Impact Innovators in the Zinc Ecosystem: Julie Blane, Zinc Fellow
Julie Blane is an advisor working at the intersection of venture capital, ESG and impact. She is a leading figure in the UK’s climate investing ecosystem, building opportunities for early stage venture building, angel syndicates and supporting women-led teams. Julie is a Zinc Fellow supporting founders in our environment and climate focused Venture Builders.
Can you share a bit about your professional background?
I sometimes describe myself as an Impact Native. Prior to business school, I worked with grant makers and charity boards on fundraising and impact strategies, thinking about what “impact” means to major donors and internal stakeholders. Then through business school I refocused on the world of impact investing and ESG. My interest in the ‘E’ and climate tech specifically has grown in the past few years. I have also co-founded The Sustainable Women’s Network, a community of climate tech innovators and investors on a mission to create more opportunities for women-led businesses to be funded and elevated.
What motivated you to join the Zinc Fellows network?
When I learned about Zinc’s mission-led approach in the venture space, it was just fantastic timing for me. It felt like my old and new worlds coming together. I just wanted to do whatever I could to support the team and the founders in the first climate-focused Venture Builder. The upcoming mission sitting at the intersection of climate and health is incredibly exciting. There is so much potential to be explored at the nexus of the risks, influences and opportunities for impact across many different communities and geographies in the UK and globally. Zinc is an incredibly supportive platform and has been very generous in allowing me to bring in my networks to their community. It’s a fantastic opportunity to collaboratively deepen and widen the early stage ecosystem for climate tech founders and investors.
Could you share a bit about your approach to supporting founders?
My time with founders generally covers two things, listening and connecting. My previous work has given me a great foundation to be able to act as a mentor and sounding board, listening and asking questions. Then secondly, I try to be a connector and a convener for founders, making introductions and bringing the right people together. In addition to the one-on-one time I spend with Zinc founders, I’m also continuing to build the Climate Tech Investor Network which holds regular breakfast meet-ups at Zinc. It came about quite organically, as a growing peer group looking to have informal discussions and share knowledge on broad issues around climate and climate tech.
What are some of the common challenges you help founders to work on?
The big themes that come up regularly, whether its founders I meet through Zinc or through the Sustainable Women’s Network, are often around validation of demand, pricing and go-to-market strategy. This can be hard to do at pace in a B2B setting. The customer is often very removed from the world of tech innovation. I try to connect founders with the right people in the innovation arms of larger corporations, especially in climate, where there is a lot of thinking and investment already happening around how to solve some of these big problems.
What have been some of your personal highlights of being part of the Zinc network to date?
For me the whole journey so far has been a highlight. Being in the Zinc office is always such a vibe! But if I was to pick one thing, it would be helping to bring the burgeoning climate tech investor community together. For me personally it has been a fantastic opportunity. We have phenomenal people in the community that come along to share their insights across thematic issues, and it’s a really collaborative space for open discussion.
What are you excited about right now?
I’m excited that there’s a lot happening in the climate tech space. Zinc is not the only Venture Builder looking at climate solutions – and thank goodness for this collective effort. I think there has been a huge wake-up call for investors over the past couple of years, with lots of new climate-focused funds and money going more broadly into climate tech. I feel optimistic that this early generation of climate tech investors will, over the next handful of years and decades, help us reach much closer to net zero goals. The glass is definitely half full right now!
Who inspires you on this journey?
I get inspiration from founders who can dream big. And I get inspiration from investors who are deploying their capital with their vision, whether that’s supporting female founders, supporting diversity, supporting the environment, or all of those things. I think it’s very bold when investors commit to investing based on impact and intentionality. I borrow the term “intentionality” from impact investing frameworks. That sense of intentionality really inspires me when I see it in others.
What advice would you give to someone considering joining the next Zinc mission as a founder?
I think it’s always better to have tried, always better to have applied, and always better to have had a conversation than not. When I speak to people who are considering joining the next Venture Builder I encourage them to apply and just have that conversion. And from that point, the journey can go in a lot of different ways, whether you end up joining the platform or choosing a different path.
Finally, what advice would you give other mission-driven professionals considering joining the Zinc fellows network?
Don’t underestimate the impact that you can have just by listening or making an introduction. This time last year I had never been a mentor and the impostor syndrome was real. Assuming you have relevant knowledge and experience, there’s nothing but upside by delving into this process. Because the Zinc Venture Builder is so early stage, there’s a lot of ideation, co-development and iteration. As Fellows, our role is to support founders through that process. It’s a great opportunity to continue your own learning and growth too.
Interested in becoming a Fellow? Fill out this form and register your interest. Want to build a business of your own? Applications for our new venture builder are also live. Apply on our website today.
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Impact Report 2023
We started Zinc with the hypothesis that missions are an effective way to attract highly ambitious, talented and experienced groups of innovators, who might not recognise themselves as “classic entrepreneurs” but are ready and able to start a new commercial and successful venture to tackle some of our most pressing societal issues.
The world has overcome the sorts of challenges we face today when it has adopted a mission-based approach to the biggest problems and brought together world-class talent to invent and innovate, e.g: NASA and landing a man on the moon, the LSE blueprinting the British welfare state, or the Gates Foundation aiming to eradicate diseases.
On this basis and assumption, we designed Zinc as a new mission-based Venture Builder — a place where global talent, ‘impact makers’, can join to experiment and develop new solutions to our most pressing societal issues.
To Eliminate Environmental Threats to Our Health
Environmental health threats pose a grave danger to human health and well-being, causing suffering to individuals and communities worldwide. These threats, which include chemical pollution, climate change, and biological hazards, cause acute and chronic diseases and exacerbate existing health conditions.
To protect those we care about, we must tackle the causes of environmental degradation, shield people from the consequences of environmental harm, and, where protection fails, we must mitigate the health impacts they suffer.
This demands action to improve all aspects of our environment: soil, food, air, water, and the built environment. It requires us to focus on every aspect of human health to reduce suffering.
Entrepreneurship and technology are powerful means to tackle these challenges. That’s why we are backing 70 founders to build innovative companies addressing this mission.