Electrek spoke with Danielle J. Harris, director of mobility innovation at Elemental Excelerator, about innovative mobility industry solutions, how we can build robust electric infrastructure and encourage the mass adoption of EVs, and the importance of equity and access.
Elemental Excelerator is a Honolulu and East Palo Alto, California-based cleantech startup accelerator that finds and funds mobility startups to work with corporates, community-based organizations, and cities. It catalyzes partnerships to equitably and sustainably advance the transportation industry.
Elemental is currently accepting applications for Cohort 10. More information can be found here.
Electrek: What are the most pressing challenges you see in the mobility industry?
Danielle J. Harris: Fuel consumption and the emissions that come from it! Within Elemental’s five verticals, mobility is the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for over 28% of US emissions annually. Electrifying the transportation system is critical to protect the environment and largely dependent on our ability to fuse together the energy and transportation industries. Together, these two goliaths can scale zero-emission capabilities for all types of transportation, including aviation, freight, commercial, and public fleets across all types of geographies with clean resilient grids. One of the foundational elements of electrifying vehicles is building out charging infrastructure and expanding access in more rural communities, as well as finding innovative ways to optimize and manage our ailing infrastructure.
Another area I’m excited to dive deeper into is freight and logistics. E-commerce went from being a luxury to an essential during the pandemic’s shelter-in-place orders. But all that toilet paper and baby formula arriving at your door within 24 hours comes at a substantial cost to the environment and transportation network. There are massive inefficiencies within the freight and logistics ecosystem that need to be shored up because I see no end in sight for e-commerce – only greater expansion. For instance, we know that 40% of shipping containers on land and 20% on sea are empty at any given time, and a huge area of interest for me this year. As we increase the amount and frequency of good movement, we are now looking for ways to not only electrify the modes of transportation moving the goods but also to optimize delivery from the container, to sorting, to the last mile.
Lastly, I’m keenly focused on the adaptability of our cities in the near future. The freezing weather in Texas, fires along the Pacific coast, and storms across the South have proven to us that conditions are worsening and our cities need to be ready. Cities are repeatedly caught off guard by these natural disasters and will need to prepare by not only forecasting their arrival, but planning for long-term changes to the city’s fabric to adapt to their varying level of intensity. I’m seeking technologies that can integrate into city planning and development projects to help cities proactively prepare for the next crisis. In addition to environmental adaptability, our cities need to become more economically resilient. With many people at home, the sales taxes that provide a substantial funding source for so many civic functions have dried up. Therefore cities
need to get creative in generating new funds, so I’m seeking technologies that will help create new revenue sources beyond parking and permits.
So as we set out to search for our next cohort, we will be focusing on solutions that resolve the
inefficiencies around freight transport, build bridges between energy and transportation industries, and support the environmental and economic sustainability of our cities.
Electrek: What solutions will be critical to reach the Paris Agreement goals for mass adoption?
Danielle J. Harris: Let’s just take a second to celebrate – we have a REAL climate plan! The Biden-Harris
administration has assembled some truly revolutionary and sweeping actions to address climate change in a just and equitable way. To achieve climate resiliency and reach mass adoption, equity and access is foundational to climate solutions. Elemental commitment to our equity and access work and, now, with the nation’s leadership and support, makes achieving decarbonization a real possibility. Beyond making sure solutions are available to all, such as EVs, the nation will need to build robust charging infrastructure and develop an efficient charging management network to build a transportation system that is conducive to EV
adoption. The ultimate driving force for mass adoption of EVs and other zero-emission technologies is government legislation such as gas-powered car phaseouts and carbon taxes/pricing.
Electrek: How does Elemental Excelerator successfully facilitate innovation in climate tech?
Danielle J. Harris: We at Elemental are a bit of what I like to call “Innovation Matchmakers.” We build relationships with key stakeholders who collectively have the power to unlock innovation and our climate
future. Elemental facilitates these relationships by acting as a bridge between startups and corporates, philanthropists, venture capital, policymakers, and community organizations to collaborate and scale solutions to combat climate change at local and global levels.
We fuel these relationships by handpicking the most strategic and impactful startups within climate tech. Our team carefully evaluates startups’ value proposition and team strength. Beyond just providing funding, my fellow directors of innovation within water, agriculture, energy, and circular economy work closely with each portfolio company. We provide customized support tailored to what each company needs for their current stage of growth, and to ease them across the so-called “valley of death” by initiating real project deployments.
Many of these project deployments incorporate Elemental’s place-based approach, which is designed to create climate solutions for the mutual benefit not only of the startup and the investor but for communities to ensure broad adoption and acceptance. In our Project track, for example, that means not only providing funding, but we also provide stakeholder introductions, community engagement, and project management. For the Strategy track, we offer custom coaching in the areas of market intelligence, sales & growth, operational scale-up, messaging, and fundraising strategy for early-stage startups.
What’s new?! I’m so excited to share that we’ll be doubling down on our equity and access work across all three tracks and adding a new Global track to fund more mature, high-impact startups that are seeking global and commercial expansion and deploying projects anywhere in the world.
Electrek: What have been what you consider to be some of Elemental’s most successful mobility
tech companies, and why?
Danielle J. Harris: We have so many success stories across our portfolio, and my corner (what I affectionately refer to as the “Mobility Mob”) has been popping off lately. Already this year our electric
aviation company Ampaire got acquired after successfully demonstrating their hybrid-electric aircraft with Elemental and Mokulele Airlines in Hawaii. On the electric vehicle side, both Xos Trucks and Proterra have recently announced they would go public via major SPAC deals worth billions of dollars. And last but not least – after recently completing a project with us, DOTs across California, and a group of mobility justice advocates – Remix was acquired by Via for $100 million. These recent exits are just a few examples, but I think they show why mobility is one of the most attractive and eclectic areas for innovation right now.
Electrek: What standout traits will you be looking for in startups for your 10th cohort?
Danielle J. Harris: As always, I am always looking for high-impact and needed innovative solutions to resolve major challenges in cleaning up the transportation industry. I also focus a lot on the founding
team of our companies. I seek out founders that are deeply passionate and have diverse teams that exemplify and embrace Elemental’s Equity & Access framework. Founders who draw on their lived experience are some of the most effective that we can work with due to their understanding that climate solutions need to be designed and deployed with equity in mind, and accessible to all people, not just the privileged few. We’re also looking for companies that are open to the personal introspective work and willing to examine their internal and external work to incorporate equity in their teams and help create good quality, local jobs for people. In recent years, we’ve also been seeing more startups working at the nexus of different industries, such as mobility and energy, and I’m excited to see more multipurpose innovations.
Danielle J. Harris is a passionate advocate for environmental and racial justice, which led her to city planning. As a city planner mitigating tech’s growing impacts on San Francisco over the past 10 years, Danielle began to adapt city functions to unlock tech’s benefits. Today Danielle is a thought leader in new mobility, helping the industry navigate the ever-evolving mobility revolution. Danielle is the director of mobility innovation at Elemental Excelerator. She was previously the innovation strategist for SFMTA Office of Innovation, where she created dynamic collaborations between city departments and tech companies.
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