Last year, climate tech seemed to be invincible while the venture capital and startup worlds were fretting about a downturn and scrambling to conserve cash. Climate tech investors and founders in 2022 may not have hit the heights of 2021 but they didn’t drop off a cliff either.
In the first quarter of the year, we started to see cracks in the firewall that separates climate tech from the broader tech industry: The space saw a decline of more than a third in both the number of deals and money invested compared with a year earlier.
Still, there are plenty of possible reasons why the sector’s sudden stumble was merely a misstep and not the beginning of a downward spiral.
For one, the Inflation Reduction Act may have encouraged some to close deals sooner than they planned to. Many founders I’ve spoken with said that the law, which was signed in August, was both welcome and unexpected. Not only did it provide support through new regulations and incentives, it also brought certain climate technologies into the national conversation.
As a result, some founders felt the need to speed up their plans. That might have left the pipeline a little dry in the new year.
“The correction for climate tech companies was mostly at entities that SPAC’d or went public as if they were a single winner-take-all entity.” Arch Rao, founder and CEO, Span
Then SVB collapsed. The bank’s failure didn’t hit climate tech as hard as some other sectors, but the bank had been friendly to climate tech startups, accounting for some 60% of the total financing for community solar projects.
But the real impact was felt at a deeper level: SVB’s collapse didn’t make running a VC firm or a startup any easier no matter what it focused on. “Operationally, if you’re running a firm, the SVB stuff put new deals down,” Abe Yokell, managing partner at Congruent Ventures, told TechCrunch+. “You couldn’t make capital calls; you couldn’t use your lines of credit or somebody on your syndicate could not.”
So, between SVB and the market reacting to a new regulatory regime, it’s no surprise that Q1 strayed a bit from previous trends.
But what does the rest of 2023 look like?
Yokell suspects that the pace of deals will largely hold up. “My suspicion is that on a deal-count basis, it’ll be pretty steady as she goes,” he said. “We’re still seeing a lot of flow at the early stage as well as the mid- to late-stage.”