Q&A with Seattle investor Naynika Chaubey, whose cleantech company just raised $300 million

Evok Innovations partners, clockwise from top left: Naynika Chaubey, Mike Biddle, Jane Kearns and Marty Reed. (Photos Evok Innovations)

The venture capital firm Evok Innovations this week announced a $300 million fund investing in clean technologies in North America. The Vancouver, British Columbia company was launched in 2016 and previously raised an inaugural fund totaling C$100 million.

Evok Innovations is part of a rapidly growing field of climate and clean technology. Last year, investors around the world committed more than $900 billion to companies developing renewable and nuclear energy, energy storage, decarbonized transport, hydrogen, sustainable materials and carbon capture. carbon, according to BloombergNEF.

The company’s second fund includes “significant participation” from Export Development Canada, Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto-Dominion Bank, as well as founding partners and oil companies Suncor Energy and Cenovus Energy. The third founding partner is BC Cleantech CEO Alliance.

Evok Innovations has already funded 16 startups, including Twelve, which turns carbon dioxide into chemicals and fuel; Ekona Power and Syzygy Plasmonics, which are developing hydrogen fuel production technologies; and several companies that provide technologies for the petroleum and other industrial sectors.

The four team partners are split between the United States and Canada, hailing from Seattle, Silicon Valley, Vancouver and Toronto.

Naynika Chaubey, a Seattle-based Evok Innovations partner, joined the team in November. She previously managed deep technology, clean energy and infrastructure investment portfolios for two organizations. Chaubey was also part of the founding team of two startups, one in the development of solar projects and the other in finance.

We caught up with her to learn more about the company and the new fund. Our interview has been edited for clarity and length.

GeekWire: The Evok Innovations website notes that “we decided in 2016 to fix what was wrong with investing in clean tech.” What was the problem?

Chaubey: I think there was a bifurcation between impact and performance. We managed to marry these two. I am able to deliver first quartile cleantech returns while having that impact. I think it’s new.

We intend to not only continue with this in the second fund, but also expand the scope. Fund II will invest in everything from carbon capture to low-carbon fuels, clean energy, grid innovations, mobility, industrial innovation, materials and circularity . This is quite a broad goal and we plan to support the most talented founders who have a very deep understanding of product-market fit.

GW: In terms of the startups backed by the first fund, they didn’t strike me as necessarily being cleantech. Many are aligned with oil and gas production. Are you moving into a different space with Fund II?

Chaubey: Evok’s mission is to accelerate the transition to [carbon] net zero. And legacy industries, which of course includes oil and gas, and steel, cement, and mining, are all really essential components of civilization, of how we move, how we eat , from which we live. And accelerating the decarbonization of these sectors is just as important as investing in new products and systems.

And many of the technologies we invest in, such as carbon capture and hydrogen, cut across many different industries. It’s not just specific to oil and gas or chemicals. Hydrogen crosses a whole panoply of industries. In the broad sense, this is industrial decarbonization.

GW: What start-ups are you investing in?

Chaubey: We intend to enter the Series A stage. Generally, this means that the company has understood the science, has reduced the risks associated with the science and is now looking to evolve its product. It’s really perfect for us, because as a team we have the ability to leverage our own industry knowledge and operational expertise. We have all been founders and operators ourselves, so we understand the challenges and opportunities that founders will face.

We can join those boards and offer real-world solutions to the engineering and business challenges founders are going to face. We can also offer portfolio companies the opportunity to find growth capital through our base of LPs and the extensive network of co-investors we have.

GW: What are you looking for in a startup?

Chaubey: Obviously, we look at the team. Often, even with great technology, the team can really be the determinant of success – the experience of the founding team, either having founded another company in a similar space, or having faced challenges similar in a large company managing a business unit.

How did the founding team think about the market economy in which it finds itself? Who is the competition? What is the size of the market they are entering? And above all, is there product-market fit? You will hear me say it very often, product-market fit is very important.

We also look, frankly, at the diversity within the team. Is the team balanced? Is the team ready to be challenged and consider different viewpoints, different obstacles they might face, and paths to work through? I think diversity can cut across a lot of different things, and so we’re looking at that.

GW: Back to the question of fossil fuels, this new fund is presented as a fund for clean technologies. How do you balance that with supporting fossil fuel-aligned startups?

Chaubey: Fund II is different from Fund I. The base LP (limited partner) is different. We do not intend to invest in technologies that favor the extraction of fossil fuels. I want to be super, super clear about this. We can invest in electrofuels, low carbon hydrocarbons. Things like hydrogen or hydrocarbons generated from hydrogen [using power] from solar and wind, for example, or new generation biofuels, liquid fuels derived from CO2. We can make some of those investments. We have a few in the portfolio. But nothing will extract the hydrocarbons from the ground.

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