Cleantech Startups Are the MVPs of CI’s Newest Fund
The investment team at Connecticut Innovations believes that clean technologies are poised for exceptional growth. But that’s not the only reason CI’s newest fund is green. Connecticut leaders know that environmentally friendly products and services can help combat critical issues like climate change, soaring energy prices, pollution and diminishing natural resources. CI’s Konstantine Drakonakis, an environmental engineer, entrepreneur and investor who is overseeing the fund, tells writer Amy Hourigan about this exciting new initiative and some of the promising companies already in the portfolio.
Amy Hourigan: Thanks for your time, Konstantine. CI has been investing in renewables and other environmentally friendly companies for years. Why create a new fund?
Konstantine Drakonakis: You’re right. CI has been investing in cleantech for years. We have several companies in our portfolio that are focused on high-potential innovations like better battery storage, fuel cells and clean financing. This new fund is timely, though, given the environment—both literally and figuratively. We need to do more to address climate change now, so that future generations can thrive in a healthy and stable environment. We also want to support Governor Lamont, who is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 and is committed to creating a climate-tech-driven economy. There are funds available to help us with these efforts through President Biden’s American Rescue Plan. CI applied and earmarked $50 million for climate tech deals through its new Climate Fund.
AH: Can you tell us what you’re looking to invest in?
KD: We’re looking for new ideas to improve public health and our business and community infrastructure. We want a healthy pipeline of diverse companies that have market-ready solutions to support a green grid, waste management systems, and agricultural and commercial products and services.
AH: Have you funded any companies yet?
KD: Yes. We’ve funded two “proof of concept” initiatives. The first one, NANOIONIX, is located in Farmington. It’s part of the University of Connecticut’s Technology Incubation Program. It’s an early-stage advanced materials company that has developed a family of engineered self-disinfecting ceramic materials that, when added to things like paint, asphalt shingles and aggregate, reacts with the sun to clean the materials. It gets rid of viruses, bacteria and dirt, kind of like what OxyClean does for your clothes. It’s effective and it doesn’t harm the environment, so it’s very exciting.
We’re also closing a deal with Zone Flow Reactor Technologies in Windsor. They’ve developed a hydrogen production technology that improves the efficiency of steam methane reform systems. It makes hydrogen production from natural gas much more environmentally friendly. It’s a transition technology for the hydrogen economy.
AH: So you’re looking for really early-stage deals?
KD: We’re looking for a mix of early-stage and later-stage deals. We’ll invest a target amount of anywhere from $150,000 to $2 million per investment round in a company. We’re also considering investing in a fund of funds that focuses on waste, mobility, the circular economy and resiliency.
AH: OK, good to know. You’re a Yale-educated environmental engineer with years of engineering and investing experience. Does CI have other investors on the team who are also experienced in cleantech?
KD: Yes. Several members of the team have manufacturing and advanced materials experience, and there are people who specialize in biotech and who cross over into advanced tech. We also have investors who are skilled in cleantech software and consumer-facing products and services. It’s a great mix of talent that will ensure we’re funding the right deals.
AH: Anything else you want to mention?
When we think about cleantech, we’re not restricting that to mean any one vertical—it’s not just carbon capture or renewables. We want to invest in technologies that are making an impact on sustainability within the context of climate change as a whole. If you believe your company meets that qualification, or you’re interested in investing alongside us, we’d love to hear from you.
AH: Thanks, Konstantine. Exciting stuff.
KD: My pleasure.