Africa: In Shadow of UN Summit, Climate Entrepreneurs Compete for Spotlight and Funds

Climate activist Greta Thunberg, on screens and right at stage, Climate Activist, speaks at the opening of the UN Climate Action Summit 2019. With her on the stage are, from left to right: Secretary-General António Guterres; Anurag Saha Roy, Winner of the Summer of Solutions Pitch Competition; and Paloma Costa Oliveira, Lawyer and Climate Activist.

New York — Inventor Anirudh Sharma wants industries to let him harvest their air pollution, the head of one of many companies using the global spotlight on New York this week to win attention for a new corporate crop of environmentally-friendly inventions.

Sharma's company, Graviky Labs, was awarded $50,000 at a contest for tech entrepreneurs on the sidelines of the United Nations' biggest annual meeting to grow AIR-INK, which makes black ink from microscopic particles.

"We want to make money off the pollution that is already out there," Sharma said as he pitched his idea to judges at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Solve competition.

AIR-INK was first crowd-funded in 2017 to get it off the ground, but the focus on climate change at the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) this week has given a boost to a new crop of sustainability-driven entrepreneurs like Sharma.

The MIT competition from which AIR-INK emerged was among a handful of similar contests this year at the global gathering.

Climate-themed events around the UNGA were a "place for the world to showcase amazing climate action," said a statement from URBAN-X, a tech start-up accelerator set to award seven promising ventures $150,000 each on Wednesday.


The Carbon XPRIZE was another contest pitting inventors for $15 million in awards. During the UNGA, it held its own summit to give investors a snapshot of startups worldwide using technology to cut planet-warming carbon dioxide.

Marcius Extavour, who runs the competition, said interest in climate entrepreneurs had been growing, as inventions revealed ways to turn heat-trapping gas into bricks, carbon fiber and cement.

"We're seeing tremendous call and pressure for action. Greta (Thunberg) is saying 'We need action', people on the street are demonstrating ... The startups are saying 'We have solutions'," California-based Extavour said.

Investor Jonathan Maxwell, the chief executive of investment banking firm Sustainable Development Capital, said the demand for cooling in a fast-warming world was also drawing entrepreneurial minds.

Average temperatures are predicted to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7F) as early as 2030, the United Nations says.

Demand for air conditioning units is forecast to grow to 4.5 billion from 1.2 billion by mid-century.

Maxwell said coming up with energy-efficient devices to cool homes and industries was the next frontier, with viable alternatives to electricity generated from fossil-fuel, from solar to wind energy, having successfully scaled up.

"The business opportunity associated with creating cleaner, more efficient, lower-carbon heating and cooling technology is absolutely huge," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Matt Perkins, chief marketing officer at Boston-based 7ac Technologies, said his start-up had been engineering an energy-efficient air conditioner for the last decade.

About 60 global pending patents and $20 million later, the firm said it hoped to make a dent in a market that could hit more than $290 billion by 2025, according to market intelligence firm Zion Market Research.

"It's no longer just 'Oh we need to do something green because it's the right thing to do for the world'. Now the financial markets are doing this because it's the right business and risk decision," said Perkins.

(Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, and covers climate change, humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit

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