Samanta Jovanovic is a climate change matchmaker.

As executive director of Start Alberta, this 34-year-old Calgarian helps entrepreneurs and investors find each other.

This piece is part of a series of profiles highlighting young people across the country who are addressing the climate crisis. These extraordinary humans give me hope. I write these stories to pay it forward.

Samanta Jovanovic with longtime mentor Wally, who encouraged a move to San Francisco to discover the world of advanced climate tech, startups and venture capitalism. Photo by Jane Wallace

Tell us about your work.

Start Alberta is a not-for-profit supported by private and public funding. It has a comprehensive database on startups and funding. We show when new enterprises get funding so the world can see the growth, dynamism and health of the sector. Investors see who is ripe for the next funding tranche and entrepreneurs gain confidence that they can get the lift they need. With information from other networks, momentum becomes transparent. I talk with investors looking to invest and help them find a match. I work with ambitious and often young entrepreneurs to help them understand what is needed to attract capital.

Right now, the momentum is in climate change innovation. I recently had coffee with a private financier who was clear that his days as a fossil fuel funder are over. This is not at all unusual. At the same time, young entrepreneurs want to align their businesses with their values but are often not quite ready for investors to have sufficient confidence. I was very proud to bring a California-based $100-million accelerator program to Alberta, making an intensive 12-week training program in business case development, relationship building, pitching prospective investors, networks and managerial expertise available for startups to accelerate their readiness to the point where experienced funders are comfortable with their risk profile. You could call my work marriage preparation!

At the Cleantech Group’s Water Innovation Summit in Berkeley in 2015. Photo by Amy Jovanovic

Can you give us some examples of how this helps combat climate change?

As executive director of Start Alberta, this 34-year-old Calgarian helps climate solution entrepreneurs and investors find each other.

The oil and gas industry uses a lot of water and water is also a byproduct of their industrial processes. The industry is not going to shut down overnight, so it is important that they reduce their use of precious resources like water as rapidly as possible. We facilitated funding for a company that helps industry create a closed-loop recycling system that reuses this water, meaning less unprocessed water is drawn from the water table or rivers.

Another company is developing software to allow companies to reduce their carbon-intensive travel for monitoring their field assets by providing remote monitoring.

How did you get into this work?

When I was a girl, I was very affected by the movie Free Willy. Its messages of care, integrity and action really stuck. At about the same age, I noticed a refinery for the first time and was horrified by how large, polluting and menacing it appeared. A short time later, I got in trouble at school for talking in class with a boy and as a consequence, was assigned a research project on canola oil. I saw the potential for biofuels to reduce the need for refineries.

My first job out of university was working on clean energy with the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., in 2009 in the early days of the Obama administration. There was enormous hope and possibility and tremendous innovation. Over the next 10 years, I got introduced to climate finance and went to work at Deloitte in its climate change practice and worked in Silicon Valley. But it took 10 years before I felt I could make a contribution in my hometown because the climate conversation has been so slow to start here.

In 2019, I saw it coming and moved back to help the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund articulate opportunities to mature Calgary's innovation ecosystem. Increasingly, this is linked to building a bright future for all of us, which means diversifying beyond oil and gas. Now with this job, I am right in the thick of the conversation for all of Alberta. I have come home.

A former favourite vacation destination in Greece that is now plagued with forest fires during the summers. Photo by Lilia Taran

What worries you?

Technology needs infrastructure to become useful. For example, electric cars and trucks are here but they need charging stations. I worry that slow infrastructure development will hold us back.

What do you see if we get this right?

Climate change is making an unfair world even less fair. Albertans agree that your future is what you make it and should not be determined only by where you are born. Young people are leaving the parts of the world devastated by fires and floods for a better future and they are also leaving Alberta because they want a future they can believe in. Albertans are ready for this chance to make a more level playing field.

Do you have any advice for other young people?

It is important that you know what will happen if we fail. It might make you furious. But the future is not yet written. We are already creating a future beyond oil and gas and you can design your place in it. Move from furious to curious. Find something tangible that makes sense to you and do it.

What about older readers?

Be supportive of us. If we are worried about our futures, don't dismiss those concerns. Ask what we need and be there beside us. Let us lean on you.