Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Sarah Kearney

, 29

Visionary

Quoc Le

A financial innovator is crafting a way for foundations to invest in clean energy.

Sarah Kearney wants philanthropists to act more like venture capitalists.

She’s created a nonprofit called Prime Coalition to help private foundations invest in energy-related startups. Given that venture funding for clean energy technologies has dropped substantially in the past few years, Kearney’s idea could open up a source of much-needed capital from long-term backers.

Radically new energy technologies have proved too risky for most private—and even government—investors. But foundations might not mind those risks, and they need to give away a small portion of their endowments every year if they are to maintain their tax-exempt status. Why not use it to fund companies whose primary goal is fighting climate change?

So far, seven foundations have bought into her vision, giving her money to fund Prime Coalition. Next, she hopes to facilitate deals between philanthropists and startups working in renewable energy, energy storage, and related technologies.

Creating the necessary legal and financial structures is a long, complex process. There are potential pitfalls, too. If a startup gets money from a chari­table foundation and private investors, will the foundation’s social mission be at odds with the goals of the profit-­seeking capitalists? But Kearney says foundations that want to do something about climate change should be involved with technology startups somehow. “Nothing is going to happen at scale unless people are making money,” she says.

Martin LaMonica

Gain the insight you need on emerging technologies at EmTech MIT.

Register today

Credit: Portrait by Adam DeTour; data from National Venture Capital Association

Tagged: Energy, EmTech2014

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me