Where do climate innovators and innovations come from?
How do we turn great ideas into great companies?
How do we help innovators get their tech out in the world–at scale?
This section looks at how BE is supporting policy-making around the world.
Bill Gates and Paul Allen in 1979, at the beginning of their personal computer revolution
Breakthrough Energy Fellows
In 1975, long before Microsoft was a household name, Bill Gates and Paul Allen were just two guys workshopping their ideas in an Albuquerque garage.
Forty years later, when Bill founded Breakthrough Energy, he wondered: Where were the climate tech equivalents of him and Paul Allen? Where were the garages and laboratories populated by young innovators with big ideas? Finding — and supporting — these people is the first, critical step in the journey for any good innovation, which is why we call this stage, “discovery.”
An aerial view of Silicon Valley in the 1970s
Breakthrough Energy Ventures
The best way to build technologies is with tech companies, and for almost 50 years, the surest way to build tech companies has been with venture capital .
The first venture firm signed a lease on Silicon Valley’s Sand Hill Road in 1972, and ever since, the playbook for building a very big technology company very quickly has followed four steps: identify a unique way to solve a large problem using technology; secure a venture investment; use the money to hire smart people; and build a successful company.
But there’s always been an unwritten caveat to these instructions: they don’t apply if the company you’re building has something to do with the Earth’s changing climate.
Venture capital has always had a climate problem .
A bridge crossing a large body of water, with forest and mountains in the distance
Breakthrough Energy Catalyst
Imagine you’re an innovator working on emerging climate technologies. You pour your blood, sweat, and tears into developing the technology. Once you get it to work, investors will surely be knocking on your door. Right?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
For a new technology to draw investors, it needs to be “derisked.” That means more than just proving the technology can work. It means proving it can work at scale — and be cost competitive with fossil fuel alternatives.
A view of the U.S. Capitol dome's ceiling
When the first modern electric cars hit the market in the late 1990s , interest was limited. The first people to buy them were either very rich, very climate-conscious, or both.
It wasn’t until the 2010s that electric vehicles (EVs) finally found something like a mass market. Why? Batteries became much cheaper, and EVs became far more affordable — but another key factor was that the government intervened. In 2009, the United States implemented a federal EV tax credit, giving a $7,500 rebate to anyone who purchased a qualifying EV. One 2018 study found that every $1,000 offered as a rebate or tax credit increases average sales of EVs by 2.6%.