Ensuring Equitable Access to Capital for Cleantech Founders

By Matt Petersen, LACI President and CEO


Cleantech founders are an incredibly inspiring bunch. With the boldness to go where few–if any–previous entrepreneurs have gone, and the brilliance to develop meaningful solutions that serve our communities, these founders reflect the true spirit of innovation. Still, the road that founders face in developing, deploying, and scaling their technologies is often riddled with hurdles that threaten to sink even the most innovative startups. Oftentimes the most daunting of these hurdles is the need for working capital. 

Access to capital can be difficult to come by, especially for underrepresented founders and those lacking sufficient personal collateral or wealthy networks to lean on. Without adequate funding during the critical early stages of development, many innovative cleantech startups crumble early on–much to the detriment of our communities and our planet. 

Even when founders are successful in securing funding through venture capital, they are often left with a significantly diluted stake in their companies long before they ever go to market. 

In 2022, we created the LACI Cleantech Debt Fund to help address these challenges. The $6 million Fund provides loans of $25,000 to $500,000 and aims to support an estimated 100 early-stage startups over five years. The launch of the Fund followed several years of research, market discovery and piloting of micro-loan funds–these efforts affirmed the need for the Fund to provide larger loans, leading to us going out to raise the capital needed to scale the solution. 

The Fund provides an affordable, non-dilutive alternative to venture capital, and it is rooted in LACI’s steadfast commitment to accelerating equitable climate action. By not requiring personal collateral or credit scores, we are seeking to help underrepresented founders–Black, brown, and women–in particular to overcome historical and institutional barriers to accessing capital. And in the two years since the fund’s launch, we have already seen remarkable results.  

The Fund supports companies like LACI-startup ElectricFish, which builds and deploys intelligent grid edge infrastructure to accelerate EV fleet adoption and prepare communities for outages caused by climate change. Their microgrid-capable EV charger uses proprietary power electronics and software optimization to quickly enable fast EV charging at low-voltage grid-constrained fleet sites (in weeks instead of years) as well as backup energy resources for those sites and their local grid. 

ElectricFish joined the LACI ecosystem in early 2021 through our intensive Incubation Program,  a two-year program that supports cleantech startups in Southern California through market access and business services. While participating in the program, ElectricFish took advantage of LACI debt funding to jumpstart hardware development at a time when they needed to quickly unlock capital to move forward pilot deployment. Vince Wong, co-founder and chief operating officer of ElectricFish, cites the Debt Fund as “a phenomenal, flexible, and founder-friendly asset” that contributed to their ability to make the crucial shift from pilot mode to commercialization mode.

Today, this diverse, nimble company has repaid their debt in full, and earlier this month they were selected as one of America’s top greentech companies for 2024 by TIME Magazine–one of six LACI cohort companies to receive the honor. 

The progress that ElectricFish has made reflects the spirit of innovation that characterizes the cleantech startup community. LACI is proud to support the equitable advancement of cleantech startups during the make-or-break stage of their development. 

For companies like ElectricFish, LACI’s Cleantech Debt Fund provides the tailwind that the intrepid founder needs to keep moving their startup forward. And as we continue our work to build an inclusive green economy, so too will we continue to support startups through equity-focused, founder-friendly opportunities. 

The LACI Cleantech Debt Fund is offered to startups directly through LACI’s incubation programs as well as a network of incubation partner organizations we have invited to join us including BRITE (OH), Evergreen Climate Innovations (IL), Greentown Labs (MA & TX), Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TN), Spark Incubator Program (TN), New Energy Nexus (CA, CO, & NY), and VertueLab (OR & WA). Prospective applicants are encouraged to reach out to their respective program managers at LACI or our partner incubators for more details. 

Finally, a huge thanks to our partners at Sobrato Philanthropies and Homecoming Capital who have provided us with the capital to lend to our startups, as well as Wells Fargo Foundation which provided a grant for initial operating expenses and loan loss reserve.




Media Contact

Cameron Edinburgh, Media Director | 213-647-1441

Social Share

Sign me up for LACI’s newsletter!

I'm interested in the following (check all that apply)