Clim8 Invest Founder Duncan Grierson is on a mission to shake up sustainable investing

Venture capitalist investment in climatetech has doubled in the past three years to reach $50 billion – making climatetech one of the fastest growing investment opportunities today.

But – as Duncan Grierson, Founder of Clim8 Invest – believes, vehicles, platforms and regulations for sustainable investment haven’t quite caught up with the surging demand or the urgency of the climate crisis.

With Clim8 Invest – an app that makes sustainable investing accessible and easy – Duncan wants to help millions of people stake a claim in the green revolution.

He’s also out to shake up the investment sector, which he says, too often, focuses on ticking boxes ‘to do no harm’, rather than actively sparking change by investing in high-impact projects.

In just two years, Clim8 Invest has grown to a team of 31, raised £10 million in venture capital funding, and attracted over 20,000 members ahead of launching in app stores in March: “We recently got an investment from Channel 4 Ventures. We’ll start advertising on television soon. We’re growing nicely.”

Although Duncan has spent almost 20 years as a Green Techpreneur building and investing into a range of cleantech companies – he’s an accidental environmentalist: “18 years ago I was working for an American venture capital private equity fund: I was looking at helping build a platform around environmental consulting – there were a lot of new regulations coming through around pollution control and environmental damage.

“I did a lot of research and got interested in sustainability broadly and climate change. In 2003, I left that fund and started my first company.

“It came from a place of; ‘there’s an incredible business opportunity here because this is going to be a growth sector.’ You could see just from the increase in the numbers of consultants that were being asked for advice around legislation.

“It started from a business premise, but my passion got deeper and deeper over the years. And a little bit further along, I’ve had children. I’ve got a 6-year old and a 10-year old and that has only accentuated my interest. We need to leave a better planet for our kids and grandchildren, the path we’re on right now is a very unhappy one. Our kids are not going to have the same kind of lives we’ve had.

“Wildfires are burning again in Oregon, in California. Germany – one of the richest countries in the world – has been absolutely shocked with images of massive flooding. The richest places on the planet are suffering, right here, right now, from the impacts of climate change. When you see that so vividly, it accentuates that we need to make changes.

Money is what makes systems work, so as consumers, we have power with our money, not just with what we buy, but also where we invest. And that really needs to be going into companies that are having a positive impact.

What sparked the idea for your sustainable investment app?

I was fiddling around with different platforms I wanted to build for another business. I came up with this idea to empower anyone to invest in companies that are having a positive impact on climate change. It’s a platform that I would want as a user, as an investor, for my ISA, for my SIPP, for my pension plan and cash savings.

I did some research and couldn’t find anything that did what I wanted it to do.

What are you hoping to achieve with Clim8 Invest?

What we built is a platform, an app, which you can get in the app store or Google play, it makes it super easy for you to invest into companies that are having a positive impact. We’ve got a big mission, and the idea is to make a dent on climate change and to raise awareness that you can make an impact with your money.

There’s all sorts of research that actually investing your savings and pension can have around 20 times the impact of behavioural changes like eating less meat and flying less and all those things that we need to be doing as consumers.
It’s relatively low friction, it’s easy to do, we’re empowering and giving lots of people access. You can get on board with our app quite quickly and move some of your cash from other investment products that are not necessarily having the right impact.

Which sustainable investing problems do you solve?

If you go back just a couple of years, a lot of companies were happy to put your money into fossil fuel companies, tobacco, and all these things which were damaging to the planet or to people. They were looking exclusively at the return.

In the last few years, some fund managers use ESG tools for screening. They brand their funds as ESG compliant and negatively screen out companies that are not necessarily doing the right thing in terms of environment, social and governance.

That’s a step in the right direction, but what you find with many of those funds is that they may have screened out fossil fuels, tobacco and arms dealers, but they’re not necessarily investing for impact or putting your money into companies that are having a massive positive impact on climate change.

We take a different view, we put money only into a product that is having a positive impact. It’s active management and positive impact investing.

How do you select projects to invest in?

The six core themes we have in our portfolio are: clean energy, sustainable food, water, smart mobility, electric mobility, and circular economy. We only invest in companies that are in one or more of those core themes.

That’s our USP, we’re not just negatively screening out things, we are positively looking for companies that are making a big positive impact. Doing no harm is ok, but we have so little time left, we have less than 10 years now to get our act together as a human race. We need to have systemic change, and that’s top down, from government down, but also bottom up from consumers.

How did you achieve an app launch with over 20,000 members?

We built a waiting list

Over about a year, we built up a waiting list of 16,000 people – that was quite effective, we used social media tools for that. We spent very little money on it. It was largely organic, so again I think it comes back to the interest in the topic.

We used crowdfunding

We’ve launched a series of raises for the company itself on a platform called Crowdcube. That’s been a good brand awareness process which has worked really well for us. A lot of people who have invested in the company have moved on to use the platform.

There’s growing momentum for climate action

We launched with 20,000 members in March and it’s growing nicely week on week.

That’s a function of how much more people are more interested today than even a year ago in climate change. COVID has been a bit of a wake up call for a lot of people, people are thinking more about how they might live a different life to pre-COVID; they’re thinking about not having to commute to the office and how they’re spending and investing.

Our portfolio has done well since we’ve launched

Our thesis is that you can make a big impact by putting your money into the right kinds of companies. You can be on the right side of history, but you can also get a great return. We’re the first people to make it really easy to facilitate that by having an app.

The companies we are investing into are literally your future, as people move away from combustion vehicles to electric vehicles, people move away from eating less meat to plant based foodstuffs – those companies will do well. As an investor, if you’re invested in those companies, you’re likely to do well.

What are your growth goals?

We’d like to have millions of people investing through our platform. We would like to have billions and billions of dollars to invest in the right kinds of companies. It’s a double whammy because you’re moving away from the companies that are having a negative impact and into firms with super positive climate impact.

At the political level, I think we could be doing a lot more with our infrastructure and pensions; if at the highest levels we join the dots between consumers, retail investors, and politicians, it can be quite impactful.

Do you have a motto or a quote that helps you to keep going even when you face big challenges?

One thing that is on my board in my home office is, ‘think big.’

If you’re thinking big, you will hopefully succeed at seeing beyond the challenges of the nitty gritty which has to be done. There are always challenges, you’re constantly two steps forward, one step back. Have the vision in mind and let that propel you and drive you forwards.

What does your dream house look like?

…………………..….We live in Chiswick, in London, in a place that’s actually pretty close to my dream house.

We are close to central London so we can get in and out of meetings, but it has a village feel to it. It’s fantastic where we live; we have a good garden, which means we have space for our boys and dog. We get a lot of pleasure out of the garden and like to have a drink in it. The praise goes to my wife, she discovered this area which is a little haven and it’s great. There are lots of independent, local shops as well. It’s just brilliant living.

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