Managing Director, General Catalyst
Breakthrough Energy Ventures
Bill Gates, one of the richest people on Earth, is also one of the most well-known renewable-energy investors. He’s the lead funder of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which is among the most prominent clean-energy investment firms, with investors including Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg, Ray Dalio, and Vinod Khosla.
But behind his impressive suite of investments and strategy is a little-known adviser: Jonah Goldman.
A lawyer and former law professor, Goldman started working with the Gates family in 2012, first with a communications role at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Two years later, he jumped over to Gates Ventures, Bill Gates’ private investment firm.
When he joined the firm, Gates had already been investing in climate technologies for a decade or so, Goldman says. But the tech billionaire was learning that while climate change was gaining attention, especially in the months surrounding the 2015 Paris Agreement, government commitments to reduce emissions alone weren’t enough. New technologies would be needed too.
That reality formed the foundation of Breakthrough Energy, a coalition of powerful individuals founded in 2015 that supports technologies and policies designed to drastically reduce carbon emissions, says Goldman, who worked with Gates to establish the group.
Now a senior advisor, Goldman helped create both investment and philanthropic strategies to get emerging technologies — such as fusion reactors or waste-to-energy machines — from the lab to the market. To date, Gates has invested in at least 25 clean-tech startups, largely through Breakthrough Energy's venture arm, Breakthrough Energy Ventures.
It’s funny to think about the early days of Breakthrough Energy, Goldman says. Back then, the team thought it’d be among the few investors betting big on climate tech. Today, Breakthrough Energy rarely makes investments alone because so many other funds are moving into the industry.
“We’re investing quite quickly but slower than we originally thought because we're finding so much additional capital,” Goldman says. Breakthrough Energy Ventures has just over $1 billion in assets under management.