CHICAGO, Dec. 7, 2023 — Evergreen Climate Innovations, which supports entrepreneurs and startups to bring impactful climate technologies to market, today announces its leadership transition. Erik G. Birkerts will step down as planned as the firm’s CEO at the end of this year. Michelle Carr, Illinois director of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) for 11 years, has been named as the new CEO, and will start in early 2024.
Evergreen, under Birkerts’ leadership, became a leading national model for catalytic capital, innovative programing, and hands-on counsel for climate innovators and early-stage climate tech startups. Evergreen has deployed catalytic capital into 43 early-stage climate startups and helped these companies raise more than $461 million of additional capital. Evergreen has had a special emphasis on equitable and inclusive access to capital and support with 60% of its portfolio founders identifying as women and or people of color.
“It’s all hands on deck to rapidly decarbonize how we live,” said Carr. “I am thrilled to be joining Evergreen and lead a forward-thinking organization focused on galvanizing human ingenuity to bring the technology we need to get there. The network of innovators and problem solvers supported by Evergreen radiates optimism, and that is no doubt thanks to Erik’s leadership. I am honored to continue this momentum during a critical time when we must resource creative solutions to address this human-made problem.”
Evergreen executes its work through its innovative 501vc® Platform. Funded with philanthropic contributions, the 501vc® Platform enables Evergreen to engage earlier, be more patient, take more risk, and provide more catalytic support than traditional early-stage investors. With its revolving structure, the 501vc® Platform reinvests investment returns enabling philanthropic contributions to be put to work again and again, creating compounding impact.
Since taking over the helm of Evergreen, Birkerts tripled net assets by expanding its funding basis to include government agencies, corporations, foundations, and individual donors. Additionally, he forged key relationships with a broad network of partnerships with the leading research institutions, universities, and other stakeholders across the Midwest and nationally. Through these efforts, Birkerts helped steward several successful investment outcomes, delivering positive returns that have been reinvested into startups.
“During Erik’s tenure, the Evergreen team has made a sizable impact on the climate innovation ecosystem by transforming a shared vision into a powerful, scalable platform for commercializing breakthrough climate innovations,” said Amy Francetic, chair of the board for Evergreen. “On behalf of the board of directors, we are deeply grateful for his commitment and thoughtful leadership. The board is thrilled to have Michelle to now lead Evergreen to the next level.”
“My career for over 20 years has centered around clean energy, climate and decarbonization, and I recognize how challenging it is to be a climate entrepreneur,” said Birkerts. “It has been rewarding to work with our talented team, dedicated Board, generous funders, and key constituents to help knock down the barriers that these climate innovators face. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to help build an organization that serves such a critical role and I plan to continue working in the sector to further advance the energy transition.”
Carr was an advisor with Goldman Sachs for 16 years and in 2013 joined TNC, a global nonprofit founded in 1951 through grassroots action. TNC has grown to become one of the most effective and wide-reaching environmental organizations in the world with more than 400 dedicated scientists and with conservation projects in 79 countries and territories. While at TNC, Carr made marked progress in bridging the gap between conservation and economic decisions to influence solutions at a regional and global scale, leading the team to advanced global corporate partnerships, co-leading the Vote Yes ballot initiative bringing more than $1 billion to the Cook County Forest Preserves, and co-created Chicago StormStore—a stormwater credit marketplace, and delivered a replicable and novel water control structure on the Illinois River to reconnect critical floodplain habitat to the river, while providing flooding resiliency and maintaining barge transportation.
Carr graduated from St. Louis University with a B.A. in history and economics and holds an MBA from Vanderbilt University. She currently serves on the executive council of Chicago Wilderness, the board of the Paula M. Trienens Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern and the Cook County Land Bank board. Carr is a consultant to the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission and is a member of the Economic Club of Chicago.
She formerly served on the board of Links Hall, chairing the finance committee; on the board of The National Museum for Health and Medicine Chicago as finance chair; and on President Obama’s National Finance Committee through his first and second elections. Carr lives in Chicago with her husband, Dane, and has three young adult children.
Evergreen, formerly Clean Energy Trust, was founded in 2010 by Michael Polsky, Nick Pritzker and Amy Francetic. It was established with the conviction that entrepreneurship and innovation are powerful forces to be harnessed to solve our environmental challenges while also driving economic development.
Evergreen’s Board retained Egon Zehnder, a global management advisory and executive search firm, as its partner for this important leadership transition via a national search.
About Evergreen Climate Innovations
Evergreen Climate Innovations provides catalytic capital and support to entrepreneurs and startups that bring impactful climate technologies to market. The nonprofit pioneered its 501vc® Investment Fund to align philanthropic and corporate contributions to deliver environmental, economic, and social impact. Evergreen advances and expands access to innovation across the Greater Midwest and cultivates an ecosystem of investors, donors, and collaborators. For over a decade, Evergreen Climate Innovations has invested in startups that have raised $42 for every $1 invested. For more information, visit www.evergreeninno.org.
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