JOHN ADAMS, NGIF’S CEO & MANAGING PARTNER - INTERVIEW WITH WBM TOP 100 INNOVATION CEO
JOHN ADAMS, NGIF’S CEO & MANAGING PARTNER HAS BEEN SELECTED BY THE JUDGES OF WORLD BIZ MAGAZINE'S ANNUAL AWARDS TO BE A RECIPIENT OF THE TOP 100 CEOS IN INNOVATION AWARD 2021. THIS SELECTION FOLLOWS A STRINGENT PROCESS THAT EVALUATED OVER 40,000 NOMINEES TO SELECT THE EXCLUSIVE LIST OF 100 WINNERS.
John Adams is President and CEO of NGIF Capital Corporation and Managing Partner of NGIF Cleantech Ventures, Canada’s first venture capital firm and venture fund created by and for Canada’s natural gas sector. He is involved in all aspects of the enterprise including the responsibility of NGIF Industry Grants, the NGIF Emissions Testing Centre and NGIF Cleantech Ventures.
John has led NGIF through growth and in its four years of raising capital, making investments, and managing its portfolio, it has provided financing to over 50 startups, de-risking clean technology solutions in Canada’s gas industry. He has been integral to building NGIF’s team and reputation in the innovation community, taking new companies and their ideas from concept through to commercialization.
John’s additional contributions to innovation include occupying numerous board functions and duties. He currently sits on the Board of Directors of the $100 million Clean Resources Innovation Network (CRIN) and is a member of the International Gas Union’s Research, Development, and Innovation Committee.
John earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto in Environmental Science and is a graduate of the Berkley Venture Capital Executive Program.
MAIN FEATURE INTERVIEW: A NEW APPROACH TO VENTURE CAPITAL INVESTMENTS
WBM: You have been in the finance, cleantech, and energy ecosystem throughout your career and have risen to the top positions. Tell us about your background, journey to this point, and reasons for your success.
JA: I had a very typical Canadian suburb upbringing, with humble beginnings. Growing up, we lived in many cities across the country, and I was always encouraged to adapt and evolve in our new surroundings. I could usually be found with an astronomy book, my protractor set, or reading National Geographic or geography books.
Having a mother who worked in the education system, I was always encouraged to excel in my studies, ask lots of questions, think differently, and go headfirst into a problem. She was a work horse: full days at work while looking after family and taking on projects at home. To this day, I’ve carried an outlook to never be afraid of hard work, seek out opportunities to innovate and build consensus around them, and think creatively to build them.
That interest in science and physical geography became crystalized for at the University of Toronto. Combined with the pressing environmental challenges and my interest in industry, my path was set. With diploma in hand, my innovative spirit led me to environmental consulting for industry and eventually to the cleantech sector. I’ve been lucky enough to gain career experiences along the way in finance, project management, investing, fund management, working with startups, managing portfolios, and building teams.
"It is my core belief that actions speak volumes and a focus on results is key. Set a high bar and work towards creating real results. One of the first questions we ask our prospective investees is “What are your results to date that we can evaluate and benchmark?"
WBM: Specifically regarding investors, what personal and professional qualities have been key to your track record?
JA: Follow your passion: NGIF has been a work of passion for me since it was simply a concept, and I make this clear when I speak to investors.
To build a track record, you must always stay ahead; if there is a problem, I bring it to my customers or investors first. They appreciate that.
I’m always looking to innovate, tackling a piece of the puzzle that others haven’t. NGIF Cleantech Ventures is doing something disruptive and is gaining the attention of investors.
It is my core belief that actions speak volumes and a focus on results is key. Set a high bar and work towards creating real results. One of the first questions we ask our prospective investees is “What are your results to date that we can evaluate and benchmark?”
I believe that a good leader ensures a business thrives. But a great leader creates a people-first culture, leading to powerful relationships. Strong relationships are drivers of performance. And performance creates results.
WBM: NGIF is focused on natural gas. From your perspective, what role should natural gas play in the coming energy transition and why?
JA: First, I call it energy evolution. Transition suggests there is an end to natural gas, but we know it is not going anywhere. All energy solutions are evolving and improving their product; natural gas is no different. NGIF is focused on a piece of this evolution by investing in environmental improvements – like emissions reductions – for the sector.
Addressing environmental improvements requires innovation around the world, and across industries and companies – from startups to multi-national corporations. From carbon capture utilization and storage, to expanded production of emerging fuels like renewable natural gas (RNG) and hydrogen, clean technology investment and innovation is surging.
The energy sector is evolving at an unprecedented rate. The growing demand for better environmental performance, strengthened resiliency, and affordability requires steady innovation. It requires the promotion of new ideas, and a broadening of clean energy entrepreneurship to encompass new regions, new technologies, and new approaches.
"In 2021, NGIF Capital Corporation (NGIF) was spun out of the Canadian Gas Association as a venture capital firm. NGIF strategically deploys grant and equity financing for startups to commercialize step change innovations that promote industry growth. NGIF operates three divisions with the shared purpose of maximizing the environmental and economic performance of the natural gas molecule."
WBM: NGIF Capital Corporation operates NGIF Industry Grants, the NGIF Emissions Testing Centre, and the NGIF Cleantech Ventures. Please share a summary of what each division does and how they synergize to drive value for all stakeholders?
JA: In 2021, NGIF Capital Corporation (NGIF) was spun out of the Canadian Gas Association as a venture capital firm. NGIF strategically deploys grant and equity financing for startups to commercialize step change innovations that promote industry growth. NGIF operates three divisions with the shared purpose of maximizing the environmental and economic performance of the natural gas molecule.
NGIF Industry Grants is currently a $14 million industry-led innovation fund that has approved over 54 non-dilutive grants to 40+ early-stage cleantech startups to advance their technologies through development and field demonstration projects for the gas industry.
NGIF Emissions Testing Centre is a $35 million industry-led instrumented live site platform for 20+ cleantech startups to test, validate, and benchmark their emissions solutions in a collaborative simulation environment.
NGIF Cleantech Ventures (the Fund) is a $50 million industry-led venture fund making equity investments in early-stage, high-growth startups that support environmental improvements along the natural gas value chain, promote the expanded production of emerging gaseous fuels including RNG and hydrogen, etc.
"NGIF Cleantech Ventures (the Fund) is a $50 million industry-led venture fund making equity investments in early-stage, high-growth startups that support environmental improvements along the natural gas value chain, promote the expanded production of emerging gaseous fuels including RNG and hydrogen, etc."
WBM: NGIF activates investments that drive innovation in the Natural Gas sector. Please highlight some of the technology areas impacted by your investments and point us to some of your landmark successes.
JA: At NGIF we believe that the evolution of the energy system will only be as effective as the innovation and investments that enable it. NGIF Cleantech Ventures invests in startups that support environmental improvements along the natural-gas value chain, advance emerging fuels such as RNG and hydrogen, and deliver related benefits. The Fund is vertically focused for Canada’s natural gas industry, targeting a sweet spot of near-commercial cleantech solutions.
As an example, NGIF Cleantech Ventures made its inaugural investment in ThermoLift, a cleantech startup commercializing a natural gas heat pump that can provide water heating, space heating, and air conditioning from a single unit at a cost and emission intensity far less than any incumbent system. The company’s technology represents a step-change in HVAC implementation and utilization.
WBM: Please share some insight into how NGIF approaches working with startups.
JA: NGIF is more than just an investor. We are a company builder. NGIF Cleantech Ventures provides portfolio companies with unparalleled access to potential end-use customers, industry partnerships, and operational support through its current strategic limited partners. We have a portfolio acceleration model in which we assist our companies with networking opportunities, team building, financial analysis, operational support, customer development, and skill building in various areas.
We help build these companies to grow as our investors are also conveniently the market uptake. And of course, growing companies generates higher returns for our investors.
WBM: Talk to us about your team, why is the NGIF team unique?
JA: The NGIF team is incredible. As a fund manager for a strategic venture capital firm that is disrupting the marketplace, each person on the team has a performance and delivery background, a specific skillset to help the Fund succeed, and a collaborative and growth mindset.
Today, we have an integrated investment management approach that can take advantage of the team’s experience and expertise, operating within the highest level of integrity in the private equity and venture capital industry.
It is with this approach that we have operationalized NGIF to invest, grow, and scale successful cleantech companies for the natural gas industry in Canada and for export into international markets.
"NGIF is more than just an investor. We are a company builder. NGIF Cleantech Ventures provides portfolio companies with unparalleled access to potential end-use customers, industry partnerships, and operational support through its current strategic limited partners."
"The NGIF team is incredible. As a fund manager for a strategic venture capital firm that is disrupting the marketplace, each person on the team has a performance and delivery background, a specific skillset to help the Fund succeed, and a collaborative and growth mindset."
WBM: Why should a potential investor be excited about the proposition from NGIF?
JA: Perhaps the most unique element of NGIF is how we bring Canada’s energy industry leadership to every investment. Our integrated model develops, demonstrates, and de-risks these technology solutions through field trials and pilot projects within the energy sector itself. This benefits startups as it gives them unique access to accelerated customer creation opportunities, and the resultant broader market uptake.
The NGIF model benefits consumers, investors, and Canadian society. We offer industry access to startups, have rigorous and robust due diligence processes in place, and bring not only the experience of our internal team but also the expertise of our investors. The investments that NGIF make will help position Canada’s natural gas as the most competitive gas molecule in the world with the least environmental impact, all while fostering the incredible talent of those behind the startups.
WBM: You are pioneering a ‘New Approach’ to Venture Capital Investing - what are some of the key pillars of this?
JA: Our approach to venture capital is to focus on a particular sector – Canada’s gas sector. We specifically leverage clean technology investments as the solution driver. New investors will invest alongside the CEO leadership of Canada’s energy industry. And we bring an operational platform to support our portfolio company growth.
Three key pillars to NGIF’s approach:
1. Bridging the gap between cleantech startups and Canada’s energy corporates by fostering customer creation.
2. Conducting rigorous business, technical, and legal due diligence.
3. Leveraging the expertise and network of our strategic limited partners with deep energy industry experience.
NGIF is adding value to the portfolio by working with founders and their organizations, helping to grow through board support, sales and marketing, recruitment, and customer creation.
Just like the entire natural gas sector, we are continuously improving and carrying our learnings from each investment forward. We strive to always make smart investments – using critical thinking, evidence-based research, and good judgment every time.
"NGIF will continue to build on the successful environmental performance of our Industry Grants’ portfolio that is currently forecasted to reduce more than seven megatonnes of CO2 by 2030. This is equivalent to 152,000 cars taken off the road."
WBM: In the coming few years, what impact do you anticipate NGIF will have on the Natural Gas sector and consequently the environment?
JA: Evolution never stops. And neither will NGIF. We will further our investments in technology solutions while aiming to establish supportive policy conditions that incentivize cleantech.
Five years from now, NGIF Cleantech Ventures will be at the midpoint of its fund life with most of the committed capital invested or held for follow-on investments. The team will be working on portfolio acceleration – meaning we will be working closely with our companies to advance their efforts to commercialize their technologies as quickly as possible. And of course, we will be thinking about a second venture fund.
NGIF will continue to build on the successful environmental performance of our Industry Grants’ portfolio that is currently forecasted to reduce more than seven megatonnes of CO2 by 2030. This is equivalent to 152,000 cars taken off the road.
And there will be more Emissions Testing Centres offering plug-and-play testing platforms for simulated emissions testing.
NGIF will continue to partner with leading companies and emerging technology companies, managing a diversified portfolio driving environmental and economic performance for our investors and the sector.
For more information, visit: ngif.ca
You can also reach out to John at firstname.lastname@example.org
John Adams, NGIF'S CEO and Managing Partner is featured on the cover of World Biz Magazine Q3, 2021 Issue - Click on the image below to view the digital edition.