Interview with Meade Harris & Kristin Barbato at Dynamo Energy Hub | The Soho House of Clean Energy

Interview with Meade Harris & Kristin Barbato at Dynamo Energy Hub | The Soho House of Clean Energy

Have you heard of Dynamo Energy Hub, “the Soho House of clean energy”? From their partnerships with BloombergNEF and Alvarez and Marsal to their cohesive workspaces, Climate Tech and Tonic events & Cleantech Founders Breakfast Club, Dynamo is building the future of work for the new energy economy. Catherine had the pleasure of speaking with Kristin Barbato and Meade Harris, who decided to co-found Dynamo while meeting for drinks at a hotel bar. These incredibly talented women, one of whom started their career as a BBC Producer and the other as an engineer, first developed two Dynamo hubs in the U.S. and are now about to reach 15 hubs globally. They also spoke about Dynamo’s robust membership programs and networking opportunities as well as its stellar Advisory Board, which includes cleantech leaders like Tim Healy at EnerNOC, Nancy Pfund at DBL Partners, Thomas Burton at Mintz, Kyle Hayes at Foley, Graham Hedger at Bondminster, Sara Neff Lendlease, Dan Pickering at Pickering Energy Partners, Snorre Valdimarsson Thommessen, Michael Torosian at Baker Botts & Pamela Farrell Venzke at Orsted.


Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I’m at Dynamo Energy Hub in New York City. And I’m joined by Kristin Barbato. And Meadet Harris. Thanks for joining me ladies.

Meade: So nice to see you again.

Catherine: Beautiful day. It’s been three and a half years I think since I interviewed Kristin. So I think a lot has changed since then, to put things mildly. So really excited to get in and learn all about what you’ve been up to since we last spoke. So you’re the founders of an exciting new venture called Dynamo Energy Hub, new venture ish. For those of you who don’t know, tell us a bit more about the project.

Meade: Great well, thanks. And it’s so good to have you Catherine back up here in New York because I think last time it was here in New York City as well. Pre pandemic. So we’ll talk about that a little bit later. So Dynamo is creating cool spaces and fantastic locations around the world that really bring together and connect Energy and Climate Change startups with leading investors and big companies. And so we do this through events and we have networking events, monthly in all of the hubs that we have and the first time that you interviewed Kristin, we only had two hubs. We now have 12 different hubs around the world where we’re bringing together this community to build a trusted network. And since we’re here in New York City, we kind of like to talk about it like we’re like the Soho House for energy. So building a like minded community of those that are working on the energy transition.

Catherine: I didn’t realize there was a pool anywhere. Yeah.

Kristin: That’s next year. Exactly, we’ve grown leaps and bounds. Oh, my goodness. That’s been fantastic.

Catherine: Well, the cool thing about you both as well is that you didn’t start in energy. You didn’t have any sort of traditional backgrounds. You were, Kristin, I believe you started your career as an engineer and, Meade you were previously a BBC producer. So how did you both make your way into clean energy?

Kristin: Before we get started? You’re BBC producer? Like how did I not know this. I’ve known you for a decade.

Meade: Funnily enough, it’s because I was working at the BBC that I went to do my master’s degree in London, and I studied international relations at King’s College. And there I got to have a module that was really on energy security, and I was hooked. Oil was $100 a barrel. there was an issue with Russia that sounds familiar to know. And the geopolitics of energy, really, that’s what excited me and I thought, Okay, I want to work in this sector. And so that’s how I started at BBC came to London and then moved into energy.

Kristin: Nice. Speaking of Energy, I did actually work in energy as a fresh out of college engineer, although we didn’t have any media training at Cornell engineering school. So this is like this is very very different for me. But what I did enjoy a lot was being an engineer in utilities and then in different areas. I’ve always been kind of on the operations side of things. So what I love about this industry and how it’s changing now, is understanding how innovation plays into the different types of solutions that we need, how this plays into different businesses that are looking at how they transition themselves from their operations. And that’s really what I think is very interesting about how Dynamo Energy Hub, and what our purposes are, think about what Meade has done in terms of global networking. And then my perspective on actually making solutions in energy work from the 1000s of projects I have done over the years in different capacities. It’s really this marriage of the networking and connections that you make in order to get the right kinds of solutions into the market into your infrastructure.

Catherine: Would you break it down between like commercial and technical or is that too simple?

Kristin: I think the interesting thing about our partnership is that we bring these two so we have a lot of commonality, right, but we come at it from very different angles. And that’s really the juice that makes Dynamo interesting. It’s like you need to network, you need to get the solutions out there. But how do you kind of do this in a very fragmented market, right?

Meade: Yeah. And it’s I think it’s building that trusted network and knowing that like we said earlier, like a like minded community, right of people that you could actually do a deal with, right, and that you can learn from too. So we try to have each one of our events.

Catherine: Yeah. How did you two meet out of curiosity, and why did you decide to start Dynamo?

Meade: Well, Kristin was actually a client of mine for years. And so we were friends. She was a client and it was back in San Francisco in 2018. We were attending the global climate summit Alliance there. And we were meeting at a hotel in a hotel conference, and chatting and I had this idea about why isn’t there a place that brings together innovation in the cities around the world, so that you could pop in and actually have a business meeting, like we are here today, rather than just meeting at a bar or a Starbucks?

Kristin: Or in the lobby of a hotel, while you’re going to a conference!

Meade: Exactly so it was like, Why isn’t there a place that brings that together? And so you could have kind of work but then you also have your community there. And so, Kristin, I sat and we were talking and she was explaining. She comes with this kind of long experience with innovation in both utilities, government and also clean tech companies. And I came with understanding sort of a global network with larger companies and investor community. So thought, why don’t we bring these together? And this was 2018 is before a lot of cvcs had been built in companies. And there was just this excitement about okay, how do we bring these clean tech companies. That is on the path to commercialization to network with those investors and with those companies.

Kristin: Fast forward, after we met? Oh, yeah, to September of 2019 when we opened our first hub in New York City, and it was fantastic things were hopping. We had a second hub in Boston. And then six months later yeah, global pandemic Yeah, we’re looking at each other going to be really just start a like global energy transition, networking, co working space, community and business for like right before the whole world shutdown. However, it really actually as we were just talking about a little bit before things it was almost like I won’t say a silver lining. There was a silver lining to the whole thing. But I think because people were stuck at home and it changed the whole dynamic of how people work. That we actually had the perfect model for how people connect. While they were stuck at home. We actually turned to credit to my wonderful business partner, who ingeniously did our thought leadership for our events and turned everything virtual. Yeah. So that we could, we were able to actually connect people and we grew worldwide. With this major presence. We had hundreds of people attending our events with like eight different time zones. Because people craved the connection.. We still continue to need to have really good connections on how to do business with people. And these topics. were fantastic. Yeah, you’re good at that.

Catherine: And I think also what’s interesting about the timing is there was obviously this sort of pushed to remote work, right. But equally, companies still wanted their employees to have places where they could meet with each other and meet with clients, so forth. So they didn’t want to invest in this sort of real estate. So you’re sort of getting it from both sides.

Meade: Yeah, exactly. Because for us it accelerated our business model. And if you look at us back in 2019, we would have never said that, but coming out of it, because we had all these listeners from all these different cities all over the US majority. We had quite a few in Europe as well. All of a sudden, when people could go back to an office, they came to a Dynamo Hub, and so they asked for a Dynamo Hub. So we went from two hubs to 12 in 18 months, which is incredible growth and it’s because people want that inherent flexibility and work. And so they don’t want to be in a nine to five office five days a week. While some people, some probably companies would like them back in two or three days or something. What do you do on those other two flex days? A lot of people like myself, like yourself, have young children. You don’t want to be at home, right? So you want to be with other people. And I think people crave those human interactions. And also, I think deals don’t get done in the same way without actually meeting in person.And so you need that human interaction. And so, Dynamo was really, I think fortunate to have started before the pandemic.

Catherine: Your membership list ranges from leading investors and traditional energy companies to climate tech startups. Can you talk a bit about why you see the need to bring this community together and share some of the success stories?

Kristin: Yeah, I’ll start and then you can talk about some of the success stories because you’ve had some really, really nice wins especially lately. The membership that we have, is, like I said before, it’s a very fragmented industry, still, we have different types of large corporations. We’ve got many different types of startups. And that’s a whole other genre than the investor community. And that can range from everybody who’s looking at seed investments to major infrastructure. And then also what is the government doing and how are they what’s their interplay and policy and law? Seeing a lot of that however, the really the best way to make advancements is to have these different segments or groups actually working together and talking to each other. So that’s the reason why we’ve done this and I think our membership and as it’s grown, is a testimony to the value that they see that this Dynamo network brings and how we think about our thought leadership, the discussions taught the topics that we have the experts that we have speaking, and then this fantastic basis. Of platform of having like spaces to work from and hub spaces to actually have these events and meetings and cetera. But I have been going on. Let me turn it to you. So you can talk about a couple of really cool success stories.

Meade: Sure. And I think the other thing is the industry is at a point where it realizes it needs to collaborate to actually achieve the goals of the energy transition. And so I think 10 years ago, it wasn’t like that, and so it was still very siloed. And now that’s part of all these companies, you see that with investments right companies will join together that once would have never done that and invest in a new startup. So I think we were able to bring that piece together for our network. We’ve had some great success stories. And one I’ll just flag is Sarah Neff from LendLease. She’s the head of ESG there. So I was with her last week in San Francisco and she was telling us how she’s got four deals on the go all through the Dynamo network. So she said anytime she has something with energy transition, she just looks at the community that we have at the Dynamo network. And so she said, it’s everything from rooftop solar, like aggregate for a residential home or something like that. Or if it’s to battery storage any of these opportunities that she needs for her company. She looks to the Dynamo network.

Kristin: And she’s looking at companies that are both large and small. And speaking of which, we have in our startup community, they’re always looking for who is their next investor. Who can they sell to as a client, right? How do they understand more and get the ear of somebody who’s in policymaking? And so I think that there’s been some really good success stories there. I mean, we’ve had startups who have had investors who have had advisors who are part of their board now like Emraan, Shawn and Tim, and like, really nice connections that are being made. And that happens all the time. So part of what we’re doing is we’re actually starting to collect these as little success stories. They’re actually fun and to hear about, and it just amplifies what it is we’re doing the whole reason why we exist.

Catherine: Oh, that’s wonderful. So in addition to the membership, you also have strong relationships with groups like Bloomberg NEF. You’ve also done some thought leadership pieces with Alvarez Marshall. Why is this so important? And how does this benefit your members?

Meade: Yes. So the partnerships are so important for us because with somebody like Bloomberg NEF, they’re a leading company in a global company that works on energy transition. They have the best analytics in the world, but they realized they needed to do more on innovation. And so we’ve partnered with them to run a series of what we call it climate tech and Innovation Drinks Events. You’re gonna have to come to London. And so we hold those in conjunction with their summits in London, San Francisco and New York City. And so for those we’re bringing together like we said, the kind of traditional big companies investors with the startups, and they also have this awesome pioneers program where they’re showcasing leading startups from all over the world. And so Dynamo our members were able to help facilitate that bring more companies up to them that they maybe wouldn’t have heard about.

Kristin: Yeah, then we got to meet all of them in New York at their event. Just a couple months ago. So that’s BNEF which is great. We love working with them and having a partnership with them. Then we also have as you mentioned, Alvarez and Marcel. We teamed up with them very recently, because we wanted to it was actually a conversation we were having with Julie McLaughlin, his partner there, she’s amazing and we’re having a conversation about how we wanted to continue the trend of what we’ve been doing to put out some thought leadership like we had done previously with Credit Suisse and years past about were clean techs to watch. But we wanted to take a look at this from a different perspective. And the conversation that we had that turned into a report and we just launched it in Houston last month, I was actually looking at how what changed from clean tech one to one, okay to climate tech 2.0 so to speak. And why do we actually look at the investments in the way that we do? I mean, I make a joke all the time and with clean tech 101 Back in 2008, everything imploded, because we used to think about clean tech, like great, it’s clean, there’s tech, but it’s clean. So we apply the same investment models, and none of it works because it’s a very different kind of landscape. So taking upon this theme, we looked at this and said what kinds of business models work and how do we address investment for both the investor as well as some of these corporate strategics that are getting much more into investing in companies and solutions? What works from a business model perspective? And so we just launched that paper. We’re really proud of it. And yeah, there’s probably more thought leadership like that to come.

Catherine: It’s really interesting. And that’s on your website?

Meade: Yes, on the website, and we showcase I think 25 leading climate tech companies. And what I think is also interesting in that, as with Houston, it’s looking at decarbonisation of molecules and not just decarbonisation of electrons, which a lot of times you see that for the climate tech companies, and a lot of the founders of those startups there are seasoned entrepreneurs as well that seen an issue that have happened within the industry and have then set up their own company.

Kristin: That’s a major difference, as long as we’re talking about it like looking at speaking majors, we do actually take a look at how the majors are investing in new technologies as well in this report, but the point about the different types of entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs this time around are much more experienced.

Catherine: I know for my second company, I knew how to set up email a lot quicker than I did the first time.

Kristin: But we have we see that in, in our, our clean tech startups that we have within Dynamo.

Catherine: So what do you think the benefits of co working are? So I’ve been noticing that hiring managers are strongly preferring to transition employees back to the office from remote work. I do think hybrid is here to stay. I think that you’re seeing the three day a week business model. I don’t think that’s going anywhere. I think everyone can agree it’s nice to work from home a couple days a week, but I am seeing remote work. Slowly dissipating. What are some of the ways in which startups and larger companies can benefit from this sort of space?

Kristin: We can talk about it from what our member companies are doing?

Meade: Yeah. I think we can talk about that. And then also during COVID So many people hired all over the country. So are those people all going to move? No. So that’s been part of the reason why dynamo has so many hubs in places like Boulder. Or you have an amazing innovation community that has sprung up there. And those people are not moving back to San Francisco or they’re not moving to New York. City, they’re going to stay there. And so I think that sort of piece where they want to have a community to work with other like minded individuals that are working on the same issues as them and then be able to go back to the headquarters if they want to.

Kristin: And we see that so we have so a lot of our larger companies, they use our hubs when, speaking about the real estate aspect, they use a lot of our hub space for either meetings, they’ll have board meetings that need to collect people in the center of the country or in New York City. And they’ll have a meeting or an event for themselves there. And then we also see a lot of even some of the larger companies. They’ll have kind of an offshoot person who’s over in a different city. But we also have people who use these spaces for their daily everyday kind of workspace. And it’s fantastic for startups, or the startup that is based in San Francisco, but has a new person over in New York, and they’re trying to find their way and it’s like a plugged in network.

Catherine: Yeah, exactly. I really find it so interesting that it’s both because they’ve seen this tiny bit with the startup community, but I haven’t seen it so integrated with the corporates. And I think that’s what I find very fascinating. about it.

Meade: I think that’s a really good point. Because like Kristin said, with the corporate and I think all of us that have worked in large corporates, too. You’re still traveling all over. Right? And when you go to a city where you don’t have a home office, you’re setting up meetings all over that city for us. And wouldn’t it be nice to have energy Soho House right there in the middle of the city where you could work and everybody would come to you. And then maybe you hear a great event and you get to meet the other people that are working in innovation in that city. That’s what we want to build with Dynamo. So I think the corporates are using it as like a central place for a board meeting, or they have their meetings there, or they’re actually bringing their company off sites there. So rather than having them all meeting their company’s headquarters, they can use our space in let’s say, Austin, Texas, or they use our state space in San Francisco. Or now going to be opening in Chicago.

Kristin: And not Starbucks. No offense to Starbucks. There’s really hard to work from.

Catherine: There’s so many companies I can think of like one in particular this sustainability consultancy I work with . He’s always been remote and even before COVID But they do We Works yeah. All over the country. And I’m just like, totally call them after this because I think because how nice would it be to actually be with your peers? There’s nothing wrong with We Work but you can only sort of socialize. They’re not really part. Sometimes you’ll meet people who are part but.

Kristin: We’ve curated the network to actually have that as a loci,

Catherine: Right. Because I remember being in a We Work and we had two solar companies in our building, really close your solar. But we were three companies of 300 that were in that building so I really see the benefit of this.

Meade: So that’s like the connectivity for us that way try to bring them together in any of these places. And I wish I had my phone right here but the goal for this in the next year or two in the next year we will have for Dynamo is an app right so we’re building a members portal. Yes, we’ll have an app so that in any city you go to, you can look there and say, Oh, okay. Oh, Catherine, you’re in DC. Great

Catherine: My book signing.

Meade: There you go. I got to get a coffee with you. And oh, let’s see who else is here. We can attend this event. And just to make that ease of doing business. Also to have the connectivity there.

Kristin: Also, taking the first step to that just developing our member portal, which is on the website. So the next step is actually going to be that digital connection. It’s just as important to facilitate the in person connection so totally, yeah, relationships.

Catherine: Totally! What are some of the prior Dynamo events or other accomplishments you’re most proud of?

Meade: So I could not believe this. But we were looking back, right. And you always want to reflect on what events have been successful, which ones you’ve done, right. And we’ve done close to 100 events since we launched the company. I’d say a third of them were virtual in the beginning. And then the rest of them have been in person in 15 different cities around the country. And we’ve had one international already in London. We’ll be opening our London hub later this year as well. So I think for us, it’s the thing I’m most proud about with all of our events is each event is slightly different in style the way that we do them, but everybody comes away with meeting others they could potentially work with, do deals with right learn from, but also that we were able to keep the cadence up every single month doing events. And even some months we’ve done four in one month. Luckily, there’s more than just Kristen and I now so it’s a team that we’ve been able to build to help to do that. So we now have 10 team members, they’re based all over the country. Soon we’ll be going international. So I think in terms of achievements for us, it’s the rate of growth that dynamo has been able to continue to do coupled with the quality of the membership and the connections that we’re making. To help facilitate the energy transition.

Kristin: And one aspect that I’m really proud of, of our membership programming, is very specific to our startups and the executives and founders of those startups. So they’re all over the place. They may or may not be traveling quite as much as some of these big companies. But we created a series called the clean tech founders Breakfast Club, which our colleague Caroline likes to call group therapy for founders. So we meet on a regular basis virtually. And there’s a topic we usually have somebody now who’s like an expert in the field. Come impart some wisdom about something we had a fantastic event recently with the fall of SVB. We got right on that with Mike Torosyan from Baker Botts who came in who was actually doing some of the legal work on what happens now with the bank failure. And so that was a pretty well attended.But talking about topics that are very germane to founders has been something that actually ties together this aspect of our membership, right.

Catherine: And being able to do it in a quick way. Because I feel like sometimes events happen and like by the time the event happens, it’s like it’s already passed..

Meade: Well, I think for us too, in terms of our larger events here in New York will be next or next event here will be during climate week. And so we’re really trying to build the business community sort of a space for them to come so people can come work from the hub during climate week. And then we do a half day event there as well, which has been really successful. Last year. I think we had the Norwegian Prime Minister as well and he’s a bunch of our members so we’ll be doing that again this year.

Kristin: Oh, yeah. You’ll have to come back. And then we’ll be in London in October. Your old stomping grounds.

Catherine: I used to work across the street from Bloomberg, Moorgate. So I know it very well.

Kristin: So as you were asking, one thing I think we should add to the accomplishments is one thing I’m very proud of is we have a phenomenal advisory board. And something that since we just recently met with them, maybe talk a little bit about who we worked with.

Meade: I think that’s been such a helpful kind of group that has guided us especially through something like the pandemic, right. So we’ve got industry leaders like Tim Healy, who’s the founder of InterNap. Nancy fund from DBL partners, who’s been a good friend and mentor to both Kristen and I over the years. And then we’ve got some phenomenal lawyers and I don’t know how many companies can talk about that they love it. We’ve got Tom Burton from Mints, we’ve got Mike Torosyan from Baker Bots. And then Kyle Hayes from Foley. So we’ve got also Dr. Ella Bearson from Thomason over in Norway.

Kristin: And speaking of international Pamela, yes.

Meade: Pamela from Orsted. And Sarah who is basically just doing lots of deals with us, which is fantastic.

Catherine: So you’ve touched on it a little bit. I think we’ve jumped to head I was gonna ask, what does the year ahead look like? But you’ve answered some of it. Anything else that you wanted to cover?

Meade: Yeah, I think the main thing for the year ahead for us is like many startups is growth. Right? And so we feel really great that we have a good foundation now of 12 hubs here in the US, we will continue to grow opening Chicago and LA here as well this year. Seattle will be a cut probably q4, early q1, and then we’re opening internationally. So we’ll have London and we’ll have one more hub in Europe as well. And just recently I was in Australia and we’ll be looking to open Sydney later in 2024 as well. So I think for us it’s the whole idea of Dynamo is that global connectivity. And so these next year for us is really going to be moving out of just the US market into some of these other ones too.

Kristin: When we think about growth, it’s not just the hubs. The cities are important, the spaces are important. And having this global reach is very important. An aspect that I’m very keenly focused on over the next year is actually growing the communities that we have in each of those cities. So as we think about a globally connected network, we want to make sure that each of those nodes in that network actually has a really good, strong basis and is growing within that region. Because there’s so much local knowledge, there’s so much business locally that you can then pull from best practices globally and getting some of those ideas and further expanding your network. But at the same time, the network really has a basis in its foundations for each each piece of that node or each node in that network.

Catherine: I guess what’s interesting about the business model is that if you got to a point where it was crowded every day, you can expand.

Kristin: That’s why we spend so much time finding who are our partners in these different cities, right? So like today, we’re in Inspire studio and we have a phenomenal relationship with our hub partners in that they know that we grow with them.

Catherine: Exactly. Just curious, what are some of the other cities, just any you’ve mentioned a handful of them or any their 12? So are there any other cities that we haven’t touched on?

Meade: So yes, great question. So our hubs, we have Zurich, and then if you leave Europe and come over here to the US, we’ve got Boston, New York, Washington, DC Chicago is opening this month, our members then we have Denver, Boulder, Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Francisco, LA will be opening later this year. and then Seattle as well. We’re also in conversations about Miami. London this fall. but I think in terms of for us, we also work with our members. and so if there’s real demand in a city because of these great partnerships that we have with Studios with Tishman Inspires studio with kiln out west and then with common does.

Catherine: The reason why I asked this is because I get contacted a lot as you can imagine by people who are looking for job opportunities. And I’m always trying to point them in the direction of networking. If I don’t have a job for them then I’m like, right have you joined WRISE and you joined Women in Clean Tech Sustainability. But I think what would add a lot of value is being able to mention Dynamo like Seattle is a great example like I was on the phone with a woman in Seattle the other day. She’s like, where do I network? Because it’s a smaller community there right? It’s not a San Francisco right where you stumble over clean energy. But they are there. Portland is another good example. Right? So I think it’s it’s also is a great way of bringing people together that wouldn’t necessarily know about each other, but also giving them some sort of like, I guess an opportunity perhaps to get into the space right because there’s we’re gonna have a think I was reading today 3.7 million jobs in the next 10 years in just solar alone. So like there’s a lot of people are coming into the workforce that are going to want some sort of home. So I think that could add some value.

Meade: Thats a great point. And I think also for a lot of people, we’ve heard success stories from our members where they’ve moved to a new city. They don’t anybody but they’re part of Dynamo and they can attend an event and immediately start to meet some other people, that maybe also become their friends, as well as work acquaintances too.

Catherine: So how can interested companies join Dynamo?

Kristin: You go to our website:

Catherine: Well I really appreciate you ladies taking the time to speak with me and hopefully it will not be three and a half years again before we get to sit down and talk about your phenomenal growth and what you’re doing for the industry. It’s just wonderful work. Congratulations.

Kristin: We’re so pleased to talk with you. Thank you very very much for having us.

Meade: Thank you for inviting us.