Alumni Profile: Coppélia Marincovic, S.M. ’08
Investing in the future of climate science
No matter how good a startup’s science or technology, it requires capital to bring a product to market. Without sufficient funding, a company may never get the opportunity to bring its innovation to the world.
Venture capital (VC) firms are one common source of funding. Coppélia Marincovic, S.M. ’08, has spent the last six years at Solvay Ventures in New York, where she uses her master’s in environmental science from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) to help discern which startups have the best chance to combat climate change and promote sustainability.
“One of the big ways to solve climate change is to leverage science and technology, and having a good understanding of the science being done in the labs of Harvard definitely gives me an edge,” she said. “My passion really lies in trying to understand how the new science coming out of labs can help solve big problems.”
Marincovic arrived at Harvard with an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Chimie ParisTech in her home country of France. Her advisor at SEAS was the late Peter Rogers, Gordon McKay Professor of Environmental Engineering Emeritus, and his approach to environmental science quickly made an impact on her.
“He was one of the pioneers in quantifying environmental impact, which is something that’s extremely important today,” Marincovic said.
Marincovic was part of the first graduating class from SEAS, which transitioned from a division to a school in 2007. She didn’t graduate Harvard with a plan to go into VC, and her first job post-graduation was at Thinkstep, an environmental assessment company in Boston. Thinkstep secured VC funding while she was there, a process which sewed the seeds for her eventual career shift.
“I knew I wanted to have a big impact on the environment and sustainability,” Marincovic said. “I discovered the world of VC, and thought I’d have a greater impact being part of the investment side.”
That prompted Marincovic to pursue an MBA in France, which she completed in 2012. She’d go on to work for Sofinnova Partners, a VC fund based in Paris, and at McKinsey before landing at Solvay in 2016. She started as an investment manager and was named a partner in April.
”Solvay wanted to invest heavily in climate solutions, which was exactly what I wanted to do,” she said. “I love meeting with entrepreneurs that really have this vision to change the world. They’re dedicating their research, their lives, to finding new solutions for the energy transition or food systems, and it’s very exciting.”
During her six years at the firm, Marincovic has helped Solvay invest in a number of startups in the sustainability and climate spaces. Her portfolio includes companies producing solid-state batteries or manufacturing plant-based instead of petroleum-based industrial materials. Several have gone public or been acquired by larger manufacturing companies.
“We’re really interested in the intersection of new materials science and climate,” she said. “We look at the quality of the science, if the team is really strong and visionary, and if it will be able to scale and have a really big impact.”
Startups typically require multiple rounds of funding before they go to market. Marincovic recommends companies meet with VC firms early in the funding process, even if they’re not yet at the point where VC investment might be necessary.
“Sometimes we meet companies and don’t necessarily invest in the pre-seed stage, but a number of the investments we’ve done recently were with companies that we’d known for a while,” she said. “Just try to understand where you have a good product market fit. A number of the technologies that we see that are early in development have very good science and a really interesting platform, but where can they have a big impact, and what market can they transform?”
Marincovic has also served as a board member or observer for several of the companies in her portfolio.
“We like to be on the board and actively involved,” Marincovic said. “We invest earlier on and like to be involved in shaping the company and using our expertise to help navigate the early stages of commercialization.”
Marincovic and Solvay aren’t stopping with batteries and industrial manufacturing. Climate science and technology is always changing, and innovations in carbon capture and hydrogen production present new potential investment opportunities.
Marincovic might not be actively working on the research in those spaces, but she hopes that her work with Solvay will enable that research and development for other scientists.
“I love my job,” she said. “You can do amazing science, but you can also be on the investor side to help fund all these amazing ventures.”
Matt Goisman | firstname.lastname@example.org