Canary Media’s Charging Up column chronicles gender diversity in the climatetech sector. Part one is a short Q&A with an industry role model about their career path. Part two features updates on career transitions. Please send feedback and tips to email@example.com.
Amy Francetic: An investor with an eye for talent
Amy Francetic is co-founder and managing general partner at Buoyant Ventures. This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.
How did you end up on this career path?
Earlier in my career, I was an entrepreneur in the consumer technology space. I built and sold a company with a group of folks and had a lot of fun doing that, which turned my attention to investing. After I had my kids and took a bit of time off, I wanted to go back to work and do something that was personal and meaningful. To me, that was climate work. I’ve always been an avid outdoors person and a runner. I wanted to do what I could to address the climate crisis and source solutions with my skills as a business person that would have a meaningful impact before it’s too late.
I have been in the climate space for almost 18 years now. I built an organization called the Clean Energy Trust, which is now called Evergreen Climate Innovations. I also started a venture fund with Michael Polsky called Energize Ventures, and in early 2020, I started Buoyant Ventures, which is where I am now. This is my fourth startup.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
When I was a first-time CEO, a mentor told me, “You have to make people want you to be successful.” To me, that means a number of things: One is that you have to convince people to come along with you; you have to have a vision that people want to commit to. But also, you have to do it in a way that makes people root for your success. You need to mobilize a lot of support to be successful.
What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it?
Early on, being a nontechnical person working in a technical company, I had a lot of doubts about whether I could lead a group of engineers, and then once I moved into climate, I was relatively intimidated by how much there is to learn — I didn’t have the benefit of training. Right now, we have a great internship program with a number of leading universities, and they have very specific content around climate and energy policy and environmental science, but that was not the case for me.
I had to learn all this on the job, and there were definitely moments where I felt like I didn’t have the capacity to sit down with scientists and understand their battery chemistry, for example. I found myself googling terms and teaching myself a lot, and it took me years to be confident and develop some domain expertise to feel like I could interact with scientists and PhDs.
What do you think are some interesting, overlooked career opportunities in climatetech?
At Buoyant, we invest in digital climate solutions, so we’re looking for software and hardware companies that can address climate change mitigation. One of the areas where we can never hire enough is in data science. A lot of our companies are data-driven, so, for example, they are using hardware to collect unique data and then using software to analyze the data and drive some kind of insights or actions for customers. Data science is very teachable, so if you’re looking to do something that is more core to the company, I think getting some experience in data science, or taking some classes if you’re still in school, is so valuable and so needed at all levels.
The other area I will mention is sales. All high-growth companies need salespeople, and if you are hungry and working on a sales team, you can get great experience that you can build on and go into product or grow within sales itself. So knowing how to work with customers is a great skill, and every company needs that. It is a great entry point.
What advice would you give people looking for a career in climatetech?
I get approached by a lot of young people trying to make the transition into climate either just out of school or from another industry. It’s so important when you reach out to people in that way to have a specific ask and show a level of sophistication in your thinking — so for example, instead of asking me to “tell you about climatetech,” maybe you ask me, “how do you think I can translate these skills I have from the healthcare industry into the climate space?”
Also, do some reading and learning before you talk to people, and show you have done your research — you will get the most out of it if you do that because you will be better prepared. There are so many resources out there to help you understand the industry, especially if you are new to climate. You can look for interesting companies or roles and connect to people who work there, or who know someone who does, and really learn about them so you can position yourself better for the roles you want.
What is your superpower?
Hiring. I think I have a really great eye for talent and the ability to know how to develop people into roles that they’re well suited for. I love diversity in teams, in backgrounds and insights, and I think knowing the recipe of how to bring people together, bring out the best in a team and develop talent to achieve great things is one of my superpowers.
Jessica Reinhardt has been promoted to lead for sustainability partnerships and engagements at Google.
Joanna Hamblin has joined FischTank PR, a public relations and marketing firm, to serve as VP of its cleantech and sustainability PR practice. Most recently, Hamblin served as senior director of North American eMobility marketing for Schneider Electric.
For the record
In 2021, roughly 4 in 10 of the new jobs in advanced energy, which includes sectors like renewables and electrified transportation, didn’t require a college degree but still offered salaries above the national median of $45,760, according to research from Advanced Energy United. The top industry segments advertising jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree were energy efficiency, electric vehicles and distributed solar.
Check it out
The C-suite networking group Chief has launched the #MakeWorkWork campaign in response to what it sees as pervasive challenges that women, in particular, experience in the workplace, including rampant burnout. (According to an October 2022 McKinsey report, women leaders are quitting their jobs at the highest rate seen in the last five years.) Chief is asking companies to answer the question, “What is one policy you have in place to support and retain women on your team?” Companies can post their responses on LinkedIn using #MakeWorkWork and tagging @Chief.