Bill Gates on climate tech start-ups: ‘A lot of them will fail,’ but only ‘a few dozen’ need to succeed


Bill Gates is excited about how many new climate tech start-ups have popped up in recent years. He also thinks that plenty of them won’t last.

“The number of companies working on these things is very exciting,” Gates said on Wednesday, in a virtual session of the World Economic Forum. “Some of them will fail. A lot of them will fail. But we only need a reasonable number, a few dozen of them, to make it through and that’s what we have to accelerate.”

Deep-pocketed investors have poured money into the climate tech industry in recent years. More than 3,000 climate tech start-ups launched between 2013 and the first half of 2021, with more than $222 billion in funding in that same time span, according to research published by PwC in December.

Gates, currently the fourth-wealthiest person in the world, is one of those investors: His private-public fund Breakthrough Energy Catalyst is currently raising up to $15 billion for clean tech projects. And he’s seemingly fine with many of those projects eventually going under — because, he said, it could only take a few dozen success stories to make a significant contribution in the fight against climate change.

In October, Gates predicted that a few of those companies could even enter some rarified business air. “There will be, you know, Microsoft, Google, Amazon-type companies that come out of this space,” Gates said during the virtual SOSV Climate Tech Summit.

Last year, Gates wrote that one of his major challenges was getting governments and large corporations to adopt new kinds of clean technologies over cheaper fossil fuels. Breakthrough Energy Catalyst is currently focused on funding technologies related to direct air capture, green hydrogen, long-duration energy storage, and sustainable aviation fuel, the company told the Financial Times earlier this month.

On Wednesday, Gates called on some of the world’s wealthiest nations, including the U.S., to help get the ball rolling by bringing those clean technologies to scale.

“The rich countries have to play a central role, both in funding [research and development] and having policies — in some cases, carbon taxes will be used — to drive the demand for these clean products,” Gates said.

Doing so “in an aggressive way” could be the best way to ultimately lower the cost worldwide for those clean technologies, he added: “Human ingenuity is great. [If] we create the right incentive system and [also] get the private sector companies engaged in this in a deep way, that’s what the solution looks like.”

Ultimately, Gates said, transitioning away from our reliance on fossil fuels in order to head off climate change will be “one of the hardest things mankind has ever done, but worth doing.”

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