Benny Kim steers funding to entrepreneurial ventures that address climate change worldwide
Benny Kim, E16, EG17, has been fascinated by clean energy technologies since childhood. “How cool is it that we can power communities with energy from the sun?” he asks. Today he works for Elemental Excelerator, a nonprofit based in Honolulu, identifying promising climate tech companies for investment.
LET’S MAKE A DEAL At Elemental Excelerator, Kim is tasked with finding “entrepreneurs tackling the most difficult, system-wide challenges” with promising and equitable solutions to climate change. The group has supported everything from electric aircraft to a firm that sequesters carbon dioxide in the production of cement and concrete.
The nonprofit receives about 500 applications per year from around the world and invests in 15 to 20 of those ventures. It typically disburses about $6 million annually, with awards ranging from $300,000 to $600,000. “I’m always looking for new technologies that encompass interrelated issues, such as mobility and energy systems, and that benefit vulnerable, under-resourced communities,” says Kim. To date, more than 80 technology projects have been funded.
HOW HE GOT THERE After earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s in innovation and management from the School of Engineering’s Gordon Institute, Kim worked at a Boston startup and learned about the Somerville-based Greentown Labs, the largest clean tech incubator in the United States. He eventually became the first Tufts-Greentown Fellow, a role that gave him the chance to expand Greentown’s global outreach.
INTEGRATING EQUITY Kim’s work reflects his commitment to environmental justice. “We recognize that frontline communities are the ones who will bear the brunt of the climate impacts,” he says. “And yet they’re often the last groups to get access to these technologies that can bring down their energy costs and give them access to better jobs and healthier food.” He strives to bridge the divide between innovative technologies and the people who need them most.
SCALING UP SOLUTIONS Climate change is not a problem we can solve, Kim says. “What we can do is avert and address the worst impacts of it.” His outlook is cautiously optimistic and grounded in the progress he’s witnessed. “We have worked with and have deployed solutions over the last 10 years that can drive down carbon emissions, that can build clean energy economies while also building up workforce opportunities for frontline communities. A lot of work remains to be done. But it’s work that we've done before; we just need to scale it up.”
WHERE HE FINDS HOPE Kim has faith in the entrepreneurs he champions. Helping their ventures succeed is a tangible way to tackle climate change, which could otherwise be overwhelming. “When my friends who don’t work in the climate space feel dejected—they see how big the issues are—they’re like, ‘Well, game over,’” he says. “But I see it differently because we’re taking specific, positive actions now. I can say: ‘It’s not over. We actually are supporting a company that can completely reverse or change that narrative.’”