Dawn Lippert’s gained national prominence with a growing list of top hits — in her case, a roster of successful clean energy startups. And like the famous Grammy winner, Lippert’s roots are in Hawaii. As the Founder and CEO of the Hawaii- and California-based Elemental Excelerator, Lippert has built an ecosystem and invested $43m to help scale clean energy startups.
In this Solar100, Dawn Lippert weighs in on what she’s learned from over a decade of investing in and supporting entrepreneurs, and reasons for optimism in the fight against climate change.
Starting in renewables
Richard Matsui: Kicking off with the origin story—you majored in environmental studies at Yale and have worked in this space ever since. What first drew you to working in clean energy?
Dawn Lippert: I got into energy because I was studying environment, biology, and conservation, and it just became strikingly clear how everything will become much more difficult because of climate change.
Once you realize that, addressing climate change then becomes the overarching storyline to anything else you’re interested in — from biology to planetary systems to just keeping life on the planet.
I’m an optimist, and spending too much time on climate policy could be a difficult place to live with that mindset. So I started working with some professors at Yale around energy and just found so much momentum. You can be a true optimist because the trajectory of energy technology and green technology was and is so positive, and you can have a role in making that transition faster. It can be a really exciting and inspiring place to try to make a difference. And that has now circled back to climate, because we are seeing the same kind of momentum across all kinds of climate solutions.
Richard Matsui: You’re a fellow ex-management consultant, having worked with Booz Allen Hamilton’s alternative energy practice in Washington D.C. I’m curious — how does that work and training influence what you bring to the Founder and CEO role today?
Dawn Lippert: Management consulting is about facilitating change and thinking about all the levers to make that happen.
In particular, as a consultant to the US Department of Energy for the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, it was special to play a true, supportive role to the holistic energy transformation we’re trying to achieve here. My job was to help make the state’s goal of 100 percent clean energy happen, and to learn how to flip an economy from fossil fuel to clean energy. My day-to-day included asking questions like, “Who are the people we need in the room? Who is not in the room who will be impacted? What are the stories or numbers or analyses we need? What is right around the corner that will impact how this can or will unfold?”
Richard Matsui: Classic stakeholder management — a lot of people with different objectives.
Dawn Lippert: Exactly. It’s very similar to implementing technology solutions…