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How CEO Allister Furey is revolutionizing carbon credits with Sylvera

Insight Partners | May 22, 2024| 4 min. read

“Why did I get into this?” says Allister Furey, CEO and cofounder of Sylvera. “Because the world needs to get to net zero. If we don’t, then biodiversity will collapse, and our children will grow up in a very adversarial world.”

Wind the clock back to 2020, the year that Furey and Samuel Gill founded Sylvera. Furey, who has a Ph.D. in machine learning, was already a serial entrepreneur with two startups under his belt.

He’d been working in the renewables sector for a decade, co-founding KPS, a wind energy company that was later acquired by Kitemill. Meanwhile, Gill worked as a corporate lawyer, focusing on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and specifically the carbon market.

“Sam had the domain knowledge, and I was the technologist,” Furey explains.

“That was the meeting of minds that made all this possible.”

Together, they decided to bring learnings from the renewables market into the world of carbon credits for the first time.

“We saw that the world was overshooting its emissions target,” Furey says. “We needed an industry to suck emissions out of the air, but that industry needed to be bigger than the entire renewables market at that time.”

Launch fast, pivot faster

The initial idea for Sylvera was to use technology to optimize carbon projects — the individual activities around the world preserving rainforests, planting trees, capturing biogas, or funding borehole projects in Africa so families don’t need to burn wood to boil water.

“But we quickly hit a brick wall,” admits Furey. “In the world of solar, farms have an electricity meter so there’s no debate on how much power gets delivered. But with carbon, you’re buying bits of paper that claim something has happened.”

As Furey dug deeper into the world of carbon offsets, he found very little regulatory oversight and a strong commercial incentive to make untrue claims.

“That’s when we decided we needed to create a meter reading for carbon,” he says.

“I knew that if we could create a rating that was accurate, independent, and trusted, the market could grow at pace.”

Sylvera used the principles for generating carbon credits first established in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to retro-engineer a framework for assessing whether a project’s carbon capture claims were valid.

“But, at the beginning, no one would touch us,” says Furey. “They worried that we would make them look bad. Everyone told us that we were mad.”

Becoming Fortune 500’s go-to carbon market specialist

Sylvera’s first customer was a top-tier global management consultancy, which wanted to quietly audit its carbon portfolio.

“We found major issues, and all our work was immediately vindicated,” Furey says. “One project, which had been issuing credits, should never have been allowed to operate.”

Banks, big energy companies, even governments soon became customers. “People and organizations who cared about their reputation,” explains Furey. Sylvera quickly became Fortune 500’s go-to specialist for assessing, managing, and investing in carbon offsets, prompting the London-based business to open an office in New York in summer 2023.

In December that same year, a Sylvera customer spent $100M on carbon credits, almost all of which had been validated by the Sylvera platform. “This year, we’ll help $1B move into renewables,” says Furey. “Within four years, that will grow to $10B.”

Sylvera is more than just a rating agency for carbon — it is accelerating climate action.

“Our customers make investments that turn into real action on the ground, changing lives, and helping preserve the environment,” says Furey, revealing that Sylvera has invested in a project that will accurately determine how much carbon is trapped inside the world’s forests for the first time.

“Current estimates are up to 90% wrong,” he explains. “Next, we’re going to look at the carbon in soil.”

“You see the impact you are making out in the real world every day”

“It’s important to focus on your achievements when growing a business,” says Furey.

“There have been many difficult times over the years.” For example, last year when The Guardian published an article condemning carbon credits. “Constructive criticism can be good, but this article was so binary, claiming they were all bad when a significant proportion are good,” says Furey.

But while bad press does send shockwaves through the industry, it also generates more interest in Sylvera’s solution. “We are neutral and independent, so we are seeing a lot of investors bring us new projects and say, ‘Can you check this out for us and monitor it going forward?’”

Furey now employs 150 people across the United Kingdom and the United States. “These people are passionate about mitigating the effects of climate change,” he says. “To be a credible, effective leader in this industry, you have to get stuff done. There’s no room for ego here.”

He credits his previous role at Entrepreneur First, “a growth-stage business doing amazing work,” with helping him hone his leadership skills.

Right now, Furey has one overarching goal. “We want to close the multi-trillion-dollar financing gap in climate action,” says Furey. “It’s hard, and it’s complicated, but it’s also rewarding. You can see the impact you are making out in the real world every day.”

“No one was interested in building a rating system to enable investment in carbon projects, so we stepped up.”

“Can you think of anything more important to work on?” he adds. “No one was interested in building a rating system to enable investment in carbon projects, so we stepped up.”

“Sometimes you just have to ask yourself: ‘If I don’t do this, who will?’”

Scale up your career: See all open roles at Sylvera on the Insight Partners job board.

The investor POV

“Allister cares about the issues, knows a ton about the space, and has built an incredible business that is helping to save the world.”

“We met Allister in the fall of 2021,” says Nicole Shimer, principal at Insight Partners. “Madeleine [Goldberg] and I had been researching the broader climate market, and the carbon offset world in particular. Sylvera, with its innovative new infrastructure, stood out as the most exciting opportunity in that space.”

“What impressed me was Sylvera’s role in providing critical data and analytics infrastructure to a Wild West, yet rapidly growing end market. Can you imagine investing in stocks without access to auditable earnings reports? Sylvera solves this problem for buyers — who spend millions of dollars on carbon offsets — by monitoring that suppliers actually reduce emissions by the amount they claim to in real-time,” says Madeleine Goldberg, senior associate at Insight Partners.

In turn, Furey was impressed by Insight’s understanding of climate issues. “Too often, we would talk to VCs that either didn’t have an opinion or were just repeating received wisdom,” he says.

“VCs are often criticized for following trends, but the ones that outperform tend to have their own opinions. Madeleine and Nicole were in the small minority of people who had done the thinking.”

“Another thing that Allister liked about us is the depth of our software expertise,” says Shimer. “He knows all there is to know about climate, but we can really add value when it comes to creating the software.”

A multi-billion-dollar opportunity

Insight co-led Sylvera’s $32.6M Series A in 2022 and invested again last year when Sylvera raised its Series B. The capital was vital to continue building out the technology. “We now have a platform complete with an end-to-end workflow for procuring carbon and investing in carbon projects,” Furey says.

Climate action is a burgeoning market: According to Morgan Stanley, the voluntary carbon-offsets market will be worth $100B by 2030 and $250B by 2050.

“We first invested when Sylvera was making less than $1M in annual recurring revenue,” continues Shimer. “Now they’re growing rapidly with an exceptional leadership team and proven go-to-market strategy.”

Achieving crucial repeatability

“Hiring and go-to-market are two areas where Insight really helped us,” says Furey. “With our executive hiring, they’ve helped us get the profile right and held the search firms to account.”

Sylvera’s commercial strategy has also had a full-scale overhaul, creating the infrastructure to allow the business to move into the ScaleUp phase of growth.

“Sylvera has now achieved that crucial level of repeatability in its go-to-market strategy,” adds Shimer. “This means that sales can really scale.”

Supporting the pioneers tackling climate change is vital, Shimer explains, if we are to meet the global goal to reach net zero by 2050. “Sylvera provides trust, transparency, and auditability across all offset types, preventing legal and financial greenwashing risks and driving further climate action,” adds Goldberg.

“Carbon offsets are critical to the climate effort,” Shimer says. “Allister cares about the issues, knows a ton about the space, and has built an incredible business that is helping to save the world.”