Education is proving key to the UK’s net-zero transition

Stephen Price is an Investment Director at Clean Growth Fund and is passionate about finding the next climate tech leaders. Prior to being an early-stage investor, Stephen held a role as Technology Transfer Officer (TTO) at Newcastle University, a position in which he was responsible for identifying the research projects coming out of the University that had the potential to be commercialised. 

In this article, Stephen shares the importance that Education has in the fight against climate change and the role that universities, in particular, are playing.

Education is proving key to the UK’s net-zero transition

Green skills and career pathways must be embedded into every part of education in the UK to help reach net zero and to ensure future generations thrive in a zero-carbon economy.

Education providers, employers and the wider public sector must incentivise and inspire the young to enter and move through ‘green’ training pathways. Opportunities in the green economy shouldn’t just be for the young though – openings to learn green skillsets and to take further training must be available for all ages and backgrounds. As we transition to a non-fossil fuel based economy, re-skilling and re-training are huge opportunities both for individuals and for the education sector.

As a venture capital fund investing in UK-based high growth technology companies that have the potential to combat climate change, we are acutely aware of the critical role that the education sector has in building a talent pipeline with the skills required for a future greener economy. We have been delighted to witness the level of engagement and passion that the young now have in climate issues, most notably illustrated in recent years by the Climate Strike movement. This passion is inspiring and a wake-up call to older generations and has been significant in accelerating the increased emphasis on climate issues that we now see in school curricula. Those as young as primary school age are being introduced to the topic, with schools even forming pupil-lead ‘eco teams’ to ensure schools are operating in a climate-friendly way. We applaud all of these initiatives as it further embeds climate awareness into the young.

Universities have become engines of climate tech research and innovation

Climate and sustainability issues are also routinely discussed and taught in University courses throughout the country and are forming a central strand in degrees right across the academic spectrum from science and engineering to finance and philosophy. As well as incorporating climate-related content into teaching and careers support, Universities are increasingly reviewing their own campus operations to ensure they decarbonise their own carbon footprint.

At the Clean Growth Fund we’re on the lookout for the UK’s most exciting, capable and ambitious climate tech entrepreneurs.  With climate issues front and centre across our universities, we’re extremely fortunate to be operating within a sector of research and innovation that is thriving – there is more and more talent being drawn to solving the climate emergency. The sheer quantity and quality of investment applications that we receive never ceases to amaze and inspire us and whilst we receive applications from every corner and sector of the UK, we are particularly pleased by the number emerging from the country’s academic base.  Universities have become incredibly important engines of climate research, innovation and talent development. Whilst academic research is often disruptive, it can be difficult to further develop and commercialise this innovation. Our team has seen first-hand the challenges of successfully achieving this. 

Clean tech university spin-outs

Often, the appropriate route to commercialise university research is via the creation of a start up company (or spin-out). The spin out is launched as a separate trading entity with the aim of attracting further funding via grants and/or investment with which to continue technology development and commercialisation. A key puzzle that spin outs often need to solve is how to attract experienced commercial management to lead the business alongside academic founders. However, when the pieces of the jigsaw come together, the combination of experienced management and cutting-edge technology can often provide an extremely attractive proposition for climate tech investors. For many reasons, here at the Clean Growth Fund we are very keen to work with university spin out companies. In addition to often having access to world-class research and founding teams, spin outs can have advantages particularly in terms of access to talent, wide industry networks and access to university facilities that can support lean development and efficient use of capital.

Clean Growth Fund has invested in four University spin-outs

At Clean Growth Fund, we have already invested in four clean tech University spin-outs!  These include MOF Technologies (MOF Tech) from Queens University Belfast which is decarbonising heavy industries through its next generation carbon capture system; Vector Photonics from the University of Glasgow –  a laser developer focused on reducing the impact of datacentres; Carbon Re from UCL and University of Cambridge whose machine learning and artificial intelligence platform is helping cement plants to radically reduce carbon emissions and operational costs; and Holiferm from University of Manchester which is replacing fossil fuel feedstocks in the manufacturing process of personal and homecare products with more sustainable options via its unique fermentation process.

MOF Tech – Clean Growth Fund invested in 2022

We recognise the quality of climate-related research that is undertaken within the education sector. The Clean Growth Fund team spends a great deal of time interacting with University Technology Transfer Officers up and down the country and we are always pleased to offer advice and insight into how a spin-out may be best positioned to be an attractive option for investors – so please do get in touch with us if you feel you may have an opportunity to discuss. 

The climate emergency can only be addressed with action from every corner of our society. The education sector, beginning with primary school children and right through to our university professors, has a crucial role to play in inspiring and delivering the ideas, talent and passion that will enable the transition to a cleaner, greener future.  We applaud the educators and the innovators – but there’s a lot more to do…let’s get to work.