to day. And I really love working with founders, particularly diverse founders, I’ve been in the kind of city’s urban and climate innovation space for years and felt that we could be doing a lot more to diversify the people behind the solutions. And it’s not that they don’t exist, it’s oftentimes that they don’t get the resources that they need, or they’re not identified. And so myself and my co lead Jackie Mobley Ross, who’s a Latina woman of color, we really champion diversity within climate tech and the climate tech space. And then I’ll end by saying that that aligns very much with woman of color collective and sustainability, which was really a passion project that myself and my co creator and co founder, Jordi Vasqiez and I launched back in 2019, when we were looking for a space that represented us and our lived experiences, but also identified the power of being a woman, the power of being a woman of color in this space, and giving not only ourselves, but the women who are now part of this 5000 person global collective the resources and the community that they need to thrive within sustainability.
Catherine: That’s great. Thank you so much for that synopsis. And I think that also my marketing manager, Lisa DeMarco, who edits this, we’ve had this debate back and forth about clean tech versus climate tech. And I think you’ve solved it. The debate is over. We’re going with climate tech moving forward. Thank you for that. So I want to talk about some of the exciting companies and technologies that you’ve come across through your work at SecondMuse.
Chante: Yeah, sure. Happy to. So we just wrapped up our first year, we were essentially building the ship while running it, which I’m sure you’re very familiar with. It was a really eventful year. I mean, I’m extremely proud of all of the founders we’ve been able to support. We helped nine founders throughout the six and a half month program that we launch. And really, it’s split into three phases. And so we help them not only identify a co founding team, so let’s say their PhD, right, or scientists, how do they identify a CTO or CFO or someone who really helped them think through the business model. So we supported them with that we supported a few of them with getting incorporated if they weren’t already. And then we also put a big emphasis on their fundraising journey. So exposing them to all of their options. Of course, VC is a part of that, but it’s not the only part of their capital stack. And if you look at a lot of climate tech founders, you’ll see I think Danelle is always the obvious one to point to. He’s been able to through Black Power really bring together philanthropic dollars, VC dollars, government dollars, to launch his solution and help at scale, and really, I think every climate tech founder has to be thinking about their capital stack in that way. So we really focus on that.
But to answer your question, what innovations and founders am I most excited about? You know, you can’t really choose one because but I think one that we were just really excited about, because it deviated from the deep tech or hard tech solutions that we tend to focus on and support is, they’re now called ClimateTies, when they were going through our program, they were Seeds. And really what they’re trying to do is be the acorns for climate investment. So helping everyday people essentially round up their change and put that towards an investment into a local growth green infrastructure project. So seeing firsthand how do you fund something locally, through the change that you have within a bank account, right? Or what does it look like for you to really round up to the nearest dollar and support a really great community solar project, for example. So that’s one. Another great innovation that we were excited about is boat post. And that’s led by three incredible guys that went through the first cohort of companies and what they’re doing is taking lampposts and retrofitting them. So thinking about how to use existing city infrastructure to add on additional assets for the LEC B energy transition. And I think that we’re seeing more conversations like that within the US, there’s actually been some successful models already. And places like Europe, and so they really want to support the US market and thinking about existing infrastructure uses for the energy transition, and they actually think about a month ago, and might be a little off their raise their $1.3 million pre seed round. So we’re really excited about what they’re building. And they’re really looking at equity at the forefront of how they roll out their products. So where our electric vehicle charging stations needed the most. I think, unfortunately, historically, if you look at many deployments, they tend to not focus on communities that really need the access to a specific innovation or technology. And they want to make sure that they’re doing that and doing that with community. So those are two that come to mind. We also have a couple of amazing female founders. We have an incredible founder named Aaron from Mars Material, and he’s essentially taking a new approach to material science and figuring out how do you use a process within material science to sequester carbon? So carbon sequestration, carbon capture is all the rage right now. And we’re really looking at how do you think about the solutions and the technologies that have tangible applications today? So that’s one of the really exciting innovations within our cohort as well.
Catherine: Yeah, it’s just amazing to me the different technologies that are coming out on the market, like I just didn’t really notice it in the past sort of year or two. There’s just so much technology and so much exciting things that are happening. Lampposts. Who knew? So I want to talk about DEIJ. How do you integrate diversity, equity and inclusion into the venture for climate tech program?
Chante: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think it’s one that pretty much the entire climate ecosystem is grappling with the climate tech. I mean, you look at Silicon Valley, and what VC has been, and we know the stats, I don’t need to repeat that, we know that women and people of color are getting such a small percentage of VC dollars still, even if you look at the recent numbers from 2021. And so I think it has to be a multilateral approach, it has to be an understanding of how do you bring together not only capital in a diverse and inclusive way, but also recruitment. Right? So where are we finding founders, I think what I love about what Jackie and I and our team had built is that we really looked at recruitment as something that we had to be intentional about. And so when we say diversity, equity inclusion, we can’t say we’re going to recruit and then not acknowledge that we all have our limitations as it relates to our networks. So one thing that we did was actually hire scouts across the globe to scout for global innovations. And that meant that if we were not plugged into Latin America or Asia, who can we bring onto the team, particularly for recruitment to help us find those founders that are from you know, the global south or are from Latin America, and Asia and Africa. And so, it was interesting because it seems pretty straightforward, but to our knowledge, it’s not that common. Our hope is not to say, hey, we did this thing, we’re so great because we did this thing, which yes, we’re proud that we were able to hire some people, pay them, pay some diverse folks to go out and essentially help us build a diverse pipeline. But also now we’ve created a new tactic, right for others in the ecosystem to be thinking about how they recruit. So recruitment is a big part of this, we are at the earliest stage of climate tech. And so we’re really one of very few, if not the only kind of venture studio model, which means that we’re really working with the founder at their prototype and their MVP stage, they oftentimes haven’t necessarily secured their first pilot or even customer, they’re still beta testing all of those things. And if you’re going to diversify in industry, why not start right, like that’s the best place to start is at that stage. And so we don’t take it lightly. I mentioned Jackie is Latina, she was the first Latina to raise millions of dollars for a hardware startup, I’ve been an operator for years scaling all different stages of companies into new markets. And so together, we take our individual expertise of understanding founders and scaling companies, and we essentially said, Hey, we’re going to build a great program, and diversity will happen, because we’re going to be intentional about how we, again, not only recruit, but we’ve thought about diversity down to the mentors that we invite to be a part of the program, right? So if we, if we have a queer black man in our cohort we believe that in this ecosystem, there are others who identify with that with those identities, and can be of help to these founders. And so our mentors are very diverse. And we were intentional about reaching out to universities, HBCUs, getting folks involved even building a board that’s diverse. And I think that’s the hard part about it, right? Because you have to think about it at every step of the way. And I think oftentimes what has happened in our spaces, people will say, Okay, I’m launching this, I don’t know, climate justice aspect, or I’m doing equity over here. But the reality is like equity should be a through line. And everything that we do, diversity should be through line and everything that we do. And so if our founder cohort is diverse, which it was, we were proud to say that 86% of our cohort was diverse in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, educational background where they grew up, as well. And I think that that’s so critical to look at not only the founders and how they represent diversity, but then how are our mentors matching up when it comes to diversity? How does our board reflect the future of climate tech and innovation that we want to see who do we invite to be judges for our Global Innovation Challenge? And I remember, we launched our global innovation challenge last year as well. And a few women joined and they were like, wow, like, it’s so great to see such a global, diverse group of people. And that wasn’t by mistake. It was by design, we intentionally thought about that aspect. And so there’s always room for improvement. But I really think the answer is to not silo it and say, hey, if we’re going to do diversity, equity inclusion, it can’t and it shouldn’t be, it won’t have the impact that we want to see if it’s its own bucket that kind of sits off to the side and needs to become a through line in every aspect of what you’re building. And yeah, I mean, people are out there, you just you got to find them. You have to be intentional about it. Yeah.
Catherine: I think it’s just so important, like what you’re saying about the beginning, because I have a lot of companies that come to me, even 10 people in who say, Uh-Oh, the founders got a bunch of people in their network. Now they’re 10 people in what do we do? You know, so I think by starting from the beginning, because people that you hire are looking to who is in the firm to start with, so if you have diversity to start with, and it began getting diversity through, like you said, through the through line through the process, the whole process of hiring, the rest of the team becomes, I don’t want to say easy because easy, certainly not the right word, but a little less challenging. Tell me about this. Women of Color Collective and Sustainability, WOCCS, How was this organization developed? What’s it been like, over time? How has it evolved?
Chante: Yeah, it’s evolved a lot. It’s really taken on a life of its own, I think Jordi and I couldn’t have imagined that it would be what it is today in 2022. I met Jordi at climate week. I think it might have been 2017. I’m blanking could have been 2016 at this point. And I remember you know, for so long, I was really the only Woman, the only black person and the youngest person in the room and we were talking about major projects that were going to impact communities of all backgrounds. Right. And I spent a long time being a go to market strategist and really thinking about cross sector collaboration. And what does it mean to build stakeholder alignment? I think the reality is that when it comes to climate, when it comes to how we build regenerative cities of the future, we have to involve people who have a diversity of thought. And that comes from bringing people from the community, right, I live in New York. So a lot of this was in the context of New York. But I’d argue that a lot of it mirrors what happens in other cities as well, if you’re going to, I don’t know, put put in place a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle, charging station in a community, understanding that community, making sure that they understand the product that they’ve been included in your customer segmentation, all of those pieces really matter. So all of that to say that I was feeling pretty, I think, lonely, but also just unenthused, about the lack of even intention behind some of the work we were doing. And it became really interesting for me, because a lot of it felt like just what you would do typically, if you were entering a new market, you wouldn’t assume things about your customer, you wouldn’t not do the customer discovery to make sure that what you’re offering and your messaging speaks to the customer. But that’s literally what was happening all the time. So anyways, fast forward to climate week, I was really excited to go to this event. It was an event for women. And I was thrilled to even see on the climate week agenda that there was an event specifically for women to network and get to know one another. And I walked in, and I think to be frank, it was pretty much all white woman. And I remember looking to the right of where I was seated, and I saw some curly hair, and to be Jordi and we just sort of smiled at each other. And we were so excited to be there. And we understood the power of women being in the room. But we also asked the question, well, what does it mean for women to have access, if this doesn’t represent the diversity of women like when we say woman, it should represent all women, right, and what our experiences are. And so really, WOCCS became what it is today. Because Jordy had a newsletter called Urban on site, I was always hosting private events with my company and trying desperately to invite all the women and people of color I knew at the intersection of cities and urban and climate innovation. And so I started inviting her to pretty much all of the events that my team through. She would send me this newsletter and was like, Hey, do you know that this event is happening, you should come to this and we became a resource for each other in our careers. And then one day, we sat down, and we were like, Hey, this is great that we’re doing this for one another. But what would it look like to provide this to other women of color? Right? Like, we can’t be the only ones out here? We know we’re not? And so how do we bring women of color together and create an impact. And we did some research, because we didn’t want to just launch something if something already existed. And we couldn’t find anything. And I remember we were hanging out, I think it might have been a South Street Seaport. And we sort of looked at each other. And we were like, Hey, I guess we’re gonna do this thing, right? Like, it matters, it matters to us. And so we always tell people, we really built the community that we didn’t have the community that we desired. And now I know you’re a bit familiar with Women of Color Collective and Sustainability. You’ve been a supporter, and just the things that you tag us in which we’re very grateful for. And really what we aim to do is provide women of color with the resources, the network, the mentorship that they need to thrive within the sustainability industry and in their careers, but also personally and their well being, which you think is that duality, right? of, hey, we want to give you what you need to be an incredible architect, engineer, founder, businesswoman, but we also want you to have a space for you, right, that feels like you can be honest and open and transparent about the things that you’re experiencing within the industry and have peers that support you through it. And yeah, that’s what WOCCS is today. We couldn’t have imagined that COVID was going to really just propel our vision so much because community became a central point of every dialogue during COVID. And so we decided to launch something called the Collective Resiliency Summit, plan that in a matter of maybe two and a half weeks, and we ended up having over 400 people from across the globe, RSVP and sign up to attend 20 partners and sponsors and I think it just it solidified for us so that this work really mattered not only I think, climate and look at specific climate issues related to wherever we’re visiting, but also spend more time in nature Jordi and I just spoke about planning for 2022. And we’re like, hey happy hours are great dinners are great. But we also want to do more hikes, we want to have more picnics. We want to really immerse ourselves and the work that we’re doing on a day to day. So yeah, that’s the story behind WOCCS. And, again, it’s kind of taken on its own life.
Catherine: It”s funny, I’m aware of it, I’ve been a big supporter of it. But since you were talking, it’s like a couple people popped into my head, and I was thinking, I should have recommended them. So as soon as we’re done with this, I’m gonna go email them and be like, I forgot to tell you this. Because there’s so many women who come to me women of color come to me who say like, where do I go? What do I do? Like how? How can I help myself? Like they want to help themselves, they just don’t know where to go? Yeah, an awesome place for them to go. So I’m gonna make sure I make that happen.
Chante: Yeah, we’re actually relaunching, it’s really easy to sign up. Like you go to our website, we have a Google group, we have a LinkedIn group. So it’s sort of like choose your own journey. Like we didn’t want to throw newsletters down people’s inbox. I think the last thing anyone wants is a bunch of more newsletters. So we’re like, how about we offer a LinkedIn group, a Google group, we do have a newsletter as well. But it’s really like, what do you need to feel a part of a community and feel like you have the tools at this point in your career, and we’re actually relaunching our kind of hiring and job platform. So we’ll have some exciting announcements around that soon. And it’ll just be a lot more holistic, where you can create a profile, you can actually look at companies and companies can also view your profile. So making it more of an opportunity to really understand what opportunities are out in the ecosystem.
Catherine: That is really, really great. Because you’re right, everybody needs something different, like somebody might need help finding a job, but then someone like, I got a call the other day, and they were just like I don’t feel like I’m being paid equally to my colleague what did you do? How do you approach it? And I’m like, okay. So there’s a lot of different challenges that we face. So I think it’s good that you’re not just like you said, just offering a newsletter. It’s a bit more holistic than that. And my final question is around mentorship. So I noticed that you mentioned mentorship a little bit earlier. But I noticed that you also founded Dreamers Doers, a female focus, collaboration, and CO mentorship community of entrepreneurs, investors and advisors. You also were a go to market mentor for Impact by Women, which helps women entrepreneurs get ready for capital investment and matches them with values aligned investors. Why do you think mentorship is so important? And can you talk a bit about your mentors and mentees?
Chante: Yeah, Dreamers and Doers are incredible. I can’t speak highly enough of gosh, I remember coming across it when I was kind of craving community, like, I remember starting out my career and thinking, wow I feel like I have a great job. But I also want more women in particular in my space to help me think through not only next steps, but what it means for me to continue on down this journey. And I think most people want that right, regardless of your background. And I mean, mentorship is so critical to me, and I’ll never forget, Claire Wasserman founder of Ladies Get Paid. I think I had interviewed her, I have worn a lot of hats, because I’m just a curious person and kind of jump head, things that excite me, clearly. And I remember I was interviewing her for her agenda, which is another amazing publication run by a black woman that everyone should check out if you’re a woman looking for career tips. But yeah, I was writing this interview of Claire for her feature. And she mentioned peer mentorship. She was like, oftentimes, when we think about mentorship, we think we have to go find the CEO or the woman or the person who’s leading the department. And make them our mentor. And of course, there’s value in that I highly recommend people having mentors that have maybe lived a different life or been in the industry longer and can kind of share with you some of the insights that they’ve gathered along the way. But I’d argue that the most important and, this is what Claire was talking about as well when I spoke to her years ago, that really, peer mentorship is the most critical mentorship you can have. Because if you think about it, right, if let’s say I’m a director, I have another friend who’s a director at I don’t know a venture fund, a climate tech venture fund, another friend who’s a director at like, we’re all having a similar experience in some way because of where we sit within an organization or a company. And I mean, I’ve been so blessed to be pulled into whether it’s a WhatsApp group or a Twitter chat, and literally just women like sharing everything from salary to what should I be asking for my interview process? Like, have you heard anything about this org? Are they good? Do they treat their employees well? Well, like, these are the things that you know, oftentimes, we’re not comfortable. And rightfully so saying out loud within whether it’s social media, or even if you go to an event, right, if it’s a big event, but if you’re in a kind of more intimate circle of women that particularly share your industry, share your experience are on the same level as you in terms of where they’re at in their career, there’s so much insight. And I found that women are so willing to share, hey, I made this mistake, like don’t do the same thing that I did. Or I wish I had been more confident. When I was five years ago, like, I wish I had done this thing in my career. I wish I hadn’t waited to do this. And I think those are the nuggets that proved to be so powerful. And when I think of mentorship, I really think of those things like it’s essentially your peers, some of them, of course, are older, but like mentorship to me is really are you getting insights that you wouldn’t otherwise have that help you create a path that feels right to you. And that can come from someone who’s 20 years older than you and you know, is maybe in the C suite, but it can also come from someone who’s maybe already worked in a space that you’re interested in transitioning to more about. And I think that we should be looking at mentorship as that holistic opportunity and not just, hey, I want to go meet the CEO or the person I think is running the ship. Because there’s so many people who are doing amazing work alongside them or even report to them, and imagine how much they know about what’s really happening. So, yeah, I think mentorship is critical. It’s something that we really try to champion through WOCCS. And I think mentorship can come from community simply.
Catherine: Yeah. Thank you so much for this Chante. It was really, really great to learn more about you and all the organizations that you’re involved in. You are a busy lady and I’m very grateful for all the hard work that you’re doing for our industry and women.
Chante: Thank you. Yeah, it’s such a pleasure to be here. I know you’ve been doing this for a while so it’s been nice to tune in and you know, finally be able to participate in one as well.