LA nonprofit pushes to cut emissions ahead of 2028 Olympics

The Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), a nonprofit that helps scale small businesses that are working to tackle climate change, is adding a new cohort of startups to its two-year program and will double down on efforts supporting minority founders as it looks to increase diversity in the green economy.

The deliberate approach to support minority businesses is coupled with goals that lower greenhouse gas emissions and dramatically shift the way people and goods move in a region notorious for its traffic. LACI is pushing for 30% of all cars on the road to be zero emissions vehicles, including 80% new cars sold in the region, by the time Los Angeles hosts the 2028 Olympics. Electrification of 40% of drayage trucks and 60% of medium-duty delivery trucks that often use the Port of Los Angeles is also a priority. 

“The eyes of the world will be on Los Angeles for the 2028 Olympics and we want to get a gold medal for clean air. We want to get a gold medal by demonstrating that, in fact, we can get Angelenos to start driving zero emissions vehicles,” said Councilman Kevin de León, who represents the 14th district in LA where LACI is located. He added that if LA can hit its targets then “there’s hope for the rest of the country and the rest of the world.”

Since 2011, LACI has worked with nearly 300 startups in cleantech, helping them raise over $600 million while creating more than 2,300 jobs. But the organization has also prioritized supporting minority owners and the number of startups with founders of color has increased from 14% to over 55% in the past five years. Black and Latino founders who once made up just a tenth of founders at the incubator program now account for more than 30%. 

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Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator office Courtesy of LACI

“Women and people of color just don’t have access to venture capital, to the seed capital that is needed to start and grow a company,” said Matt Peterson, LACI’s CEO. In exchange for providing the startups with menortring and CEO coaching, opportunities for fundraising, and office space, LACI takes a 1.5% to 3% equity in each company but ones with founders of color are assigned a higher valuation.

Peterson said the impacts of climate change are linked with racial justice and the incubator wants to support minority founders so they can also join the “green revolution.”

Californians are far ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). As of December, more than 425,000 EVs were registered in California, according to the U.S Department of Energy. That accounts for 42% of all EVs nationwide. Florida, Texas and Washington round out the top four with roughly 50,000 EVs registered in each state, respectively. 

The Golden State is also home to 34 zero emission vehicle-related manufacturers and 360 zero emission vehicle-related companies. Last year, zero emission vehicles became California’s number one export and Governor Gavin Newsom proposed spending $3.2 billion over the next three years on electric vehicles, charging stations, and infrastructure maintenance. 

Kamelae Terry managed maintenance issues for EV Connect, an electric vehicle manufacturer, before starting her own company ChargerHelp!. She worked with LACI on a mobile app that allows manufacturers and owners of electric vehicle charging stations to hire locally trained technicians for maintenance issues.

“If you’re going to put a charging station in a community, there should be somebody locally from that community that takes care of that charging station and installs it,” Terry said. 

ChargerHelp! services 17,000 stations in nine states and recruits from areas where chargers are deployed with an emphasis on enlisting ex-oil refinery workers. The technicians are paid during training, start off at $30 an hour, and get healthcare and company stock. 

“We built this company because we saw how people get taken advantage of from our communities. You build something that is not just equitable but it’s the right thing to do. We believe this is what the businesses of the future should look like,” Terry said. 

Joshua Aviv, the founder of SparkCharge, teamed up with billionaire Mark Cuban after an appearance on Shark Tank, but also credited LACI for the success of his company.

SparkCharge delivers a mobile charging unit to electric vehicle owners for $25 a month and is operating in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Dallas with nearly a hundred charging units in each area. The service allows car owners to select the time, place, and range of charge. 

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Mobile chargers from SparkCharge Courtesy of SparkCharge

“If we want to make electric vehicles accessible for everyone then we need to have an infrastructure network that is also accessible to everyone,” Aviv said. He came up with the idea for his business while attending Syracuse University and said he wants to see more leaders of color in the cleantech industry. 

“A lot of people in cleantech, a lot of policymakers in cleantech don’t look like me and that’s fine. But, it doesn’t mean it needs to stay that way,” Aviv said. He explained that the lived experiences of minority entrepreneurs will redefine the standards for how organizations treat employees.

“Being a minority CEO means that you can help change the imprint of what a successful cleantech company looks like,” Aviv said. “We don’t yet realize the contributions that minorities are making to this clean tech revolution.