The startup investment climate has been somewhat grim of late. And despite ever-mounting evidence of approaching catastrophe, financing of climate tech has also suffered, with venture funding down 40% in H1 2023. However, there are some rays of hope shimmering on the horizon.
With less money available, it is perhaps understandable that investors (even the Earth-conscious kind) want to back founders with a proven track record. One such is Eamon Jubbawy.
Having co-founded successful AI-powered ID verification startup Onfido, Jubbawy has now turned his attention towards fighting climate change by fostering trust in the budding carbon removal industry.
Jubbawy’s latest endeavour is Isometric, a carbon dioxide removal (CDR) verification platform that just raised $25mn (€22.25mn). Backed by Lowercarbon Capital and Plural, the investment is one of the largest-ever seed rounds for a climate software company.
“As soon as I stumbled across the need for something like Isometric in carbon removal, I kind of dropped everything,” Jubbawy told TNW. “I understood that I have to focus fully on this, run it as the founder and CEO, raise a lot of money to do it, and just go 100% as fast as possible — and build something meaningful.”
The funds raised will go towards expanding the team and building an independent, transparent registry for durable carbon dioxide removal, and a free-of-charge CDR science platform that will report verification results from a network of partners. The former will come online later this year, whereas the latter launched this morning.
Jubbawy decided to focus on carbon removal having quickly become disillusioned by traditional offsets. Isometric’s platform is based on the four key components he found to be missing from carbon markets: scientific rigour, transparency, collaboration and collaborative attitude, and incentive alignment in terms of the structure of the business model.
The team is made up of scientists, headed by Dr. Elizabeth Troein (formerly of ARPA-E, MIT, Columbia and Princeton), but also engineers, hailing from companies such as Amazon, Shopify, Wise, Palantir, and Meta, who “bring a UX approach from the tech sector to climate.”
Carbon offsets vs. removals
The criticism levelled against carbon offsets is too substantial a topic to sufficiently unpack given the scope of this article. However, a brief explanation of the difference between carbon offsets and carbon removals is perhaps in order.
Offsets, simply put, are intended to compensate for emissions by investing in projects that have a positive impact on the climate, such as renewable energy or reforestation.
Carbon removals, on the other hand, are aimed at the actual extraction and long-term storage of carbon dioxide already present in the atmosphere. Scientists are convinced that they are absolutely necessary if we are to have any chance of keeping global warming well below 2°C, due to what is called “committed warming.”
There are several different technologies for capturing and storing carbon, including direct air capture (DAC), enhanced weathering, and ocean fertilisation. Indeed, several startups are already hard at work in the space.
But if they are to be able to prove to investors and buyers of CDR credits (at the moment about 10 times as expensive as offsets) that they are delivering on their promise, robust monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) is absolutely essential. And this is where Isometric comes in.
Not dependent on carbon credit suppliers for income
The registry will only surface after-the-fact verified, delivered tonnes and will allow the public to review the evidence and calculations behind every credit. This is great for transparency and to counteract greenwashing, but how will the company actually make money?
Contrary to most carbon credit registries or brokers who get their income from the supplier of the credits, Isometric will charge buyers of CDR tonnes a single flat fee per offtake or purchase. This will cover all the costs associated with developing protocols, verifying removals, and issuing credits.
“I think a lot of the criticism levied at traditional carbon market players and registries is based on the fact that there are some fundamental conflicts in the business model,” Jubbawy said. “If you’re a verification or registry providing service, and you’re paid by the suppliers, who are the ones you’re tasked with saying how good they are and evaluating the outcome of their work, then it is just an obvious conflict.”
Meanwhile, Isometric’s science platform is available free-of-charge. As Jubbawy explained, it is all about cultivating early-stage collaboration and input for suppliers of carbon removal. Associated suppliers thus far include Charm Industrial, a bio-oil sequestration startup that recently announced $50mn+ (€45mn+) worth of carbon removal sales to JP Morgan, Stripe, Shopify, Meta, Alphabet, McKinsey, and others.
Following the funding round, Lowercarbon Capital’s Ryan Orbuch has joined Isometric’s board. The VC fund’s mission statement is to “back kickass companies that make real money slashing CO2 emissions, sucking carbon out of the sky, and buying us time to unf**k the planet.” Sounds like an attitude we can get behind.