Announcing our 2020 Investment Themes: Techstars Sustainability Accelerator in partnership with The Nature Conservancy

In 2020 we will invest in ten more companies that we believe can make a material contribution to create a world where people and nature thrive. We are interested in companies that fit our investment thesis (which we’ve explained below) and companies with business models and impact goals that are aligned so that when the business grows, the impact grows alongside it.

In addition to focusing on the investment themes below, we know backing diverse teams is a necessary part of real climate action. Climate change impacts us all, and those working to solve our challenges should be representative of that. 

Techstars and The Nature Conservancy are both global organizations with a combined presence in 100+ countries. Though the program operates in Denver, Colorado, we aim to source companies from around the globe with a diverse range of backgrounds.

Our Investment Thesis: 

This program is run in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and when sourcing for the accelerator we look for companies that align with TNC’s mission “to protect the lands and waters on which all life depends”.

The Nature Conservancy achieves their mission by focusing on four key areas of conservation:

      1. Tackling Climate Change
      2. Protecting Land and Water
      3. Providing Food and Water Sustainability 
      4. Building Healthy Cities 

As investors, it’s our job to take the four areas of conservation focus and find the best business opportunities to scale. In addition to the four themes above, we are addressing “cross-cutting technology”, i.e. technologies that catalyze transformational change to achieve a world where people and nature thrive, as our fifth investment category. 

About Our Partnership: 

The Techstars and  The Nature Conservancy’s partnership was conceived in 2017. The Nature Conservancy, one of the most effective and wide-reaching environmental organizations in the world, is always looking for new ways to scale up their work. And Techstars, the worldwide organization that helps entrepreneurs succeed, knows how to do just that. 

The Nature Conservancy provides the Sustainability Accelerator participants with their conservation know-how and network. Meanwhile, Techstars contributes its business and technology mentorship and growing global network to support the participants. 

Climate change is impacting nearly every system humans touch including the economy, national security, and our health. And we believe big problems can also equal big opportunities. But we don’t have any time to waste. Climate change isn’t a future problem – it’s a problem today (actually yesterday), and we must act quickly to preserve the lands and water we all rely on to live. We are inspired by the entrepreneurs we’ve had the privilege to work with over the last two years of Techstars Sustainability and we can’t wait to meet the class of 2020. We hope you’ll join us. 

Applications are open February 17th through May 10th, 2020 and the program will run September 8th through December 4th, 2020. 

More About Our Investment Thesis:


Make the case for natural climate solutions,  inspire climate action, conserve working forests

    • Climate change mitigation
        • Carbon sequestration, carbon measurement and market validation, precision forestry, sustainable timber, reforestation
      • Climate change adaptation
          • Advance nature-based solutions to lessen climate impacts (drought/flooding) (examples of nature-based solutions include: wetland conservation, open space protection, dam removal, groundwater infiltration, living shorelines) with technologies such as innovative insurance and finance models, remote sensing, and spatial planning


    Improve fishery health, rethink agricultural practices, protect water at its source, build ‘zero-deforestation’ supply chains

      • Sustainable Agriculture 
            • Soil health and nutrients, zero-deforestation supply chains, sustainable yield increases,  precision irrigation and fertilization, nutrient runoff monitoring, sustainable grazing, carbon capture, microclimate sensing
        • Sustainable Fisheries
            • Catch monitoring, bycatch exclusion, supply chain transparency, vessel tracking, automated stock assessment 
            • Technology to support sustainable aquaculture such as monitoring systems, ecologically restorative business models, siting technologies, feed innovations,off-shore / open-ocean systems
        • Water Funds and Markets
            • Watershed-scale sensing, flow measurement, sensor connectivity, usage mapping technology, aggregating water data, groundwater recharge, fintech companies that assist in the arbitrage of water use / allocation


      Urban water, greenprinting, sustainable cities, transforming the city landscape, urban heat and air quality

        • Greenprinting and Stormwater
            • Advance green infrastructure, urban growth planning, address urban challenges (including stormwater run-off, air pollution and heat islands)


      Expand community-led conservation, build a model of sustainable energy development, inform smart infrastructure decision-making, protect oceans and increase climate  change-resilience

        • Land and Water Protection
            • Technology that unlocks conservation investment in land and ocean protection, coastal restoration, climate adaptation
        • Energy and Infrastructure
            • Technology to improve energy siting, land-use planning and development, renewable energy planning, mitigation mapping
        • Indigenous Landscapes and Communities
            • Technology that facilitates community-based natural resource management, multi-stakeholder engagement, sustainable economic development for local communities and indigenous peoples


      Technologies that catalyze transformational change to achieve a world where people and nature thrive. (see figure below)

        • Generate More & Better Data on Planetary Health 
            • Tools that increase our understanding of/ monitor/ improve – ecosystem services, pollution, and natural resource use (Remote Sensing, GIS, Sensors/Hardware) 
        • Understand the Data
            • Tools that aggregate/ analyze/ visualize/ digitize data  
        • Influence Decision Makers (NRM – natural resource managers)
            • Tools that better inform NRM (farmers/fisherman/industry etc)
            • Influence policy makers and business leaders
            • Innovative finance and funding mechanisms that incentivize decisions to improve planetary health 

      How Might We Solve for a More Sustainable Future? An Invitation to Apply to the 2019 Class of Techstars Sustainability Accelerator in partnership with The Nature Conservancy

      We have our work cut out for us to create a world that can not only sustain a growing population but allow communities and natural ecosystems to thrive for decades to come. Luckily, if there is one group of people who aren’t afraid of hard work, it’s entrepreneurs. We are now calling all entrepreneurs solving for a more sustainable future to join the second annual Techstars Sustainability Accelerator in partnership with The Nature Conservancy which will run July 29th through October 29th 2019 in Denver Colorado.

      2018 had a lot of urgent reports about the state of the environment, but it was also a year filled with hope and action. The Nature Conservancy published a report outlining how a sustainable future is possible and a path to get there. Techstars launched Techstars Sustainability, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy. Together, these seemingly different organizations, along with the support of many many others, accelerated ten incredible companies working to solve for a more sustainable future.

      The Class of 2018 represented an incredible amount of diversity.  In an effort to learn rapidly, we selected a class that was diverse across investment themes, commercial readiness, previous funds raised, depth of team startup experience and direct alignment with TNC’s core work. In the Class of 2018, 6 of 10 companies had active pilots with or facilitated by TNC by the end of the three-month program.

      Companies selected represented the following investment themes: Sustainable Fisheries / Oceans (2), Water Conservation / Water Data Science (2), Environmental Monitoring and Water Conservation (2), Built Environment (1), Waste and Core Utility Conservation (1), Clean Energy Technology (1), and Land Conservation (1).

      This year we have focused again on investing in companies that can make a material contribution to building a world where people and nature thrive.  By solving the top threats to nature, we can also improve the lives of millions of people.

      Rather than look for specific solutions, we framed some of the top challenges we’re facing when it comes to conservation and asked: “How Might We…?”. If you know a company working on a solution to one or more of the big questions below, we’d love to speak with them.

      The Nature Conservancy understands that “achieving a sustainable future will be dependent on our ability to secure both thriving human communities and abundant and healthy natural ecosystems.” Now is the time –  apply here, or request office hours to get one-on-one time with Program Staff.

      Learn More:

      • 2/26 at 11am MT: Ask Me Anything with Brian McPeek (TNC President) and Brad Feld (Managing Partner Foundry Group)
      • 3/26 at 11am MT: Ask Me Anything with the Program Team (Techstars and TNC)
      • Sign up for our newsletter

      Below outlines our investment themes for the Class of 2019. We recognize that it will take diverse ideas to solve the world’s biggest problems, and we encourage entrepreneurs from groups underrepresented in technology to apply.


      Climate Change Mitigation

      • How might we Make the Case for Natural Climate Solutions,*  Inspire Climate Action, Conserve Working Forests?
      • Technology to support Carbon Sequestration, Carbon Measurement and Market Validation, Precision Forestry, Sustainable Timber, Reforestation

      Climate Change Adaptation

      • How might we Advance Nature-Based Solutions** to lessen the impacts of climate change?
      • Technology to support Innovative Insurance and other Financial Models, Remote Sensing, and Spatial Planning


      Sustainable Agriculture

      • How might we Rethink Agricultural Practices?
      • With technology that improves Soil Health and Nutrients, Builds Zero Deforestation Supply Chains, Sustainable Yield Increases, Precision Irrigation and Fertilization, Nutrient Runoff Monitoring, Sustainable Grazing, Carbon Capture, Microclimate Sensing

      Sustainable Fisheries

      • How might we Improve Fishery Health?
      • With technology such as Catch Monitoring, Bycatch Exclusion, Supply Chain Transparency, Vessel Tracking, Automated Stock Assessment
      • How might we  Improve the Sustainability  of Aquaculture?
      • With technology such as Monitoring Systems, Ecologically Restorative Business Models, Siting Technologies, Feed Innovations, Offshore/Open-Ocean Systems

      Water Funds and Markets

      • How might we Protect Water at its Source, Better Facilitate Water Market Transactions?
      • Technology to support Watershed-Scale Sensing, Flow Measurement, Sensor Connectivity, Usage Mapping Technology, Aggregating Water Data, and Groundwater Recharge


      Greenprinting, Green Infrastructure and Stormwater

      • How might we Integrate Nature into Urban Growth Planning, Increase Climate Change Resilience, and Decrease the Footprint of Human Settlements?
      • With technology that Advances Green Infrastructure, Urban Growth Planning, and Addresses Urban Challenges to habitat loss and human health including stormwater, air pollution and heat islands.


      Energy and Infrastructure

      • How might we Build a Model of Sustainable Energy Development and Inform Smart Infrastructure Decision-Making?
      • With technology that improves Energy Siting, Land-Use Planning and Development, Wind, Solar and Hydropower Planning, Mitigation Mapping

      Indigenous Landscapes and Communities

      • How might we Expand Community-Led Conservation?
      • Technology that supports Community-Based Natural Resource Management, Multi-Stakeholder Engagement, Sustainable Economic Development for Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples

      Land and Water Protection

      • How might we Better Protect our Land, Water and Oceans?
      • With technology that unlocks conservation investment in and improves governance of Land and Ocean Protection, Coastal Restoration, and Climate Adaptation.


      How might we catalyze transformational change to achieve a world where people and nature thrive?

      Measure what Matters

      • Big Data, AI, Machine Learning, Remote Sensing
      • Tools that increase our understanding of/ monitor/ improve – ecosystem services, pollution, and natural resource use

      Build the Case for Nature

      • Tools that help influence policymakers and business leaders
      • Decision-Support Tools, Mapping, Visualization, Simulation, Stakeholder Mapping
      • Innovative finance and funding mechanisms

      Connect Nature and People

      • Engage people and build learning networks

      *Natural Climate Solutions include activities that both store carbon and reduce carbon emissions in the world’s forests, grasslands and wetlands.

      **Nature-Based Solutions include: Wetland Conservation, Open Space Protection, Dam Removal, Groundwater Infiltration, Living Shorelines