Interview with Janice Tran, CEO & Co-Founder of Kanin Energy
Janice Tran, CEO & Co-Founder of Kanin Energy
Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I have with me Janice Tran, the CEO and founder of Kanin Energy. Thanks for joining us, Janice.
Janice: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.
Catherine: And I believe I think you might be our first guest that’s being recorded in Canada. Are you in Canada?
Janice: Yeah, I am. Our office is based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. So happy to be your first northern guest.
Catherine: Our first northern guests, we’re really expanding our horizons here. So you have a very impressive background ranging from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. I also noticed that you were recently featured by Forbes as well as Foresight Cleantech Accelerator Center. Tell us a little bit more about yourself.
Janice: Yeah, happy to. So my name is Janice Tran, I’m the CEO, and one of the co-founders for Kanin Energy. What our company does is we develop projects that turn waste heat, which is normally a byproduct of the industrial process, and we convert it into baseload emission free electricity. So like one of the key differentiators of our businesses that we provide the capital for these projects. So financing, and project economics is a big part of that business. So I handle everything related to the money and the numbers. And my background is in finance. I was a director at a fund called Generate Capital, which funded projects not too dissimilar to what we’re currently building right now. And a couple years ago, I decided to make the jump to the other side of the fence and create a development company that I always wanted to fund.
Catherine: Great. Thank you for that. So Canada, actually has had incredible two years after founding Kanin during the pandemic, and 2020, who successfully closed two funding rounds, restructured and expanded your team. You’ve also been accepted into a number of cohorts and incubation programs, just third derivatives cohort and the plug and play energy program. In a nutshell, can you tell us a little bit more about what Kanin Energy does?
Janice: Yeah, happy to. So a lot of people don’t actually know this, but about half of the energy that goes into an industrial process is usually just wasted. And when you look at heavy industry, particularly like cement and steel, this is especially the case because they have a lot of energy and heat intensive processes. So if you look at steel, for example, it requires temperatures, somewhere north of 1400 degrees Fahrenheit. And, there’s a lot of heat, that’s a byproduct of that process. And it’s just vented into the atmosphere just like and wasted. So what we want to do is we take that waste heat, and we can turn it into clean electricity, very similar to say geothermal where they’re mining the ground for that heat. Well, in this case, we’re just tapping into the heat that’s currently wasted. And we can sell that electricity that’s being produced, we can sell it back to the site itself. And this will help Yeah, help to decarbonize their operations by reducing their consumption from the grid, which can be pretty coal or gas intensive. And it also increases energy resiliency, we’re seeing a lot of blackouts lately, because of just the instability of the grid. And so this helps to just increase that self reliance. And I think finally it comes to the bottom line, so a lot of the companies, they’ll end up saving money or hedging, like increasing electricity costs by self generating that power. And then we can also take that electricity and sell it to the grid to and help to lower the carbon emissions of the grid.
Catherine: It’s a win win for everyone.
Janice: Exactly, exactly. Yeah, one of the things is that we also provide the capital. So a lot of these companies will say that it’s too expensive for them to do these projects. And so when we come in and align capital, that’s not their balance sheet capital, which is usually really expensive. They require like 18 month paybacks or less. And our capital is much more patient and aligned. And so when we do that matchmaking, it usually unlocks a lot of potential projects. So it’s a combination of the development skill set, and then the capital that makes us different.
Catherine: That’s great. Thank you for that. I want to get a little bit more of an understanding of what it was like for you to transition from working for Generate, to founding Kanin, especially during the pandemic must have been crazy.
Janice: Yeah, we created our company in 2020. So it’s just like, right when the pandemic hit, and I think, we have an office that none of us like the whole team has yet to actually be in together at once so hopefully like they will we’ll be able to be there. But yeah, so the transition from generate has been actually pretty smooth. Like I was at the company for four or five years, and I was a very early employee at the company. And so the people there, like, the founders are just incredible people, a lot of the people, they’re like, close friends, and I consider them like family, super lucky to be part of proving out that thesis that you don’t need to compromise returns for impact. Another heart of their thesis was that there are a lot of technologies out there that need a different style of capital. So not the traditional VC capital, but project capital to help these technologies reach commercial adoption. And I think maybe coming from that mindset, where both of these kinds of key pieces of knowledge were entrenched, it’s a very natural transition for me to jump onto the other side and be a developer as well. When I was at Generate, I built the waste of value portfolio at the fund. And so what we’re doing right now is taking a waste product and making something valuable with it. When I was at Generate we’re looking at things like cow poop, and like, compost. It’s, like a very overlooked by, by the sector, but actually are pretty lucrative and have pretty good returns. So, seeing how we were able to dig into something that’s been overlooked and build that into a very large portfolio and functioning like a business helps give me the confidence to say, Hey, I see this, like, same thing. Let’s jump onto the other side and see if we can do it again. But in a kind of similar but different space.
Catherine: Yeah, who was your co-founder?
Janice: So we have three co-founders. I’m one of three, my two co-founders that Dan Fipke, I’ve actually known Dan for like 14 years, we went to undergraduate university together. And he’s actually the one that kind of brought me back into running back to Calgary from Silicon Valley and said, and pitched this idea. So he runs all the electricity markets, he comes from an ISO. So he really understands electricity, markets, environments, markets. And then he worked with our CTO, Jake Bainbridge, and Jakes like the technical wizard, he has designed an engine, he’s worked for engineering firms building billion dollar projects. And so he brings technology and execution to the business. So yeah, I’m just super happy and lucky to have two, two founders that have complementary skill sets, but fit very important aspects of the business.
Catherine: Perfect. So let’s talk about women and VC access, which is one of my favorite topics. In the US, women make up approximately 11% and investing partners at VC firms, and only around 13% of venture capital dollars go to startups with a woman on the founding team. Why do you think this is? And how do you think we can overcome this?
Janice: Yeah, it’s funny when you’re a female co founder, you gravitate to other female co founders who have been really lucky to meet other totally kick ass women that are doing phenomenal things at the leadership level. So I struggle with the same question because I look around and I’m like, well, why aren’t there more female leaders? This doesn’t make sense. I think a lot of this has to do with just the way women and men are brought up differently. Yeah, men, men tend to actively seek out leadership positions. Whereas women, I can speak from myself as an example, like, we’ve just like, do whatever it takes to get the job done and our less kind of, kind of maybe egotistical about it. So I think when you take this mindset of, okay, well, I’ll just do whatever it takes to get it done. You’re not necessarily vying for that leadership position if your male counterpart is intentionally doing that. And so I think what women have to do is just have the confidence and understand that this is actually happening, that we are built differently, and we think differently, but that we women make fantastic leaders, we’re because we’re built differently. We clue into negotiations differently, how to manage a team differently. I find that the women founders that I know and I think there’s studies that show this but women are a lot more disciplined in their leadership and how they grow a business and so that all has very unique and powerful qualities that help a company get to their end state. And so if you’re the right person for the job, you have to step up and take that. I also think that balancing motherhood with the startup is also pretty challenging as well. Yeah. Maybe you’re speaking from experience. So I think a lot of women and you see a lot of these studies have women kind of let themselves out. And so it will take more creativity than our male counterparts to think about how do you do things like breastfeed and have childcare? While you’re closing a deal? Can you do both? And I think you can just there’s just more creativity and yeah, just actually thinking about it.
Catherine: Yeah, I definitely couldn’t agree more on all of those fronts. I think the other thing I noticed when I thought about this myself is I think it’s a different risk appetite. I think women seem to and again, I’m generalizing. But it seems like I love risk. I’m a big risk taker. But I noticed that there were a lot of women there, they don’t have that same risk appetite, perhaps, as men do. Again, generalizing. But have you found any of that to be true?
Janice: Yeah, but I think that’s actually why women make better leaders is because we are more disciplined, we’d look at risk a little bit differently. So we look at both the upsides and downsides. So I don’t think it’s bad to embrace that we just have to be, we have to acknowledge that that paradigm exists. And think for me what, when we were creating canon, it wasn’t obvious that I would be the CEO or wasn’t, we weren’t, like thinking about that. But I stepped up into the role, because I had a unique background that was more fit for that. And so I think women need to just really understand what they bring to the table, the pros and the cons. And that might help them overcome the risk of being seen as a failure and the stress and like family risk friends, it is a risky piece, but I do think that women make fantastic leaders. And at the end of the day, it’s not that risky. I think I am now in the CEO seat. I was always gonna put the same amount of effort into whatever I was going to do, and I was just gonna get the job done. So being the CEO is no different. You kind of just forget about that, and you just get the job done. So it’s just a perceived risk. It’s not real.
Catherine: As Kanin has grown over the past couple of years, have you been able to maintain diverse staff as you expand?
Janice: Yeah, diversity is something that’s very front and center for how we build our team. So I think with a startup where you’re trying to be lean, you’re trying to be really intentional about the people that you’re hiring. And the reality of life, being an energy, we’re a lot of the people that have the skill sets that we need tend to be male, and tend to be white. There is this challenge of like, okay, well, there’s this candidate that looks that fits that mold, and has what we’re looking for, but it’s another white male. And do we add that? And so the reality is like, I haven’t solved it. Although I’d like to see our team continue to be diverse and even more diverse. There is this tension. But I think what I’ve realized is that wanting a diverse team requires a lot more intentionality and work, having to go out and be in like women’s groups going to almost like head hunt for those candidates that we have the skill sets that we like, and that bring a diverse kind of background, you just have to be a lot more creative and intentional about our hiring. Otherwise, it’s just going to be what is the norm. And if you just do that, then you’re going to fall prey to the norm, which is not diversity.
Catherine: Yeah. And I think by putting in the foundation now, each one of us, each company, it will make things a little easier for the next generation. Right. So like you would hope that in 5-10 years because of the work we’re doing now, the industry will get more diverse and we won’t have to keep you know, starting from scratch.
Janice: Yeah, totally. I think we have this unique moment in time right now where we’re rebuilding, we’re tearing apart and rebuilding the infrastructure of tomorrow. Well, the physical infrastructure of tomorrow, I mean, and in doing that, we have the unique ability to also rebuild the social infrastructure of the world. And so what does a very profitable energy 2.0 company look like? And giving those people the voice and a platform to talk about diversity and just to be a role model for others, and also to pull people from that community into the space. So, yeah, that’s everything you’re saying is totally on point. Yeah.
Catherine: That’s great. I’m really, really happy to hear that. What advice do you have for people trying to break into the clean energy space?
Janice: So my advice for other people getting into the sector is, if you have a skill set, just bring it into the sector, there’s a lot of needs for all types of skills. So whether it’s marketing or business development or engineering or anything that you might be good at or have training, there’s probably some role for you in the renewable energy sector or the climate tech space. So we’re building an entirely new industry. So I’d say just be brave. Just get in and just try to find your place and go from there. The industry is really growing. So getting in now is a great time to retool and grow your career.
Catherine: Yeah. Thank you so much for your time, Janice. I really appreciate it.