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Filling the Funnel: Climate-focused Investment Strategies in SPAC Land (2022)

Woman in redwoods

The Yale Center for Business and the Environment (CBEY) is looking for a team of students to participate in an independent study (equivalent to a full-credit course: 3 credits YSE/4 units SOM) in partnership with Climate Real Impact Solutions I Acquisition Corporation (“CRIS”), a Special-purpose Acquisition Company (“SPAC”).

Overview

SPACs have found favor amongst climate-focused companies as they (a) give companies the opportunity to provide public investors with forward projections on innovative business models that are profitable but have limited access to capital, and (b) allow said companies to obtain permanent financing via public equity capital markets.

CRIS was incorporated in late 2020 in order to identify and effect a business combination via a reverse merger with a best-in-class, climate-focused company. Students in this independent study will conduct research on new, innovative sectors with the potential for transformative positive impact. These focus areas include the following:

CRIS Areas of Focus

Issue Summary

Decarbonization of the global economy, and adoption of more sustainable means of consumption, represent one of this generation’s greatest economic, social, and moral imperatives. These prevailing tailwinds, coupled with the magnitude of the task in hand, conspire to present an investment opportunity worth trillions of dollars over the coming decades.

In particular, CRIS, targets investment in three key subsector verticals, and summarizes its focus with the mantra of: (1) Winning the (Green) Home, (2) winning the (Green) Office, and (3) winning the (Green) Roads. These verticals represent a collective $3.7 trillion total addressable market, and with the potential offset 7.4 billion tonnes of CO2 amongst other positive impacts per annum.

CRIS logo

The CRIS team is led by seasoned industry veterans with deep industry experience at the intersection of climate change and capitalism at firms including NRG, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, and General Electric. CRIS seeks to identify investment opportunities in companies led by world-class management teams, with not only have the potential to become market leaders, but who also share our deep conviction and commitment to transforming the home, office, and road.

The goal of this independent study is for students to work in consultation with members of the CRIS team and its partners and advisor to identify areas within these subsector verticals that present attractive investment opportunities for a SPAC such as CRIS. Students will be given the opportunity to develop and present an investment thesis to leadership at CRIS, whilst learning about the arcane world of clean energy SPAC investing from industry veterans.

The projects

This year, there are three unique projects that fall under this Independent Study.  Each will have a 2-3 person team with the expectation that each individual will work on their project approximately 10 hours per week.

Project I: Circular Economy (2-3 Students)

This research project will include a number of deliverables, such as (i) a 10-15-page research report that summarizes the potential investment opportunity in the “Circular Economy” sub-sector for CRIS, and (ii) a summary presentation (the “IC Memo”) wherein the student serves as an exponent for investment in the sector of choice. The students also retain the choice of taking a contration view in the summary presentation, namely a “Short-seller Note” wherein the student argues for not investing in said sector, or even for betting against the sector.

The research report will include an analysis of potential market opportunities to provide goods and services across the value chain for a circular economy subsegment, an analysis of the total addressable market or revenue opportunity for such subsectors, a competitive analysis between companies within the sector, and against the prevailing conventional ‘dirty’ goods and services, and valuation analyses (where applicable). Appendix I: Outline provides an illustrative table of contents for such a report. (Find the appendix on page 5 of this document).

Project II: Utility-scale Renewables as a Public Market Opportunity (2-3 Students)

For this project, students will conduct a deep-dive of the ever-maturing utility-scale solar, wind, and battery power markets. Whilst there are numerous developers, investors, and other companies operating in this space, only a scarce few such companies are traded on public exchanges outside of the European Union, with most corporate-level transactions occurring via private markets, including the recent acquisitions of Cypress Creek, Amp Solar, Origis Energy, and other by private equity firms.

The purpose of this research project will be to determine why renewable energy developer-owner-operators specifically have either not been able to, or chosen not to go public in the context of the United States and beyond given the potential to avail themselves of the lowest-cost, long-term capital possible for such long-lived assets. Key suggested areas of focus might include (i) a competitive landscape analysis and assessment of barriers to entry (or lack thereof), (ii) a review of the uncertainty around development cycles and mismatch with public-earnings guidance, (iii) evaluation of the geographic “balkanization” of such firms as informed by “local” expertise on a market-by-market basis both in terms of permitting, and power market expertise, and (iv) other pertinent potential drivers.

The deliverable will, once again, be a 10-15-page written report summarizing the aforementioned analyses. Moreover, the students will also be asked to put together a short PowerPoint presentation to explain why (and how) a renewable energy developer-owner-operator might choose to successfully go public. The students are also permitted to provide a contrarian view if they come to the determination that such developer-owner-operators are better off staying private.

Project III: Capital Market Innovation in the Climate Sector (1-2 Students)

Whilst capital markets for wind, solar, battery storage, and electric vehicle companies and assets have substantially matured over the last decade, there remain gaps in the figurative financial toolkit to provide viable financing solutions to other relevant climate sectors, including hydrogen, sustainable agriculture, green and grey water infrastructure, carbon capture and storage, and other markets.

The purpose of this exercise will be to identify the reasons why companies operating in such spaces find themselves lacking access to capital, with a focus on later-stage growth capital required to scale and commercialize business plans and technologies that deliver better environmental outcomes. Suggested areas of focus include an analysis of conventional late-stage financing solutions, including but not limited to pre-IPO growth equity, secured and unsecured convertible notes, structured financing solutions, hybrid instruments (e.g. debt + warrants, or mezzanine capital), private placements in public equities, and acquisition capital. Moreover, the students are strongly encouraged to juxtapose such “mature” capital solutions with those found in sustainable finance, including green bonds, property-assessed clean energy (“PACE”), government and multilateral development financing, social bonds, and so on.

Presentation Opportunities and Work Rhythm

The projects presentations will synthesize the work in the research reports into a concise, and cogent narrative articulating reasons for (and against) investment in the sector or financial tool, including identifying and valuing individual companies of interest, or security instruments to the extent possible. The students will work closely with the “Investment Committee”, comprised of Kristofer Holz and Amir Chireh Mehr, Vice Presidents at CRIS on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to gauge progress and provide two-way feedback over the course of the semester.

They will also have opportunities both at the outset of the presentation to define the scope of their projects with CRIS’ founding team, and – at the end of the semester –they will be given the opportunity to pitch the CRIS leadership members, which may include officers of the company, and members of its Board of Directors.

Stages of Work

  • Participate in an ‘Introduction-to-SPACs’ session as viewed through the lens of CRIS IPO;
  • Meeting with CRIS team to refine key areas of focus within projects
  • Conduct a first-pass review, including of equity research, and other reports;
  • Develop qualitative and quantitative arguments to support a thematic hypothesis for investment within a specific area, or financial tool;
  • Participate in a Case Study of the EVGo acquisition by Climate Change Crisis Real Impact I (NYSE: CLII, now EVgo) to better understand the business combination process;
  • Synthesize the research work into a 10-15-page paper;
  • Draft first version of IC Memo, Short-seller Letter, and other presentations;
  • Present to Kris, and Amir;
  • Make any final revisions to the deliverables;
  • Present to CRIS Leadership.

Staff and Advisors

  • CBEY: [Stuart DeCew; Todd Cort]
  • CRIS: Kristofer Holz, Vice President at CRIS; Amir Chireh Mehr, Vice President at CRIS
  • External partners and advisors of CRIS

How to Apply

To apply for this independent study, please send your resume and a statement of interest no longer than half a page to Heather Fitzgerald (heather.fitzgerald@yale.edu) with a CC to Amir Chireh Mehr (ac.mehr@climaterealimpactsolutions.com).

Please send your application materials no later than 11:59 PM on January 30, 2022.