Charging Up: A chat with Utopia Hill, CEO of Reactivate

Plus, climatetech career moves at Powerhouse Ventures, DCVC, Energy Impact Partners, RockCreek, Advanced Energy United, Rewiring America, PVcase and more.
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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 Greentown Labs for its support of the column.

Utopia Hill: Aerospace engineer — and excellent listener

Utopia Hill is chief executive officer at Reactivate. This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.

How did you end up on this career path?

My background is in aerospace engineering, and I have always had a passion for science and math. During college, I focused a lot on power and propulsion, and I worked at GE in their aircraft engines division. I received a call from Invenergy about an opportunity to work as a product engineer back in 2005. At that time, we were still at the very early stages of utility-scale wind, and my educational background was helpful in understanding the technology. My husband and I were also excited about the potential of relocating back to our hometown of Chicago. So I was hired for that role, and the rest is history. After I was with the company for all those years, in early 2022, Invenergy and Lafayette Square launched Reactivate, and I transitioned over to the team, overseeing our engineering procurement and construction activities. I was recently appointed to the CEO role.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

To fail up. There are always going to be obstacles and challenges no matter what you do, and you need to learn how to take that experience, understand any lessons learned, improve, and just keep trying and never give up.

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

I was a Black girl growing up in America with a passion for science and math. I wasn’t always welcome or accepted in certain environments, and that created a need to try to prove myself or keep trying to gain other people’s acceptance, which can be very exhausting. So what I learned over time is that the only thing that I can control is myself and to gain confidence in myself and in my capabilities. I also now realize that oftentimes those who may have some misjudgments about me, based on nothing but my ethnicity or gender — that’s that person’s issue. It’s not something that I can control. So I need to focus on what I can control, and that is me.

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

I think marketing and communication really need to be elevated a lot in the sector. There’s a lot of interest in sustainability, clean energy and a just transition. I am a mom of three, and I hear my kids and their friends talk about their concerns about climate change quite a bit, but I don’t necessarily hear those kids talk about wanting to gravitate toward careers in this sector. So I think that by having a stronger strategy, from a marketing and communications standpoint, hopefully, we can transition that passion into people’s careers because we really need as much talent as we can get in this industry.

Another aspect of all of this is that some people think it’s only engineers and technology experts that are needed, but this sector needs people with [backgrounds in] finance, accounting, law, marketing, communications, installation, operation and maintenance. So there are a lot of needs that go beyond just people with STEM degrees, and we just need to help people understand the potential in this sector.

What is your superpower?

Active listening. And by that, I mean we’re often distracted; we have so many gadgets and things all around us, and I really try to be intentional in my conversations, put the phone down, make sure that I’m not checking emails when I’m in meetings. That helps me to build bonds and relationships with the individuals I’m encountering. It also helps me understand what others see as problems that we can work together to try to solve, so being an active listener helps with the actual execution of a plan.

Career moves

Heather O’Neill has been promoted to CEO of advocacy group Advanced Energy United. She will also continue in her role as president, which she has been in since 2018. O’Neill worked with the group’s previous CEO, Nat Kreamer, on the Virginia Clean Economy Act, winning billions for EV incentives and helping to create the direct pay, transferability and domestic manufacturing tax incentives that are part of the Inflation Reduction Act.

Rachel Slaybaugh has been promoted to partner at self-described deep tech” investment firm DCVC.

Charlotte Guyett has been promoted to VP of investor relations at climatetech investor Energy Impact Partners. Gabriella Rocco has been promoted to senior associate at the investment firm.

Marie Thompson has been promoted to partner at climatetech investor Powerhouse Ventures.

Maria Woodman, previously with Energy Impact Partners, is now principal, climate investing at global investment firm RockCreek.

Summer Sandoval, previously with Uprose, is now policy adviser for clean energy and equity at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice.

Lindsay Vick has been promoted to VP of marketing at PVcase, a startup developing software for solar power plant design.

LeeAnn Baronett, previously at RMI, is now VP of marketing, branding and communications at World Energy, a producer and distributor of sustainable aircraft fuels, renewable fuels and green hydrogen.

Sara E. Baldwin has been promoted to senior director at Energy Innovation, a nonpartisan energy and environmental policy think tank.

Nicole Staple has been promoted to head of market partnerships at Rewiring America, a nonprofit focused on the electrification of buildings.

Samantha Reifer has been promoted to director of strategic alliances at microgrid developer and financier Scale Microgrids.

For the record

In a 2023 survey by catalyst, 51% of women from marginalized racial and ethnic groups reported experiencing racism at work

A survey released this year by Catalyst, a nonprofit working to advance women’s workplace inclusion, found that of 2,734 women surveyed from marginalized racial and ethnic groups in Australia, Canada, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States, 51% of respondents reported experiencing racism in their current workplace.

Check it out

If you missed Canary Media’s first-ever panel inspired by this column, you can watch the recording here. We brought together three industry leaders to talk about the growing climatetech workforce and opportunities for increasing diversity and representation across the emerging sector.

Charging Up is supported by Greentown Labs, the largest climatetech incubator in North America, home to 200+ startups across incubators in Boston and Houston. We’re working to build an inclusive climatetech community that convenes, connects and inspires startups, corporates, investors, policymakers and others to scale climate solutions. We believe there’s a place for everyone in climate and know fighting the climate crisis means fighting for gender equity, too. This month we’re honoring the women who paved the way in climate and celebrating those who will continue to push our industry forward. Learn more about us here and connect with us here.

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Maria Virginia Olano is chief of staff at Canary Media.

Eric Wesoff is the executive director at Canary Media.