Galvanize: Financially supporting women entrepreneurs from 9 to 5

Well folks this is it. The last post in our What Would Dolly Parton Do? 9 to 5 in the climate tech sector”. And this week I wanted to take a look at the other side of the startup ecosystem: venture capital (VC) firms.

As we all know by now, to make the cut the company has to live by Dolly’s doctrine of gender equality, which of course eliminated some companies. Luckily, Galvanize Climate Solutions has been able to step up to the helm in the form of Saloni Multani, co-head of innovation and expansion.

The words

I first met Multani on the excellent podcast Catalyst w/ Shayle Kann where she was a guest on Kann. I was blown away by her eloquence and ability to make dry investing jargon digestible and interesting. So, an email and a very delayed flight to California later, I was sitting at a glass Multani conference table at Galvanize’s San Francisco headquarters.

What I had planned to be another interview in Q&A format turned into a fascinating discussion that lost all structure! Instead, I’ll just highlight a few of Multani’s intriguing insights. (Some wording has been changed for length and clarity.)

Indian woman, shoulder length brown hair

The IRA and Climate Tech Funding

Quick note: Multani and I spoke in early August before the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was officially enacted into law.

First the more technical points. The IRA, as discussed in GreenBiz’s The State of Climate Tech Funding webcast last week (which both Multani and I attended), will impact every aspect of the startup ecosystem, and investors have a crucial role to play. Multani broke it down for me.

“As [Galvanize] When thinking about his portfolio companies and the IRA, we need to ask ourselves some fundamental questions. Are there parts of the policy that are relevant to our businesses? Are there parts of politics that create markets for our companies? Is that an incentive? We’re looking for the very clear, tangible places where you could say, ‘That’s how we should prioritize our efforts because there’s clearly a market that’s being catalyzed by this funding.’”

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Essentially, according to Multani, Galvanize and all sustainability-focused VC firms should want to be a key player in helping create and accelerate new markets. And the IRA will strengthen that relationship in the future.

VC and GE (gender equality)

As a woman of color in the investment world, Multani knows her demographics are small. Recounting a decade of experience, she remarked, “Everywhere I worked, I was the only woman visible, top, bottom and sideways. And when I started at Blackstone [a previous employer]I don’t think they’ve ever had a woman in the private equity group.”

In 2022, female-founded startups across all sectors have raised a total of $20 billion so far. When I quoted that incredibly low number, Veery Maxwell, co-head of innovation and expansion at Multani, stopped by to say hello and offer some insight on the topic.

“While these numbers are clearly insufficient, there are significantly more groups that are focused on actually bringing women together in business,” she said. Maxwell explained that much of the reason women are excluded from the field of entrepreneurship is not a lack of skills, but rather a lack of mentoring and camaraderie. She told me, “There’s no shortage of great women who can and should start businesses, but often they don’t want to take the plunge because they don’t think they can raise the money.”

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Maxwell then introduced Silicon Valley Bank’s new women’s focus group “bringing both investors and entrepreneurs together.” But the “power women group” Maxwell and Multani agreed that the women in the climate group would take the lead, a mix of more than 100 women with executive and investor roles.

White female, shoulder length brown hair

When I asked how women could gain access to these groups, both co-leaders in the room agreed with the process. Both answers are below:

Maxwell: That’s a great question. Women usually introduce one of the female investors and whether we decide to go ahead or not, we tend to agree that they are great and we invite them to join the community. It’s not the most organized way to proceed, however, as it requires them to be in front of us.

Multani: “For new founders, I would say that there are simply a lot of recommendations from the operational people who bring people with them. And you [speaking directly to Maxwell] are so intentional when opportunities arise, such as filling a board seat broadly and diversely.”

Watching these two women, both rightly in positions of power, support and praise each other at one of the leading climate VC firms, I sobbed to my heart and thanked Dolly Parton for allowing me to witness this rare event . And let’s be clear: it’s only rarely because women are so often left out of these coveted positions, not because women supporting women is an anomaly. Far from it, folks.

Go forward

Concluding my conversation with Multani, she reflected on her own past moments of self-doubt, which closely paralleled comments made by Sunfolding’s Chief Technology Officer, Leila Madrone, in a previous WWDPD post, saying: “Sometimes you almost talk yourself out, trying because you won’t. I see no proven evidence that someone like you can be successful. And the data suggests that’s not necessarily a fruitful path.”

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And that sentiment is what struck me throughout my Dolly Parton series. Every woman interviewed for the series who has been successful and brilliant in her own right has expressed individual reluctance to get into the game due to a lack of female representation. But her ideas, and more importantly, the potential indelible impact her ideas could have on the planet, deserved her persistence and trust.

Living Carbon’s trees are capturing greenhouse gas emissions at unprecedented rates, Sunfolding’s trackers are expanding the possibilities of solar energy, Twelve’s reactor is eliminating fossil fuels from industries, and Galvanize funds and helps these endeavors come true.

“What would Dolly Parton do?” 9 To 5 in the Climate Tech Sector exists because Dolly Parton wrote a song 42 years ago that expressed the very frustrations and limitations women faced when trying to earn the same benefits, compensation and awards as men . Almost half a century later, it is easy and fair to lament that the state of rights for anyone who identifies as a woman is in decline if they should make progress.

But commendable women who deserve our attention exist and are changing the world. And I’ll be damned if I don’t do my best to become a member of this incredibly special club. Thank you to the Climate Tech Weekly community for reading and actively supporting my limited series.

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