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Big Tech Is Failing To Address A Crisis Right On Its Doorstep

What’s happening? Start-ups focused on fighting wildfires in California have struggled to find financing from Silicon Valley's venture capital investors. While some outfits, like Zonehaven's collated evacuation platform and Enview's energy infrastructure map solution, have been successfully funded, investors reportedly do not envision making good returns by selling technology to cash-poor fire departments, despite the proximity of the wildfires to the potential investors.

Why does this matter? California fires recently surpassed all historical records, converging and forming the world’s first gigafire (over one million hectares). However, as noted above, VC arms of Big Tech companies don’t seem interested in funding technological wildfire solutions – despite the proximity of the blazes to many firm’s campuses.

Big Tech has a complex relationship with the environment. While VC investment in climate innovation is growing faster than any other sector in 2020, advanced technology is responsible for a growing environmental footprint.

For all their environmental pledges, it is hard to see Big Tech not having its reputation hurt by failing to invest in averting a crisis on its own doorstep.

Venture arms of tech firms seem to see more value investing in technology such as carbon capture, which will likely be relied upon in some shape or form by a vast number of corporates, than innovations designed to enhance public safety. As the above article notes, the financial success of such innovations likely depends on the purchasing power of cash-strapped public services plagued by layers of bureaucracy.

There could, however, be other potential buyers of innovations designed to spot and monitor wildfires. Utilities, for example, have been found liable for blazes in the past given failures to monitor equipment. Amid this year’s wildfires, PG&E has turned to satellite technology to track possible fires and alert authorities.

Insurance companies – on the hook for claims relating to wildfires – may also be receptive customers, as well as a potential source of investment for start-ups. Reports have indicated some success in partnerships between incumbents and insurtechs when it comes to addressing blazes.

Nick Finegold is Founder & CEO of Curation Corp, an emerging and peripheral risks monitoring service.

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