Global Sustainability Director Matthew Claxton talks investment, innovation, and Plug and Play’s future trajectories post COVID.
Founded 12 years ago by CEO Saeed Amidi, Plug and Play is a global innovation platform working with start-ups, corporations, VCs and international organisations to pioneer cutting-edge technological advancements.
Having grown substantially since its inception, the company now functions in three primary capacities, the first of which remains VC.
Focusing primarily on pre-seed, seed, and Series A opportunities, Plug and Play is one of the world’s most active start-up investors in the world, averaging between 200 and 250 investments per year. Ranging from $50,000 to $250,000, these investments have amassed to a portfolio of over 1,200 corporations, with 12 unicorns including PayPal, Dropbox, and Honey.
Alongside this VC focus, Plug and Play’s operations have now expanded to include corporate investment and start-up acceleration, boasting over 400 corporate partners, and 16 industry programs.
“We are a company that sits in the intersection of all of these players bringing them together on one platform,” summarized Matthew Claxton, Global Director of Sustainability for Plug and Play. “Today we have over 32,000 startups in our ecosystem and growing,” with a breadth of interests that encompass an incredible variety of industrial fields.
However, while their portfolio remains diverse, sustainability is a focus that is becoming increasingly crucial to Plug and Play’s global agenda. In an interview with CleanTech news, Matthew Claxton told us more.
Ethos of Sustainability
Although Plug and Play’s interests in sustainability are longstanding, beginning only a year ago, their targeted Sustainability Innovation Platform represents a relatively new aspect of their operation.
“2020 is the year of sustainability and social impact,” said CEO & Founder Saeed Amidi, addressing this marked acceleration in the company’s drive towards sustainability.
“Companies around the world are waking up to the reality that sustainability is no longer a ‘nice to have’ in their company, but it is a must have in the company and their culture.”
This is an ethos echoed by Claxton when explaining the programs motivations:
“We saw that the startups who had sustainability-focused business models or products weren’t quite getting the attention they deserved so we designed a program that aligned with the UN’s 17 SDGs to give them the attention they deserve.”
Although their work spans a variety of these UN goals, “When you really think of Plug and Play and what we’re doing in sustainability, it much more aligned with number 17”, says Claxton. “We’re bringing all these partners together onto one platform to engage in a very strategic way, where we’re able to connect key stakeholders, and drive real innovation and impact.”
Today, Plug and Play aims to find and elevate sustainable solutions that will centre around plastic waste reduction, water resilience and circularity. Drawing on his decade of experience in the industry, Claxton says:
“We’ve designed sustainability very purposefully where it’s looking at short term solutions for immediate problems, as well as some longer-term ones…Plastic waste initiatives now feed longer term into the circular economy, and then water later down the line because it is needed, but that innovation maturity takes a lot longer.
So, the three working in unison are able to solve a lot of the global environmental problems we’re seeing and really spur innovation and inspire more people to become excited and engaged.”
Ending Plastic Waste
The founding principle focus of P&P’s sustainability program is its focus on plastic waste, launching formally in October 2019 with the Alliance to End Plastic Waste.
Supported by a $1.5 billion fund generated by a coalition of 56 companies, the Alliance aims to end plastic waste by engaging global stakeholders to spur education, innovation and growth in this space.
Plug and Play’s primary role is the operation of the fund’s three regional accelerator programs, running in Silicon Valley, Paris, and Singapore. With the top ten start-ups chosen from each location, these programs will run between three and six months, helping entrepreneurs with everything from investment, to future growth strategies.
Speaking at this year’s virtual Paris Selection Day, President and CEO of the Alliance Jacob Duer said:
“Today the world is facing a silent calamity – a calamity of 8 million tons of plastic waste entering our oceans every year. This equates to fifteen garbage trucks flowing into our rivers and seas every single minute.
Plastic use has exploded across all sectors at a rate that is much faster than the infrastructure that is needed to manage the waste associated with it, and it is the lack of these integrated waste management systems that is our greatest challenge today.”
Water Resilience & Circularity
Circularity and Water Resilience remain longer-term goals of Plug and Play’s sustainable innovation platform, with plastic waste remaining key to both,
Beginning with circularity, connecting collectors with the end-use markets, and pioneering recycling technology remain key to combatting the linear plastic economy, and a core focus of Plug and Play’s sustainable strategy.
One recent example cited by Claxton is the recent collaboration between UBQ Materials and Daimler-Mercedez, aiming to produce car parts for Mercedes-Benz vehicles from 100% recyclable thermoplastics.
Focusing next on water resilience, Claxton explains:
“Water is one of the most fragmented spaces out there and really needs innovation, especially in the midst of COVID.
People haven’t really been able to get to those facilities to maintain the wastewater treatment plants, or the water recycling plants, or people have had to live at the facilities and rotate out.
So, this is where the need for digitalisation and innovation really come in, especially with all the vast amount of water scarcity in many parts of the world we really need to manage this resource, as its one of our most precious ones.”
Outlining their unique fluvial focus, Claxton states clearly:
“We do not focus on ocean clean up because we’ve seen a lot of capital deployed into that space and we’re not seeing a lot of progress, but if you invest in solutions to stop plastic waste at the rivers before flowing into the ocean, it is a far more effective.”
Investment & Acceleration through COVID-19
In light of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Plug and Play like many others has been forced to change course, re-imaging their operations to ensure employee safety during these difficult times.
Although they have experienced limited delays with their Singapore program, Paris and Silicon Valley are now running virtually as planned, allowing for extensions as a result of initial logistical difficulties.
“Just because we’re in the middle of a pandemic doesn’t mean we have to hit pause on sustainability,” said Claxton. “Innovation and solutions are going to be needed more than every once we have made it through COVID.”
However, far from a hindrance to Plug and Play’s efforts in sustainability, these forced changes may have had a positive effect. As suggested by Duer:
“One thing is for sure, and that is resilience is critical in the face of calamity…calamities have often given rise to new thinking, that shape our societies, and SARS in 2002 is just one example.”
Claxton shares similar sentiments when discussing their virtual operations.
“What that’s really allowed us to do is engage as a global program and as a network. Our Paris selection day was actually one of our first virtual events, and the way we did that was to have the event shown in Paris, but also had it for a North and South American, and Asian time zones so that people from around the world could view these start-up presentations at a time that was suitable for them.
“You do lose the in-person networking, but it really opened the doors for more cross-collaboration – and what I mean by that is across the world collaboration.”
Looking to the future, Claxton remains overwhelmingly positive.
“I’ve been really excited about how all of these organisations and individuals have been able to come together…we’re never seen this type of excitement and engagement.”