Charging Up: A chat with Katie Rae, CEO of The Engine

Plus, climatetech career moves at Nissan, Form Energy, VertueLab, Regrow Ag, Solarcycle, Spearmint Energy, Rhythmos and Gridmatic.
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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 wesoff@​canarymedia.​com. Canary thanks BayWa r.e. for its support of the column.

Katie Rae: A mission-driven investor

Katie Rae is chief executive officer and managing partner at MIT-built venture firm The Engine. This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.

How did you end up on this career path?

I’ve always been a mission-based person. My parents might say that I was slightly righteous as a child. But it is really about figuring out why you do something — what is at the heart of what you’re doing. That’s followed me along my career and my life. I have spent the last 15 years working directly with entrepreneurs, which to me has meant helping people unlock what could be massively impactful change. I have increasingly invested more and more in issues I care about and into the things that will make the changes I want to see in the world. A friend of mine called a few years back to tell me what MIT was planning to do with The Engine, and he said I should come and run it. So I took a serious look at the skills needed for that role: fostering an entrepreneurial community, running a series of investments and working with a university. I looked at my previous experience running Techstars Boston. I had also done over 100 investments, and I grew up with a dad who was a professor at Yale University. So in a way, it was perfect. Now, here we are — we have raised three funds for The Engine and invested in companies such as Commonwealth Fusion, Boston Metal and others doing incredible work with amazing founders.

What do you look for in an entrepreneur?

I look for someone who understands the problem they are going after. I think people who are mission-based like that create the best, most unified teams. People who are passionate about why what they are doing matters also make for great leaders because even when they hit difficult moments, they will keep going.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Bill Warner, who’s an incredible MIT alum, an angel investor and entrepreneur, said to me right at the beginning of my journey in investing that he would only give me money if I promised to invest it in what I cared about. I think that forced me to believe in myself and in the people I saw as having the potential to create something big. It is always easy to find people who are betting against you, but the most important thing is to believe in ourselves and what we care about. No matter what you do in life, when you do it from a place of caring, those are the best outcomes.

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What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it?

People often assume that I am not an investor — that is probably the No. 1 assumption I get. At this point, it makes me laugh. Doing good work is the only thing that matters; what other people think ultimately won’t matter very much.

What do you think are some interesting, overlooked career opportunities in climatetech? 

If we are looking at climate, we have to look at where we can take the most carbon out, meaning where we can have the biggest impact, and focus on those areas. For example, steelmaking or decarbonizing industrial processes and agriculture are huge. But you can also think about human health and our built environment and the impacts of climate change on those things. Really, finding ways to work on climate is easy because it is everywhere. The question then becomes what skills you are bringing to the table, and there are many career paths where you can have a big impact: marketing, sales, engineering, HR — there are lots of ways to get there.

What is your superpower? 

Seeing through to people’s core ability to grow and change. Honestly, that’s what I do. Where naysayers would say, How could they do that? They’ve never done that before,” I can see people’s true potential.

Career moves

Trisha Jung has been promoted to senior director for EV strategy and transformation at Nissan. Jung oversaw the launch of the Leaf, Nissan’s electric vehicle, and was named one of the 100 leading women in the North American auto industry by Automotive News.

Gina Wolf, previously a data-center strategist with Meta, has joined Spearmint Energy — a developer, owner, operator and trader of battery energy storage — as senior VP of strategy and project development. Loraine Farberg, former director at Kindred Partners, has been named chief people officer at the company.

Aina Abiodun is now president and executive director of VertueLab, a Pacific Northwest–based nonprofit addressing the causes and impacts of the climate crisis through funding and support of innovation in climate technology. VertueLab’s Climate Impact fund uses a blend of government and philanthropic capital to invest in early-stage startups while also providing a set of support programs.

Stefanie Padgett has joined Rhythmos, an EV fleet-charging and grid-optimization firm, as senior VP of business development. Padgett will lead Rhythmos’ growth in industry verticals including utilities, automotive and EV fleets. Most recently, Padgett served as VP of mergers and acquisitions integration at Stem.

Charlotte Beard has been promoted to CFO at long-duration storage aspirant Form Energy. Crystal Jain has been promoted to staff battery engineer at the startup, and Amelie Kharey has been promoted to senior battery engineer. The company is developing iron-air batteries.

Lizzy Aldridge is now director of sales at solar panel recycler Solarcycle. Aldridge was previously at Nikola Power.

Sarah-Beth Anders is now chief marketing officer at Regrow Ag, a provider of agri-tech software that enables climate-smart farming and agricultural practices. Anders was most recently at Guild Education.

Kise Zettel, previously with Shell Energy, has joined AI-enabled power marketing company Gridmatic as VP of business development.

For the record

TWO PERCENT OF CEOs within the energy industry are women

According to Holon IQ’s 2023 Global State of Women’s Leadership, only 2 percent of CEOs within the energy industry are women. The energy industry is tied with IT for the lowest percentage of women leaders among the industries surveyed.

Check it out

Join us on June 8 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern for a livestreamed conversation between Canary Media Editorial Director Eric Wesoff and Jigar Shah, head of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office. The two will discuss how the Inflation Reduction Act and the Loan Programs Office are spurring clean energy manufacturing while also examining the challenges and trade-offs of this massive buildout. Register here.

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.

Maria Virginia Olano is chief of staff at Canary Media.

Eric Wesoff is the executive director at Canary Media.