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. Canary thanks BayWa r.e. for its support of the column.
Cynthia Leung: An entrepreneur with a knack for connection
Cynthia Leung is senior manager of strategy and partnerships, energy services at Moxion Power. This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.
How did you end up on this career path?
I was a high-school junior when I watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, and I remember leaving the movie theater thinking I wanted to do something about climate change, but I didn’t quite know what. I ended up going to the University of California, Irvine and getting a degree in quantitative economics with a minor in global sustainability.
I worked at SunPower for six and a half years developing over a gigawatt worth of solar projects around California, and then I got a master’s degree in sustainability management at Columbia University, where I came up with the idea to start a company. My startup, Soluminos, focused on building solar-charging stations for disaster response. Eventually, we pivoted to providing battery stations as a service. We rented out 3-kilowatt-hour battery stations to farmers markets and local food vendors.
After that, I went to work for Moxion, which rents out 600-kilowatt-hour stations. Since I had been focused on something similar, it was a great fit. I currently work with customers to develop pilot projects and use cases to introduce our product. Diesel generators have long been an incumbent power source in our industry, and Moxion creates mobile battery stations that will help disrupt that.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
To start talking when you know about 70 percent of what you want to say — the other 30 percent will come as you go. One of my greatest mentors at SunPower gave me that advice when I was the youngest person on that team and the only one without an MBA. I questioned what value I brought to the team when there were so many smart people in the room. I didn’t know how to speak up in meetings. I thought I needed to have 100 percent of what I wanted to say written down before I spoke up, but of course, right as I was about to, someone else would say it. So just building the confidence to speak up even if I don’t have the thought fully developed was a good skill to practice and also to find that voice that says that what I have to contribute matters and is valuable in this conversation.
What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it?
Besides the above, which was a huge barrier for me, I think that impostor syndrome has come up for me both in my career and as a founder. That will always happen at every level of your career, no matter how confident you are, no matter how prepared you are, no matter what phase you are in. There are going to be moments when it’s going to be really stressful and hard to work through the day because no solution is a good solution. And there will be days when you push through and find something that just clicks, and it’s like moving to the next stage of your company.
What do you think are some interesting, overlooked career opportunities in climatetech?
Climatetech startups are such a great hub of opportunity. There are so many innovative ideas that have been introduced in the past five to 10 years. There are lots of different ways to slot into these companies, whether you are purely a sustainability-oriented person, or even if you come from other disciplines like HR, accounting or sales that weren’t typically considered “climate” careers. At Moxion, we are hiring like crazy, even in the current economy. I was employee No. 43, and we are now close to 250 employees in 11 months. So in terms of opportunity, I would really look at climatetech startups. They’re either growing quickly or on the cusp of it.
What advice would you give someone applying for jobs in climatetech? What are some ways that applicants can stand out?
Join professional networks; go to those happy hours. I joined WRISE (Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy) in the early days, and I was really engaged, going to as many events as I could. And I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to make those connections before you actually need them. When I started my job search again, the first thing I did was go through my LinkedIn network to see if I had connections at the companies I was looking at — to be able to talk to someone and get a real sense of the company culture, what they are doing and how they work is so valuable.
What is your superpower?
Connection. My goal in life and career is to connect people and ideas to funding and resources that will turn those ideas into reality. I am an extreme extrovert. I love connecting diverse groups and communities together and seeing what can happen once those connections are made and people find out what unites them, what they have in common. When we connect, we can collaborate and create solutions toward greater change, which we could never achieve as individuals.
Suedeen Kelly, a former FERC commissioner who is currently a partner at law firm Jenner & Block, has joined the Advanced Energy Institute, the nonprofit arm of trade group Advanced Energy United, as chair of the institute’s board of directors.
For the record
A World Economic Forum study of 155 countries revealed that women hold only 20 percent of senior management roles in the energy sector and only 19 percent in the manufacturing sector.
Check it out
Canary Media just wrapped up a weeklong series on the surge of clean energy manufacturing in the United States since the Inflation Reduction Act became law nearly a year ago. You can read a piece mapping all the new factory announcements and an on-the-ground feature about the Battery Belt in the Southeast, and be sure to check out the rest of the series here. We’ll also be holding a Twitter Spaces event Thursday, June 15 at 2 p.m. ET, during which reporter Julian Spector will be discussing his reporting for the series. Join us here — and bring your questions!
BayWa r.e. is the home for changemakers. With the same passion in heart and ambition in mind, we drive change for our planet — every single day. Our dynamic and proactive work environment empowers our people in their personal and professional growth. As one global team driven by a shared purpose, we continuously r.e.think energy to maximize the impact for our clients, as well as society and the environment. Visit our careers website to find out more.