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Subak Australia funds the climate fight

31 October 2022 at 4:23 pm
Danielle Kutchel
Through data sharing and intensive acceleration, Subak Australia is funding the new generation of climate-focused not for profits.

Danielle Kutchel | 31 October 2022 at 4:23 pm


Subak Australia funds the climate fight
31 October 2022 at 4:23 pm

Through data sharing and intensive acceleration, Subak Australia is funding the new generation of climate-focused not for profits.

Australia’s climate-focused not-for-profit startups now have access to a new pathway for funding and growth with the establishment of Subak Australia.

As the world’s first not-for-profit-focused climate startup accelerator, Subak is at the forefront of innovation in the climate fight. Australia is the first international outpost of Subak, which is headquartered in the UK.

Chris Wilson is executive director of this Australian arm, with a history of working in climate change advisory, including at Deloitte. He also runs a venture capital business.

Australia was “fertile ground” for the launch of Subak, Wilson said, given its sensitivity to the effects of climate change. As a more wealthy country, Australia was identified as having capital to invest in the solutions, along with the research and scientific institutions to support them.

The government’s “quagmire” on climate change over the past decade was unfortunate, Wilson said, but this also played a part in making the decision to launch a Subak node in Australia.

“In a weird way, because we were a little bit behind the eight ball in terms of our political and regulatory environment, it also made sense for Subak to launch here because part of our whole remit is to push the policy agenda and to create data and insight to help the conversation be progressed,” Wilson explained.

“Rather than being activists, we’re much more on the advocacy side. And to do that, we believe if you can get data and insight and get that into a sort of conversational policy discussion… then actually we can make change happen for everybody.”

Subak is now looking to open another few international arms in the coming years.

Finding and funding fighters

Wilson said Subak has a “very simple premise”.

“We find and fund startups,” he said.

That said, Subak has specific criteria around which organisations receive funding. The startups must be a not for profit, and they must be focused on climate change and policy. 

If companies fit that criteria, they can be put through Subak’s accelerator.

Subak offers further funding after that for not for profits that hit the growth phase, to help them start scaling their business to have a greater impact.

Aside from assisting startups, Subak can also support individuals, which it calls fellows — that is, people with projects they want to run around climate change, which are data intensive and could influence policy making, including professors or PhD students.

In the coming years, it’s expected that Subak Australia will begin dispersing funding based on climate-related themes, like biodiversity or carbon sequestration, specifically to organisations working on those things.

Subak itself is also a not for profit, and acts as a conduit for funding, which ultimately comes from Quadrature Climate Foundation.

“We pass that funding straight through to [startup not for profits] and then our job becomes one of coordination, one of creating the actual platform around the accelerator and the growth, bringing mentors and coaches, doing everything we can to allow every dollar that we grant through to our members and fellows to be used as efficiently as possible,” he said.

Subak Australia is actively looking for Australian funders and philanthropic partners, so that funding provided to Australian solutions comes from Australian sources.

Subak does not give or take any equity in the company; instead, the funding acts as a grant, which the organisation can then reinvest into its activities.

“It means every dollar we give… really goes towards the impact that they’re trying to have on climate change,” Wilson said.

Accelerating NFP growth

Wilson said that what most not for profit startups don’t have is access to accelerators. 

“If you’re a for-profit entrepreneur or innovator or startup in this country, there’s lots of support for you to accelerate what you’re doing, but not enough for not for profits. So that’s why we thought [we’d support] not for profits that are focused on policy, then we can put an environment around them to give them that accelerator function.”

Data is a critical piece of Subak’s funding and plans. The not for profits that Subak funds are required to be data-intensive, and willing to share their data.

“There’s a lot of data being created in climate action… around the world, but a lot of it is very disparate and separate and disjointed,” explained Wilson.

Subak is creating a global data cooperative or catalogue comprising the results of the actions of the not for profits that it funds. That data is catalogued so that people around the world can search it up or access it and then use it to fuel their own climate action ideas.

It’s hoped that the not for profit members of Subak will then begin further conversations and work more collaboratively, based on the available data.

Data tells the story

The focus on data is deliberate, Wilson said, because data tells — and sells — the story. The climate transition needs to have a process and a narrative in order to reach people.

“Our experience over the years tells us that you need a good story. You need to be able to show people what [the climate transition] looks like. You need to be able to take the opinion out of it,” he said.

“Data gives you facts. You still need to write a good narrative, you still need to think about how you’re going to create policy and strategy… but at least if you’ve got the data to drive the discussion, you’re in the discussion.”

Danielle Kutchel  |  @ProBonoNews

Danielle is a journalist specialising in disability and CALD issues, and social justice reporting. Reach her on or on Twitter @D_Kutchel.

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