Discover the startups in Amazon’s Cohort and how they’re being supported – cleantech investors are invited to meet Amazon’s 2023 startup cohort at the demo day on the 19th July in London.

In a world that gets riskier every year as ecosystems struggle to keep up with a fast-changing climate, Isobel Wilson derives hope from “the incredible, hard-working entrepreneurs who are dedicated to this problem. To make progress, everyone needs to work together – corporates, innovators, policy makers.”

Isobel is doing her part to bring change makers together, having just launched the first cohort of green techpreneurs to support at Amazon’s Sustainability Accelerator.

This year’s cohort has been selected around two key areas: more sustainable products, and technologies that can help the recycling industry leap forward, this includes innovative tech that tackles yet-to-be-solved recycling challenges or significantly improves on existing tools, like advanced sortation machinery and waste management data systems.

“At Amazon, for any new initiative, we always work backwards from the customer, so that’s what I did when I developed the business plan,” says Isobel. “I started out by doing research – really understanding the climate tech start-up space and identifying gaps where we could help.”

The accelerator programme helps its cohort overcome common startup challenges including developing an investor-ready pitch, measuring impact potential through a scientific impact assessment methodology, and developing a deep understanding of the customer.

For Isobel, supporting the accelerator cohort means coming full-circle: she kicked off her career in Brand Management at Revlon, but a childhood close to nature in Australia left her with a love for the outdoors and concerns over the environmental impact of her work; “what happens at the end of the product’s lifecycle? What happens to products that aren’t sold?

“I knew I wanted to work with entrepreneurs who were addressing some of these big problems.” She pivoted into working in Venture Capital at Pi Labs before joining Amazon and working to establish the Sustainability Accelerator, which she now leads.

Out of 1,400 applicants in 2023, 16 high-potential startups are now making their way through the 12-week accelerator programme after being assessed and selected on: the problem, product solution, climate impact, team, early traction, competition and defensibility.

How did you select the startups in your cohort?

We launched the programme alongside Climate-KIC with a call for applications.

It’s a huge team effort to get from 1,400 companies to the final 16 that were chosen. We conduct interviews with the start-ups, due diligence and a climate impact assessment hypothesis so we can really understand the potential impact.

We have a selection committee meeting with a team of experts including Phoebe Wang from the Amazon Climate Pledge Fund, Ben Honan who is the Investment Lead at Climate-KIC, and Kristy Macdonald from Jam Jar VC – they make the final decision on which companies to take through.

An example would be Funq Liquids who have created a concentrated soft drink solution where consumers add water at home, therefore reducing plastic packaging by not shipping water. The Climate Impact Assessment showed a potential carbon reduction of approximately 85%. What really stood out is that the team have several years’ experience working in innovation at Coca Cola, therefore we believed they have the industry experience to develop the product and get it to market.

Amazon HQ, London. 7th June 2022. Sustainable Workshop and breakfast chat. Pictures by Richard Cannon

Can you share some examples of startups in your cohort?

We have 10 product companies and 6 recycling technology companies. On the recycling tech side, we have Induo, a French textile recycling company that can turn used textiles into brand new apparel, as well as UK-based Matoha, who have developed a hardware solution that identifies material to help with efficient waste sorting.

On the consumer side, I’m really excited about UK-based Nimbi, who are creating the world’s first compostable razor using biomaterials, and Germany-based We Do Solar, who are developing smart solar sets that can be installed on balconies.

What kind of support do you offer startups in your cohort?

It’s an intensive 12-week programme that offers:

  1.  workshops covering business fundamentals, ranging from creating a P&L to hiring and scaling a team.
  2. mentorship through our vast internal/external network of 100+ investors from relevant backgrounds including ex-founders, VCs and sustainability experts.
  3. a package of grants and credits valued at over £30,000.

One of the key benefits though is the sustainability alumni network – where all start-ups learn from each other – often via sharing an office space which is available in our Amazon HQ in London, or Impact Hub in Berlin. The start-ups from cohort 1 decided to get a co-working space together after the accelerator finished last year because they valued the community so highly. We also partner with Climate-KIC (leading innovation hub) and WRAP (Climate Action NGO) who help with their specific areas of expertise.

Have you noticed key qualities or patterns that lead to business success or failure?

Have you noticed key qualities or patterns that lead to business success or failure?

It’s an obvious one – but grit and resilience are definitely some of the most important qualities in a founder – that ability to keep going after the 1000th ‘no’; which links closely with passion and an unwavering conviction in what they’re building.
I remember hearing the quote ‘ideas are cheap, execution is expensive’ and it really resonated with me as the hard work – the ‘execution’ – is really what counts, not a pretty deck.

What are common blind spots in climate tech innovation?

Not properly measuring or understanding the full impact of your business. As we shaped the Sustainability Accelerator, we spent a lot of time working with EIT Climate-KIC to select the companies with the highest climate impact potential, and support them in the programme to achieve it.

We worked with a tool called Climate Impact Forecast which uses Lifecycle Assessment (LCA) data to ‘know’, ‘show’ and ‘grow’ the Co2 savings of the product and company. The area of impact assessment is a bit of a Wild West at the moment with so many tools out there, so it’s really important for the founders to have an understanding of their calculations.

Which key words describe working in a sustainability accelerator?

Varied, exciting, fulfilling, dynamic, ambiguous, vibrant, community.

Workshop plus teams and single portraits by Richard Cannon on 5th May 2022

Which climate tech innovations are you most excited about?

From a day-to-day consumer perspective, I’m excited about the rental and repair markets. The most sustainable thing to do is maximise a product’s lifecycle, so I’m a big fan of rental platforms for clothing. When I lived in New York I used Rent-The-Runway, here in London, I like lending platforms like HUUR and ByRotation.

Do you have any daily rituals that help to keep you grounded?

Yoga has been very transformational for me – I did my teacher training a few years ago, so now I do yoga or a park walk most days. These daily rituals are the antidote to a fast-paced, tech lifestyle – they are ‘non-negotiables’ for me.

On a day off I can often be found in Hampstead Heath or Clissold Park in London… walking my dog, Barney.

Who are your role models?

My parents are both entrepreneurs and I’d consider them role models. Growing up, they modelled the importance of being passionate within different fields – from the restaurant industry, financial world to even urban development. I’ve also been lucky enough to work for and learn from some amazing people who have inspired me… Carly Brown,Founder of Une Piece, Dominic Wilson, Founder of ClimateTech Fund, Vectr7, and Linda Wells, Founder of Allure.

A few quotes I love…

  1. “If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go for it at full speed. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all else become passionate. Lukewarm is no good.” Roald Dahl
  2. “Failure is data acquisition” – Elizabeth Day
  3. “No whining on the yacht” — Al Franken

………….If Isobel had a time travel machine and could be anywhere, doing anything, she’d transport herself “into the past – the 70s – amazing music, fashion and no phones – but if forced to go into the future, I’d be curious about the next 50 years to see how AI, self-driving cars, and other technologies have changed the way we live and work. I’m slightly terrified, but I’d like to go and see what’s changed.

Do you have a recommendation for a book or a networking event?

I love the Sifted newsletter – they have a special sustainability edition which I find very relevant and always interesting.

Every cleantech investor should join our demo day on the 19th July in London.

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