My SolarPunk Story
Since I was 14 I’ve worked on my own small businesses and startups, most of which failed for various reasons. Even before that I was always an enterprizing kid. My father likes to tell a story about when I was 7 and bought a bag of marbles for $1 at a campground store. I immediately proceeded to try and sell all the individual marbles to kids at the campground for $0.25 each.
My first serious startup was Fourth Wave. I never received any funding from family or VCs. I got it from winning business plan competitions and working on other people’s startups, learning along the way. Eventually, I ended up working on AI projects for big companies, but I wanted to do something more fulfilling.
I dreamed of supporting businesses that made a positive impact for people and the planet. I wanted to make it easier for entrepreneurs from modest backgrounds to get their ventures off the ground. But at that time, I thought “Who am I to fund them?”. I’d never done an MBA or worked on a VC fund.
In 2019 I became so tired of working for The Man that I quit to walk the 2200 miles of the Appalachian trail. With hardly any money I mostly slept in the woods. The almost-wilderness in this often forgotten part of America really inspired me.
I passed through dozens of small towns that dreams of progress seemed to have left behind. Young people fled them for lack of jobs. I got the sense many would stay if there were more opportunities there.
The people in these places could be so generous. Strangers always let me hitchhike into town to buy provisions. I loved getting around without a car. My main fuel was other people’s kindness.
One day in the forest I was feeling very connected to nature and touched by the empathy shown to me by these small town people. I realised how much I wanted to do something that helped human connection and natural flourishing. Locals turned an old school house shack (Lindamood School House) into a sanctuary with fresh fruit and supplies to help hikers and anyone who needed it.
I had skills gained from working in startups that could be of value to places like these. Areas and founders that had been overlooked by Silicon Valley VCs. I could help businesses aiming to benefit nature get off the ground.
Now I knew what I was going to start. I needed a name. That’s when I remembered solarpunk. I worked my ass off to save up money for the fund and put an invitation out for entrepreneurs to apply to it.
I was shocked by the response.
None of the businesses that came forward were the type of solarpunk ventures I’d been hoping for. Instead they seemed more like scams. Dubious carbon trading schemes rather than the type of low-tech high-impact activities the world needs more of. When I talked to people in the sustainable startup scene they said, “That’s just how it is Joseph, these are the only types of businesses that are investable.”
I was feeling pretty disheartened. If this was true, what hope was there for a solarpunk future? In a time that we obviously need a radical shift away from the status quo, the environmental ventures we fund must have a rebelious element. That's why "solarpunk" as a term fits my goals so well.
I’d turned my front yard into a mini food forest and gardening there always cheers me up. I reached for some compost soil mix to feed my Winter Roses / Jalapeno chilli plants. It hit me that it didn’t matter what other investors did. The company that I got the soil from Veterans Compost are a company that really inspired me. They employed ex servicemen and women to turn waste crab shells and coffee grounds into some of the best compost you could buy.
They’d never get funding from Silicon Valley but were exactly the type of business that should be funded: low tech, high impact, a little rebellious against the status quo, and greatly positive for the environment. The type of business SolarPunk VC would fund. I'm proud for SPVC to say how uninterested we are in the normal financial trickery of many ‘green’ investment projects: anything related to offsets, massively funded hydrogen infra that will never work, and all sorts of greenwashing grifts.
SPVC has now invested in 5+ projects. We want to show that different types of startups are possible - solarpunk ones. We need your help to spread the word and connect SPVC with the right type of solarpunk projects.
Please share our applicant guide through your networks, social media and with anyone you think might be a good match for SolarPunk VC.
A solarpunk future is possible if we make it so.
- Joseph Schiarizzi