5 Years of CELI: A Conversation with CELI Alum + Board Member, Joe Indvik

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Joe’s favorite place on Earth

About Joe

I’m a farm kid, former climate change skeptic, entrepreneur, and currently the head of clean energy finance at RE Tech Advisors. I also recently joined the CELI board. I believe that you can’t power a spacefaring civilization with fossil fuels, so we better get moving!

So far, which has been your favorite clean energy work experience and why?

Just two years out of undergrad, while at ICF, my colleague Nick and I had to complete a greenhouse gas inventory for a company with 400 branches—in less than two weeks. During the second week, we spent 90-100 hours holed up in a conference room, blasting electronic dance music. Despite the insanity, I had a ton of fun because I was with one of my best friends and a person who motivates me professionally and personally. More than any other, this moment taught me that the people you surround yourself with are by far the biggest determinant of your success and how much fun you have achieving that success.

About a year after this you started your own company. What do you think is the best way for someone to start their company?  

For me, having a full-time job was the best platform to launch a start-up. Many people have this idea that entrepreneurs are people who recklessly decide to quit their job, fly to San Francisco, and cobble together enough money to start their company. In reality, most start-up ideas evolve gradually over months or years. One of the best ways to cultivate your start-up idea is by keeping your full-time job for a while, especially if it’s in a related field. That way if it takes 6 months or more to get your idea going, you have the resources to support yourself, while also gaining relevant experience.

I know you have ambitious goals to help scale clean energy through better financing. Would you be able to share with us some of your vision on how to achieve this?

In a nutshell, my goal is to make clean energy finance boring. It needs to be so commonplace that most people don’t even need to think about it anymore. Think of getting a car loan or a mortgage: Those things are just part of everyday life, and most families and businesses in the U.S. will at some point have one. In the early 20th century in the U.S., it was hard for the average individual to get financing for a home. With the advent of the modern mortgage, home ownership went up dramatically because financing became more accessible. My vision for clean energy finance is that we get to something similar for energy efficiency and renewable technologies. That’s one of the reasons I think energy-as-a-service and property-assessed clean energy (PACE) financing are so exciting—they integrate seamlessly with the way buildings already operate.

“Fostering Entrepreneurship and Community” Panel, George Washington University, Washington D.C., January 2017

 

“If you feel you have an entrepreneurial spirit, but not necessarily a start-up idea, you can start within your current organization.”

 

What does entrepreneurship mean to you? Any advice for those who are trying to embrace it?

There are many different types of entrepreneurs. We need to tell a more holistic story, particularly when it comes to clean energy innovation. Being an entrepreneur is not necessarily about founding you own company. Entrepreneurial thinking is also incredibly valuable to bring into any existing company or organization (i.e. “intrapreneurship”). If you feel you have an entrepreneurial spirit, but not necessarily a start-up idea, you can start within your current organization.

In terms of advice, I encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to focus on the three things that I think are the biggest predictors of success: vision, effectiveness, and humility.

Vision is the ability to tell a compelling story about what you want to do, and to get others (employees, investors, and the market in general) to believe it.

Effectiveness is the ability to sit down and execute on that vision in a disciplined way.

Humility is required to be great. No one person has all or even most of the answers, so the best entrepreneurs routinely surround themselves with people who are smarter than them.

Do you have an example of an inspiring entrepreneur for you?

I’m going to pick an example beyond the typical Gates-Zuckerberg-Jobs-Musk circle and go with William Kamkwamba, whose story I read about in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. He was a young man who lived in a village in Malawi with poor access to electricity. He decided he was going to build a wind turbine to help power his home. Using a book on energy and some trial and error, he did it, then quickly became world-famous as his story spread via the Internet. His story is a testament both to his incredible motivation and to how entrepreneurship is easier now than ever before.

 

‘We are part of something exciting that is going to have its own chapter in history books 200 years from now (“The Great Energy Transition of the 21st Century”) and that’s pretty cool!”

 

What do you think is the biggest opportunity facing young clean energy leaders? Any advice for them?

The clean energy industry is now so big and complex and interdependent, it’s hard to pick one single opportunity. We cannot get to a clean energy future without technology, policy, and markets working together—they are all critical.  

We should appreciate living in a time when we are undergoing a fundamental energy transition unlike anything in human history. Our generation can say that when we were born most of the world’s energy came from fossil fuels, and when we die, if we’re successful, most of the world’s energy will come from renewable or sustainable sources. That’s pretty incredible! The closest thing in history is the industrial revolution, but even that wasn’t quite as far-reaching in its implications as the transition to clean energy. It can be easy to feel disconnected when our day-to-day jobs involve spreadsheets or sales deals, but never forget that it’s in support of a broader mission. We are part of something exciting that is going to have its own chapter in history books 200 years from now (“The Great Energy Transition of the 21st Century”) and that’s pretty cool!

What is the most useful skill or piece of knowledge that you learned during your CELI fellowship? And, why?

Learning about power markets and utilities. Though I’ve worked tangentially with utilities throughout my career, I had never received a top-to-bottom primer on the current state and fascinating history of the industry. When you seek to change how a system operates, it’s critical to understand how it came to be. I also got a huge amount of value from the financing session lead by Andrew Gilligan—despite being experienced in clean energy project finance, I still learned a ton from that session. There is a lot of value to get from CELI no matter your experience level.

What is your CELI story? How are you still involved today?

I started as a fellow in Spring 2016. I had heard about CELI many years before and got really excited about the organization but didn’t have time to do the fellowship until then. I was originally excited about the content but I stayed for the community.

After finishing my fellowship, I continued volunteering: speaking at a couple of CELI events, fundraising for the 5k, and running the business pitch workshop as part of the fellowship program. About 6 months ago I was asked to be the first CELI alum to join the Board of Directors and represent past and present fellows. One of my imperatives as a new board member is to make sure CELI continues to put its community first, and to help translate ideas from that community into new initiatives. So tell me your ideas!

 

“The value of the CELI community comes from being a large, inclusive, and extremely active group of experts from every corner of the energy industry… The CELI network is the single most capable, diverse, brilliant, and engaged group of leaders I’ve ever encountered. Without fail, they help each other and lift each other up.”

 

What do you think is the value of the CELI community?

The value of the CELI community comes from being a large, inclusive, and extremely active group of experts from every corner of the energy industry. When you pose a question to the CELI listserv, you routinely get 10+ responses within the day. It’s a magical thing to watch! The CELI network is the single most capable, diverse, brilliant, and engaged group of leaders I’ve ever encountered. Without fail, they help each other and lift each other up.

CELI 5k, Washington D.C., 2016

 

“If the kind, capable, and motivated people of CELI are the future of energy leadership, then surely it will be a bright one.”

 

Is there a specific message you want to share with the CELI community?

Most of us in CELI came to clean energy because we want to make the world a better place—whether that is improving energy access, reducing pollution, or building a more resilient energy system. With our constant political gyrations and the climate change impacts that are happening now, it can be hard to stay positive. But if you need a source of optimism, look no further than the CELI community. Listen to their interesting stories and see how they are solving these challenges. If the kind, capable, and motivated people of CELI are the future of energy leadership, then surely it will be a bright one.

If you are a former CELI fellow and you have not taken full advantage of this network, we are excited to welcome you back and be a part of this community anytime! Come to our events, like emPOWER in October 24-25 (CELI’s first conference). Take the opportunity to connect with the CELI listserv. Invite someone out for coffee. Communities like this don’t come along every day.

 

Also, let me know if you have suggestions for how CELI can be better at: joe.indvik@gmail.com

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