Caroline Thaler, Climate tech project entrepreneur
What is your job?
I am building a startup within Marble, a startup studio specialized in Climate tech. They are focused on developing technologies that capture greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, that can replace carbon intensive technologies to reduce emissions, and can help us adapt to climate change. I recently joined them to develop my own project on CO2 storage using biomineralization. The 9 months program permits to validate the technical strategy and go-to-market, define a clear roadmap, and source co-founders and advisors. After the program, along with fundraising, we aim at developing a pilot site and finally, at installing the plant.
How did you get your job?
I was determined to work on biomineralization since I discovered that process during my PhD. After several post-doctoral fellowships related to mineral formation by various organisms, I wanted to defend my own research project and had to find non-academic fundings because of research position scarcity. During my last postdoc at LSCE, Saclay, a colleague sent an email about a free program called Women in DeepTech organized by the French incubators Willa and Incuballiance. I joined the workshop and won the small contest that aimed at defending your own project. As a reward, I got free courses with Willa and Incuballiance. They very quickly put me in touch with Marble, where I work today.
Did you initially plan on this career at the onset of your PhD?
No, the project I am developing today is derived from the research project I wanted to explore as an academic. I was not expecting the exact place I am today, but this academic background (4 postdocs) was also absolutely necessary to do what I do in Climate techs today.
What helped you to be aware of the alternative career paths to academia?
From the moment I decided to look for fundings to develop my project outside of academia, I started to participate to any event/program related to entrepreneurship that was advertised in my academic mailing lists. I got aware of funding opportunities, startup clusters or working groups. Then, once you are in the network, it is easier. For example, Marble organizes evenings and climate tech events once every two months in Paris. In such events, I met someone that allowed me to be further connected in the American/international Climate tech network.
What skills acquired during your academic experience are the most valuable for you today? What are the new skills you learnt in your current job?
The communication skills definitively helped me to integrate the climate tech environment. Then, the knowledge in science (biogeochemical cycles, notions like alkalinity, thermodynamics and kinetics of carbonates formation/dissolution) is a major asset for me today.
I am now learning new things about the climate tech ecosystem and how to actually build a startup.
Would you have wished to have a special training during your time in academia to be more ready for your career today?
In my opinion, the academic curriculum lacks courses to understand the functioning and purpose of a company. The problem is that many young PhDs are bound to leave academic research, and this should be part of their curriculum.
What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?
All of a sudden, biogeochemical cycles and their functioning become the key topic of a whole community outside of academia. In particular, the new measurement and verification methodologies to be implemented is an exciting subject. We will need them to understand for example the carbon fluxes around an algal farm, and the fluxes if these algae are sunk, same question around an alkalinity injection site at sea, the quantification of secondary precipitation, the fate of organic carbonover 100 years in environments where we want to sequester it, the measurement of minute or weekly weathering rates and the reaction pathways taken etc… and the impacts on ecosystems.
What advice do you have for PhD student/academic staff who is thinking of leaving academia?
I would advise to sit and really think of what you would like to do, not the things allowed by our skills and experience but what we would really like to do. We also should not be afraid to be demanding.
I would also strongly recommend to have a look at what is happening in climate techs. At this moment there are investments to develop technologies and verification methodologies for tomorrow. New technologies to decarbonize the industry, the main priority, are also emerging from this field. As geochemists we learned appropriated tools, topics, mechanisms: isotope geochemistry, carbon cycle, weathering… The field needs more academics to work on these subjects and participate in refining the technologies that are currently developed.
Interview conducted by Thaïs Couasnon (EAG Communications Committee)