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What Climate Tech Investors Really Want: Secrets of a Winning Pitch

Onward is transforming humanity’s energy future by turning brilliant ideas into marketable products. The Onward Accelerator program is designed to connect energy entrepreneurs with talent, expertise, and resources that will help them refine their ideas and ultimately make a winning case to investors or potential customers. You may feel like you’ve seen something like it on TV, but at Onward you don’t need to be entertaining to apply.

Our investment partners aren’t looking for drama. ATP Fund partners Kyle Cox and Bart Bohn are active early-stage climate tech investors as well as coaches in the Onward Accelerator program. We asked what excites them about working with Onward cohorts:

Kyle describes the ATP Fund’s mentorship role. “We take relatively inexperienced entrepreneurs and provide them with proven frameworks that allow them to tell a crystal-clear, compelling, and commercially viable story about how they are solving very difficult problems that need to be solved now. We teach them to tell the kind of stories that get people like us excited.”

Success is not solely about the data or presentation skills, it’s about people too. Bart says, “There is science behind investing. We want to know how big you think the market opportunity is. What challenge in the market space are you addressing? What’s the through line to a viable business model? What's the value proposition of this technology and why does the world need this right now?”

There’s also an art to investing, Kyle explains. “We look at who is on the team, who saw the challenge, and who has the mindset and the passion to figure out how to turn an idea or a passion into a business? We look for entrepreneurs skilled, trained, and maybe emotionally aware enough to understand the journey they're about to undertake and do what they're going to have to do to be successful, because it's never a straight line by any stretch of the imagination.”  

It turns out, the secrets of successful funding pitches are not secret after all.

There is a winning formula, and it’s supported by a detailed analysis of 253 successful entrepreneurs who walked away with deals on the TV reality show, Shark Tank.


Six not-so-secret ways to get climate tech investors to pay attention

Tell a compelling story. Just because you’re not on TV doesn't mean you can get away with being dull. A unique story helps your pitch stand out and stay top of mind. Some entrepreneurs have a gripping origin story; others weave a tale of the triumphs and challenges that led to their discovery. Onward Accelerator participants work as a team and with experienced mentors to tell a story that can’t be ignored.

Louis Matthews, CEO and co-founder of Project Geminae, talks about being a member of the 2023 accelerator cohort: “Onward did a fantastic job of getting us ready to pitch investors. They have a lot of experience interacting with startups. They've helped us with everything from talking about contracts to go-to-market strategy to customer introductions.”

Show and tell. Eighty-one percent of successful Shark Tank deals included some kind of interaction, like a taste test, hands-on demonstration, quiz, or discussion. For sustainability proposals, interactive elements like models and prototypes engage investors and keep their attention where you want it. In 16 weeks of intensive mentoring, coaching, and peer feedback, Onward helps energy entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life.

Be real. Empathy is a powerful human emotion, and it doesn’t sit outside the room while you talk business. That means it’s vital to know your investors, but even more important to know yourself. Onward helps entrepreneurs understand and connect with both energy investors and potential customers. We’ll also help you address potential weaknesses and talk about challenges you’ve overcome on your way to a climate impact solution. 

Daniel Johnson, CEO and co-founder of Austere Environmental, talks about how participating in the Onward Accelerator program helped his company acquire new skills: “We have a strong technical background, but it's been really helpful to shore up our business acumen with Onward’s advice and coaching.”

Ask the hard questions. A winning pitch isn’t just a product presentation. Investors expect you to come prepared with research on the market, competitors, and potential future risks. They’ll want to know what problem you’re solving, and how it will make a real impact on the future of energy.

“Working with the other startups in the cohort has been really excellent in terms of understanding the common challenges that we face, particularly around developing hardware and starting a company that is relatively capital-intensive,” explains Matthew Forrest, CEO of Economical Energy

Know your numbers. Serious investors want to see more than a brilliant idea and a gorgeous Powerpoint. The math has to add up. They’ll be on the lookout for fuzzy numbers, illogical projections, or missing data, and this can quickly tank a deal. The Onward Accelerator program works with cohort members to flesh out their business model with real-world data and financials.

Get feedback. Before stepping out in front of investors, you’ll need to refine your pitch with a supportive, knowledgeable audience. And that audience should be willing to give critical feedback (meaning, it’s not your parents). That’s why the Onward Accelerator organizes cohorts of seven to ten companies at a time. Participants work together and with expert mentors to hone their product, strategy, and pitch. The 16-week experience culminates with in-person showcases to potential customers and VCs who are interested in taking energy startups to the next level.

Paul Codd, CEO and co-founder of Flexergy, leaned on his Onward cohort to widen his perspective. “As a founder, you can end up sort of chasing your tail, working on the same thing and going over the same pitch stack for the thousandth time. It's hard to get that objectivity you need to be able to make the right changes.” 

Watching TV entrepreneurs reveals fundamental strategies for turning bright ideas into investment-worthy pitches. But a list of tested tips can only take you so far. The real difference happens when you’re surrounded by people who are focused on your success—people who can connect you with the resources that will help turn your idea into part of the earth’s energy future. That’s Onward.

The Onward Accelerator program is now accepting applications for the next cohort of energy entrepreneurs. Join our Accelerator Program to gain hands-on experience from our experts while working with other startups that are innovating for a more sustainable planet.  


Additional Resources

Onward Accelerator 2023 cohort: Investing in Energy Changemakers

A Thriving Interdisciplinary Ecosystem Powered by Human Energy

Aligning Energy Innovation With Energy Market Trends

Meet the 2023 Onward Accelerator Cohort

Who is Onward


ThinkOnward  |  ThinkOnward Team

ThinkOnward is a nexus of innovation, collaboration, and energy entrepreneurialism focused on energy resilience and pursuing a net-zero future. We’re creating a hub for the “thinkers”, the “change makers” who want to foster new ideas, leverage and use powerful data and tools, and collaborate with the best scientific minds, together with investors and entrepreneurs committed to accelerating the commercial success of innovative energy and climate solutions. 

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