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Flight Path

Clean Tech, Climate Change, and the Future of Energy feat. Phoebe Wang ’13

Owl Have You Know

Season 3, Episode 24

In another episode from our 2023 Alumni Reunion series, host Maya Pomroy ’22 and Phoebe Wang ’13 chat about her passion for fighting climate change for future generations, her work with Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, and winning a C3E business award.

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Episode Transcript

  • [00:00] Intro: Welcome to Owl Have You Know, a podcast from Rice Business. This episode is part of our Flight Path series, where guests share their career journeys and stories of the Rice connections that got them where they are.

    [00:13] Maya: Welcome to Owl Have You Know, on this Reunion weekend here at Rice University. Our guest today is Phoebe Wang. You are a Full-Time MBA of 2014. Thank you so much for taking time out of this fun and exciting weekend to be with us for a bit of time, to check in and, and talk about all of the magnificent things that you've done since you graduated from Rice.

    [00:33] Phoebe: Absolutely. So, actually, I graduated... I know that my name tag is, like, a 2012 —

    [00:39] Maya: '14

    [00:39] Phoebe: ... but actually, I graduated 2013.

    [00:40] Maya: Oh, '13, okay.

    [00:42] Phoebe: Yes, it's actually my 10 years anniversary.

    [00:44] Maya: So, you graduated 10 years ago. That's right.

    [00:46] Phoebe: Yes, yes.

    [00:47] Maya: So, in the 10 years since you've graduated, you have to tell us about all the phenomenal things that you've done. So, you, you are very passionate about clean tech.

    [00:56] Phoebe: Mm-hmm.

    [00:56] Maya: And about the energy transition. And you are part of, of Amazon's team to really be carbon net zero by what year?

    [01:06] Phoebe: 2040. So, that's 10 years ahead of Paris Agreement, which was on 2050. Yeah.

    [01:11] Maya: So, how did you get interested in clean tech?

    [01:13] Phoebe: Absolutely. And first off, thank you so much for having me in this Owl Have You Know Podcast. So, as Maya has mentioned, I have been in the Rice program back in, like, from 2011 to 2013. That has been, like, a phenomenal two years in my life. Learned a lot. It's a really great program I would recommend to everybody. So, my interest in the clean tech, or what we call climate tech, actually stemmed really early.

    Like, when I was very little, I grew up in Asia. And then, if you see over there, like, pollution is such an important issue. And it is actually, like, the global issue now. So, back then, I actually almost did environmental engineering, but job market was not very good, like, over two decades ago. So, I actually switched over to material science engineering. So, now it's, kind of, coming through a full circle that I'm looking at investments in the climate tech. Especially in Amazon, we have this $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund. And primarily, looking at a few sectors, including technology and transportation and mobility, food and agriculture, circularity.

    We also do a lot in the, like, energy storage, utilization, and production, as well as recently, given the rise of the generative AI, we look at a lot of new technologies in data center, how to actually continue to provide those, like, a power consumption or power in the data center for the ChatGPTs, the BlackRock from Amazon. So, a lot of, kind of, cooling technologies in data center and chip design technologies, fascinating stuff. And it's just amazing to see the, the rise of the climate tech industry.

    [02:59] Maya: Well, yes. And it's, it's definitely... it almost has become exponentially more of an issue. And, and there's more of a push to do it faster and faster and faster, based on how much research has gone into, you know, the, the amount of carbon that we are breathing in every single day.

    [03:21] Phoebe: Absolutely.

    [03:22] Maya: Right? I mean, and, and I think that now we have, you know, capabilities that we didn't have before to, to really assess the impact of, of carbon on all of us in, in humanity. So, so, you recently accepted an award in 2022, the C3E Business Award. And it's in here, in this magazine over here. So, tell me, let's find it. It's, like, one of the first...

    [03:44] Phoebe: I think it's like first or second page.

    [03:48] Maya: That's... well, I mean, that's where it should be.

    [03:50] Phoebe: Yeah.

    [03:50] Maya: So, tell me about this amazing award that, that you received.

    [03:54] Phoebe: Yeah, so I was really honored to receive this award from the Department of Energy in United States. So, every year, they actually select, like, one woman per category in eight categories. And then, I won this award, amazing award for the business category for my investments in the past few years in the clean energy and climate tech space. So, so far, I have invested in over 30 companies, out of those three unicorns, and have created, like, tremendous job opportunities in local markets, and then also have a big impact in the carbon market.

    So, as Maya have mentioned, right, we, we're now looking at a lot of different areas with the CO2 lens. And in addition to that, we are also looking at how to preserve the biodiversity, because we don't want to have unintended consequences if we only apply the carbon lens when we do the investments.

    Yeah. So, it's... I feel very honored. Last year, we actually, like, I went to D.C., did my award recipient speech. and just, it's so empowering to see all the women in the room and who has been trailblazers and then make sure that we have the right gender equity in the space. And then, also, like, lots of good deal-making on conversations.

    [05:13] Maya: So, you said three unicorns. What are the three unicorns?

    [05:17] Phoebe: Yeah. So, I'll maybe just talk about, one, given the...

    [05:22] Maya: Okay, the best one.

    [05:24] Phoebe: Yeah, yeah, the, the best one. Yeah. So, Xpansiv is one of the companies that, that we have, but when I was at BP Ventures, we have actually seeded their first check in. And so, think about that as, when you are doing, like, commodity trading, you have the marketplace, right? Or, exchange. So, this is actually a platform that you can do, kind of, get the CO2 or the green property of your commodities. So, whether you're natural gas, your electrons, how green are they, how much energy that are actually going in, that you can actually use the blockchain technology to underwrite that. So, that company has done really tremendously well. And that was back in 2017 when there's no MRV category, which is the monitoring, reporting, and verification for CO2. And also, like, at the time, it was through at the dawn of the blockchain space.

    [06:23] Maya: 2017, yeah. I know.

    [06:24] Phoebe: Yeah. So, I was, like, very, very fortunate to work with previously my boss, Meghan Sharp and David Hayes in the deal. And it's super fascinating to see how the company progressed.

    [06:35] Maya: Because your background is also venture capitalist, right?

    [06:38] Phoebe: Yes, yes. So, I have a very interesting route. And then, I think, for the people who are interested in, kind of, the career during and after the MBA, so I actually started as an engineer. So, I spent my first few years in my career as a chemical engineer, and then also as a semiconductor engineer. I used to do IC designs with DRAM, which is dynamic random access memory, for a semiconductor. After a while, I realized that I want to, kind of, move more towards the business side. So, I actually did CFA, which is a charter financial analyst program, as well as Rice MBA, which I think let me, kind of, leapfrog in my career as well. So, yeah, so, kind of, did a bunch of things, like investment banking, private equity, commodity trading.

    [07:23] Maya: Okay, all at the same time.

    [07:24] Phoebe: And consulting. Yeah. And also started my own company before I actually, kind of, got into the VC side to become a full-time at VC. So, that was back in 2012 when I first graduated. I also graduated one semester early, so that...

    [07:39] Maya: Really?

    [07:40] Phoebe: Yeah, yeah. That, that's a whole different story but...

    [07:43] Maya: Well, we'll talk about that, too, because I want to know how you graduated a whole semester early. Like, do you sleep?

    [07:49] Phoebe: That's a good question. Yeah, I still, I get my full eight hours. But I also did Ride Fund, which is a flagship program in Rice, which is a $1 million student led. And I think it's equity only, long only. We don't do short, kind of, equity fund. So, I was, like, a first junior analyst and eventually senior analyst selecting the public stock market, like, different stocks.

    So, that actually gave me a, kind of, leg up for getting all my credits in. And plus, like, I had already done my CFA, like, the first two levels. Many of the courses are, kind of —

    [08:28] Maya: In finance.

    [08:29] Phoebe: Yeah, finance.

    [08:30] Maya: Economics, all those, yeah.

    [08:32] Phoebe: Yeah. So, I did, I think I did a lot of credits. I also did, like, a summer and winter credits, too. So, I was able to actually get two minors, plus my major. Well, two minors in the MBA. So, did, like, I think energy and finance minors in the MBA, and then still graduated a semester earlier.

    [08:53] Maya: Wow. So, what did you do with your free time?

    [08:56] Phoebe: That's a good question. I probably don't have much free time, but I, I like to, kind of, work out. As I mentioned, I like to run a lot. And I do yoga. I also teach nowadays, like, teach baby yoga or kids yoga.

    [09:08] Maya: Wow.

    [09:09] Phoebe: Yeah, I found that's, kind of, fascinating and also, kind of, teach in different schools. I have taught in the Berkeley Haas for the past five years as a guest lecturer, and then a few times in the MIT Sloan Business School. And now, like, looking into more, like, different ways of giving back to Rice and exploring opportunities here.

    [09:31] Maya: By being part of the Rice Alliance, which we're sitting in the Rice Alliance Building.

    [09:35] Phoebe: Yes.

    [09:35] Maya: So, so, tell me, tell me about your work with the Rice Alliance and how you've given back.

    [09:38] Phoebe: Absolutely. So, I think Rice Alliance actually have several, like, a signature programs. So, one of them is the Rice Business Plan Competition. I have been judging and involved in the Rice Business Plan Competition in the past 10 years. So, kind of, really see that...

    [09:53] Maya: Since you graduated.

    [09:54] Phoebe: Since I graduated.

    [09:54] Maya: Since you graduated.

    [09:55] Phoebe: Yeah. And then, back then, also, when I was at Shell, we were one of the key sponsors. So, I actually also get the opportunity to hand the, like, a gigantic check to the students, which is a fascinating thing, fascinating thing to do. So, right now, like, I still continue to serve as the lead judge for, kind of, the final selection for the prize. I'm also involved with... I sit on the board for the Rice Alliance Advisory Board. So, like, I think every quarter, I come back here, either virtually or, like, in person.

    [10:26] Maya: Somehow, yeah.

    [10:28] Phoebe: Yeah. So, yeah, so, it's great to meet with the fellow advisory board members, and then also Brad is a really good advocate in terms of the innovation.

    [10:38] Maya: Brad Burke?

    [10:39] Phoebe: Yeah, Brad Burke.

    [10:39] Maya: We'll be talking to him later.

    [10:41] Phoebe: Yeah, yeah. And then, I think the third part is more on the... there's a Clean Energy Accelerator. So, I'm on the selection committee over there, kind of, at the inception, I've been involved. So, kind of, these are the three main programs that I, I find is great opportunity for students and for the general ecosystem for the innovation, but also greater value for me to give back. I can... I always, kind of, raise my hand whenever Brad reaches out, "Hey, Phoebe, do you have time to, to help out or invite folks?" Yeah, I would always...

    [11:14] Maya: Say yes.

    [11:15] Phoebe: Say yes.

    [11:15] Maya: You can't say no. You have to say yes.

    [11:17] Phoebe: Yeah. We're a family, so, obviously.

    [11:19] Maya: Well, that's, that's, that's true. It is very much a family. And that's one of the things about, about Rice and, and having, you know, we've seen the energy here today with the Reunion Weekend and everybody reconnecting. And it's just such a, such a joyous occasion —

    [11:31] Phoebe: Yeah.

    [11:32] Maya: ... that, that, you know, the, the energy is palpable.

    [11:35] Phoebe: Yeah.

    [11:36] Maya: So, you were very optimistic about the clean energy and, and climate, you know, control so that we can, we can shift it back to having clean air for, for everyone. So, so what progress do you hope to see over the next few years? What are you the most excited about?

    [11:52] Phoebe: Yeah. So, right now, whenever we are looking at the technology, we actually have a lens of whether, when at the mature stage, whether the technology can sequest or can abate gigaton equivalent of CO2, because we need to have that level so that we can actually move towards a future that is livable for our next generations. So, that's something not very easy to do. But fortunately, we have a ton of innovation, a ton of entrepreneurs, and ton of venture capital coming into this industry. In addition to that, I need to highlight, kind of, yeah, it's not news, IRA, the Inflation Reduction Act from the Biden administration. I think that's super helpful. And it really, kind of, help reduce the payback period for many of the key technologies, like hydrogen and green hydrogen, or CCUIs. And then, we are also looking at nuclear. I know that is, kind of, somewhat political, but there are a ton of capital coming in into the nuclear fusion equation so that we can have a clean source and large enough, like, energy density source for the future use.

    [13:00] Maya: That's magnificent. There's a lot of wonderful things coming, coming our way because of you.

    [13:05] Phoebe: No. I'm like a very, very small part of that, but I'm trying to, kind of, give my 100% or 200% to support the entrepreneurs and the, the folks in the ecosystem.

    [13:15] Maya: Well, we can't wait to see what, what you do next, Phoebe. And thank you so much for being here today with us and, and sharing a little bit of your story. And, and we'd love to have you back on, you know, to keep on, keep our finger on your pulse. Because you, you know what's going on and, and the latest innovation of, of what really is, is the most important thing for all of our teachers.

    [13:34] Phoebe: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you so much, Maya. And obviously, Brad Burke and the whole Rice Alliance team. Those are great. Thanks for having me here. Thank you.

    [13:42] Maya: Absolutely, yeah.

    Thanks for listening. This has been Owl Have You Know, a production of Rice Business. You can find more information about our guests, hosts, and announcements on our website, business.rice.edu. Please subscribe and leave a rating wherever you find your favorite podcasts. We'd love to hear what you think. The hosts of Owl Have You Know are myself, Maya Pomroy, and Scott Gale.

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