Alumni seek students’ insights into Raise Green crowdfunding platform
The co-founders of an innovative crowdsourcing investment platform for renewable energy projects called Raise Green turned to Yale students to crowdsource ideas before launching their new venture. They identified six archetypal customers and community projects and students brainstormed around what might attract a Millennial, for instance, versus a Generation Xer to become an investor or project creator.
The workshop was part of the Greenlight series hosted by the Yale Center for Business and the Environment (CBEY), in which corporations, nonprofits, government agencies, and startups bring questions to Yale students to help find answers.
“It’s very exciting for students to work for a startup-scale company,” says Raise Green co-founder and COO Matthew Moroney ’18 M.E.M. “They know the results will be integrated, and there is a lot of flexibility in what we can do.”
When Moroney and Raise Green co-founder and CEO Franz Hochstrasser ’19 M.E.M. attended classes at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and began mapping out their startup, they attended GreenLight workshops to better understand how businesses innovate and adapt. “There’s role-playing using design thinking,” says Moroney. Hochstrasser says the fast idea iteration that happens during these workshops, with students scribbling insights on Post-It notes, is great for “analog data collection.”
The Raise Green idea
In 2016, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) opened a door to non-accredited investors, allowing those who made less than $200,000 per year to invest in startups for equity for the first time. It immediately ushered in a new era of crowdfunding platforms for startups of all kinds — platforms like StartEngine, Wefunder, and Republic. But almost all of them, says Hochstrasser, are focused on traditional venture companies. “It’s a ‘choose your own VC play,’” he says, noting that investing in traditional startups is inherently risky, as about 75% of U.S.-backed venture startups fail. He and Moroney saw an opportunity.
They envisioned a crowdfunding platform designed to support sustainability goals — one that would allow people to invest and earn equity in renewable energy projects in their own backyards, and to post community projects that would benefit from clean energy. While the platform will launch with community solar and wind projects, they envision Raise Green expanding to include other sustainability projects, including electric vehicle charging stations, diesel backup generators, and land trusts.
Their first pilot project is a rooftop solar array that will provide energy for the Jim Vlock First Year Building Project on Button Street in New Haven — an annual project where Yale School of Architecture students design and build housing for the city’s low-income or homeless residents. Called New Haven Community Solar, the project is being run with the support of Kwasi Ansu ’18 M.E.M., who is serving as chief marketing officer. The three alumni are utilizing a third-party platform with New Haven Community Solar — and acting as developers in this first project — to show the efficacy of their concept before officially launching Raise Green.
When community members invest in local projects like this, the co-founders say, they can direct their investment dollars into the communities they care about and lend directly to on-the-ground climate-change solutions.
“By introducing a retail product into these markets, we can accelerate deployment of these technologies,” Hochstrasser says.
Students innovate for climate solutions
The founders say they are part of a new contingent of Yale students eager to find innovative solutions to climate change. “There are multiple lines of evidence about the urgency of converting to carbon-free solutions,” says Moroney, pointing to a new government report that suggests climate change could cause the U.S. to lose hundreds of billions of dollars a year and lead to massive environmental and health impacts.
“Yale has provided an incredibly cutting-edge set of resources for entrepreneurs and innovators who want to be impactful in the climate solutions space,” Hochstrasser says, mentioning programs and prizes at CBEY, including the $25,000 Aetna Foundation Prize for Health Equity Innovation — which Raise Green won last year — and the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale, which provided mentors, education, and a fellowship to help them launch.
“Entrepreneurship is starting to grow among young people as they recognize the urgency of the problems we face,” Moroney adds.
They are currently registering Raise Green with the SEC and expect their first solar project and their new platform to come in the new year. “This platform gives people self-efficacy in the face of climate change, both on the personal side as an individual investor, and on the community development side as a project creator,” Hochstrasser says.