Serial Entrepreneur Grace Sai's New Startup Is Using Data To Help Businesses Decarbonise
Unravel Carbon, the Y Combinator-backed enterprise software startup co-founded by the Singapore-based entrepreneur, converts accounting data into carbon data, allowing companies to track and reduce their emissions
The Ready For Launch series asks questions of entrepreneurs to get the inside story behind a new startup or product launch.
When Grace Sai’s daughter turned two last year, the entrepreneur wondered if she still had the energy to build another startup. She had by then started three ventures, including the co-working space Found, which in 2019 merged with its peer Collison8 to form Found8, and Ravel Innovation, which designs corporate innovation programmes for organisations and government agencies like the Singapore Tourism Board.
Her venture fund, Found. Ventures, was also fully deployed, investing in nine early-stage tech startups across Southeast Asia. But it turned out, she did have “one more startup in me”.
So Sai reached out to 20 of the brightest people in her network to identify a pressing problem they think she could help to solve. Most of them led her to one global issue: climate change—to help more businesses be part of the solution when it comes to climate action.
In January this year, she established Unravel Carbon, an enterprise software startup that works with companies to track and reduce their carbon emissions by converting their accounting data into full supply chain carbon data within seconds. The startup recently completed the prestigious Y Combinator accelerator and closed a seed round that will be announced next week.
Sai shares more about her journey into climate tech.
What made you make the switch from supporting and funding startups to building your own in climate tech?
Grace Sai (GS): I’ve always been a systems entrepreneur. I want to create impact on a systemic level. That’s why for the past 15 years, it’s been about building that entrepreneurial ecosystem across the region—and I’ve started different businesses to get there.
Why climate technology though?
GS: During my conversations with the 20 people and more, I asked everyone what is a problem that’s worth solving using my network, expertise and capital. They pointed me to climate change, specifically to build something with speed and scale to get more companies to be part of the solution rather than be passive bystanders.
Climate change is not a problem only for governments or NGOs. The private sector has the most leverage, it has the most experience in technology and research capabilities to activate solutions.
How much did you know about the climate tech space or climate change as an issue before you decided to tackle it?
GS: I’m not a climate scientist, I’m not a climate expert. But I remember a founder of Sequoia [Capital] saying that they like founders that bring a fresh perspective to what they’ve been good at, to an old problem area. So while I used my naivety in the climate space as a strength, I also took one and a half years to educate myself to learn enough to start Unravel Carbon.
Did the pandemic have a role in motivating you to go into climate tech?
GS: It motivated me in the sense that it’s possible for all these governments to come together to solve something. When there’s urgency, when the whole planet is facing this same invisible enemy, whether it’s a coronavirus or not, we’ve proven that we can bend the curve as a planetary race. Before this proof point, we didn’t know.
Interestingly enough, even when the world was at a standstill [in 2020], we only managed to cut carbon emissions by slightly over 5 percent. This tells us that incremental changes don’t work. We need to do much more.
How did the idea behind Unravel Carbon come about?
GS: We were inspired by the carbon apps in the business-to-consumer world. There are apps that calculate your personal carbon footprint using your credit card statements. That’s great on a personal empowerment level, but consumers are still limited by what they can do. From installing solar panels on the roofs of their homes to cutting out beef from their diet to voting for the right politicians, how much more can we do?
So I thought, what if we used the same theory and applied data science to create a platform for enterprises? So what Unravel does is unravel a company’s accounting data and convert it into carbon data.
What is the value proposition and mission of Unravel?
GS: We are an enterprise software [company] that helps companies in Asia check and reduce their carbon emissions, specialising in Scope 3 [emissions]. Our mission is to remove one gigaton of carbon emissions—or 5 percent of the global target—by 2030 and to build Asia’s largest repository of carbon datasets.
Who is your target audience?
GS: Our target consumers are large or medium-sized companies that are trying to decarbonise, but do not want to go through the manual process of achieving their carbon reduction goal.
What markets are you targeting to impact?
GS: Our focus is on Asia-Pacific. The second market that we’re venturing into [after Singapore] is New Zealand. We just made our first hire there. After that, we’re going to Australia.
What are your goals for the company in the next 12 months?
GS: We are launching to serve companies in the food and agriculture, and fashion sectors, as these are two of the biggest polluting industries in the world.