At global Aspen Ideas conference, tech touted as solution to our climate woes

Miami politicians announce climate tech funds, plus local startups are in the spotlight

By Riley Kaminer

If you live in Miami, it’s easy to see the effects of our changing climate: sunny day flooding, record-breaking heat waves, and increasingly extreme storm surges.

But at this year’s Aspen Ideas: Climate conference in Miami Beach, global leaders showcased Miami as an example not only of a major city that is vulnerable to climate change – but also one that is doing something (although perhaps not enough) about it. 

The conferences’ organizers touted the three-day affair this week as a solutions-oriented event. Thanks to this focus, technology and innovation were center stage and a major topic of conversation amongst the 2,500 participants. This is even more than last year’s event, which already showcased a fair amount of tech solutions.

Refresh Miami was on the scene to bring you the key takeaways from this year’s Aspen Ideas: Climate conference.

Attention, climate tech startups: New funding opportunities on the horizon

Sure, climate tech is not one of Miami’s biggest verticals. But there’s still a case to be made that our city is a burgeoning hub for tech that helps address the climate crisis. To that end, two separate government initiatives to spur climate tech innovation were announced at Aspen.

“I am proud to announce that I secured nearly $10 million in community project funding for Florida International University’s Robotics and Autonomous Systems Laboratory for Coastal Conservation and Restoration,” said Miami congresswoman Frederica Wilson [pictured below]..

Verizon also announced the second Verizon Climate Resilience Prize on stage at Aspen Ideas: Climate, which will award a total of $500,000 to four climate-tech organizations innovating to reduce climate change impacts on communities.

And Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced the launch of the Miami-Dade Innovation Authority, which will oversee the distribution of $9 million in seed grants for startups that are working to tackle our thorniest climate challenges. Part of these funds come from external partners including the Knight Foundation and Citadel.

“We’re so excited that we became a tech hub and have brought so much innovation, new ideas, and new entrepreneurs to Miami – and we know they can be the solution,” Levine Cava told Refresh Miami. “So that is why the Miami-Dade Innovation Authority was created, to work with our startups and to challenge them: please help us not only make money but be part of the solution.” 

“We’re looking for solutions around climate, around sea level, around solar, energy, transit, housing – so many of the challenges that we have and believe that together we can solve them,” Levine Cava continued. “And we’re willing to put our money behind testing and then scaling them. And if there is a successful solution, the County is committed to procuring those services so that they can thrive.”

Levine Cava made this announcement alongside Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, a member of the Royal family of the United Arab Emirates, who also expressed excitement about our local tech ecosystem. 

“It’s fantastic to see the innovation and drive that people here in Miami have,” she said, reflecting on her time meeting local climate tech startups at a roundtable organized by the US and Miami chambers of commerce.

Startups in the spotlight

This year’s conference had two climate tech showcases featuring a diverse mixture of startups in Miami and further afield – emceed by the Beacon Council’s Matt Haggman and local billionaire businessman Orlando Bravo.

For instance, Kind Designs’ Anya Freeman told the Aspen audience about the company’s 3D-printed living seawalls, noting that the company has amassed $4 million in pre-orders. “That would not have been possible without Aspen, who gave us the platform a year ago to share what then was just a crazy idea that many people specifically told us couldn’t be done. It was really the beginning of something beautiful, and I can’t wait to come back next year and share all our progress and impact – not just in Miami but also in communities around the world that need this technology.”

Nico Ramirez, the Miami-based founder of Paradigm Evergreen, shared his device that streamlines the process of doing laundry by replacing traditional washers and dryers with a single device. The company’s first product, which should be launched later this year, is a less resource-intensive alternative to legacy devices. It is the size of a laundry hamper and is small enough to fit in your back closet. 

Also new to this year’s conference was a tech expo, which was free and open to the public.  Boca Raton startup Carbon Limit was in attendance. Jacksonville-based Cameron Funk, Chief Sustainability Officer of waste removal, recycling, and sustainability startup CheckSammy expressed his excitement about showcasing his company’s platform in Miami. “When you think of Miami, you think of new and exciting and flashy,” he told Refresh Miami. “So it’s a great spot for some new innovation to come out of.”

Other noteworthy startups include Ovipost, a bug farming startup based near Fort Myers; Carbon Counts, which produces a videogame that enables users to plant trees in real life; and Susteo, a Techstars-backed startup that has developed a FICO-style score for sustainability, measuring consumer climate impact.

Politicians point to the power of tech to combat climate challenges

Aspen’s main event was certainly an appearance by Vice President Kamala Harris, who graced the main stage with Gloria Estefan. “The solutions are at hand,” said Harris. “I am therefore very optimistic and frankly a bit excited about where we are now.” But at all levels, politicians emphasized the important role tech companies will play in making our communities more resilient to climate change.

Former Democratic presidential nominee and investor Tom Steyer underscored the benefits of tech-powered climate solutions. “I believe what capitalism does. It scales, it moves fast. It can become ubiquitous.”

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who has been a very vocal supporter of the Miami tech ecosystem, noted that “the environment is the economy and vice versa.” He mentioned a handful of innovative initiatives that excited him, such as container ships that change the pH of the water and tools that can extract affordable carbon. Suarez also shared that Miami is eighth in the nation for green jobs – with the best yet to come.


Miami-Dade mayor announces climate tech funds, local startups in the spotlight, tech expo Miami

Riley Kaminer