Fintech has seen an explosion of innovation in recent years, but one startup, Zeru.Earth, is taking the industry in a new direction. This forward-thinking company is not just about improving financial management for individuals and businesses, but about helping people understand and reduce their carbon footprint.
We spoke to the founders of the startup and want to highlight why they were accepted into the Fintech Foundation incubator programme.
Who are the founders of Zeru.Earth?
The pair are from Venezuela. David Alejandro Contreras and Daniel Napoleón Arráiz met at the Universidad Central de Venezuela while they were studying geophysical engineering, and they were both on a path to work in the oil industry.
"In my case, I never wanted to be that 'oil rig guy' – I wanted to be a bit different," says Daniel. That's when he decided to study marine geosciences and obtained a Master of Science from the University of Bremen in 2013. "My job for the past 14 years has always been related to energy."
David went on to obtain a Master in Petroleum Geology from IFP School. "Right from the start, I saw the dark side of it [the oil industry], and as an immigrant, my visa was always tied to my jobs and my employer, so it was very hard to switch jobs let alone careers." But it was always clear to him, as soon as he could, he would align his values and purpose to start something new in the sustainability space.
Just before the start of the COVID pandemic, the pair were already thinking about going in a new direction. They wanted to focus on how their background could help and inspire others from the O&G business to pivot towards the green economy. They created a course, in collaboration with Terra.do (Californian-based Ed-tech startup), that was well received by the community. It was during that time that they realised that one of the paths where they could amplify their impact was via entrepreneurship.
"We put our heads together and realised that with our backgrounds, we can do something good within the carbon removal industry, which is this fascinating, burgeoning and nascent ecosystem that needs all the support in the world." says Daniel.
And that's when Zeru.Earth was born.
The elevator pitch
David and Daniel wanted to create something that could move the needle in the climate issue, and that could be embedded at the systemic level. After playing around with different business models, they narrowed it down to a B2C strategy that could solve one of the most pressing issues among Gen Z and Millenials: the rise of climate anxiety.
Zeru.Earth is a subscription-based climate impact platform that incentivises individual climate commitment. It enables users to discover ways to reduce and remove carbon emissions. The main hook of the platform is a personal carbon calculator that combines lifestyle choices (travel, shopping, eating, etc) with transaction-based carbon estimations.
By leveraging open banking, users will be able to connect any debit or credit card, and the calculator will indicate immediately the carbon emissions from purchases. The founders argue that this data not only educates people on their impact on the world, but also empowers them to take action.
To achieve this the app will nudge users to first implement lifestyle changes that scientifically can reduce their emissions (eat less red meat, use public transport, buy just the necessary stuff, etc, and then subscribe to one of Zeru’sCarbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) plans.
“We are very excited in proving that we can convince thousands of people to take climate action via carbon removal. This is one of the areas with huge impact and has the co-benefit of advancing the frontier edge of R&D efforts in upcoming CDR methods like ocean-based solutions, enhanced rock weathering, biochar, etc.”
These founders are obsessed with this CDR industry. Daniel says that the ecosystem needs to scale 1 million times from now to 2050 to reach potential removal of 10Gton of CO2 at a potential market value of $1trillion.
Zeru.Earth will also gamify users' interaction in the platform, so it becomes second nature to reduce and remove even more emissions. To maximise user engagement, they have identified the use of perks and green discounts from verified partners and sustainable brands. Individuals will be able to accumulate Zeru points that they can use in one of the affiliate partners.
The startup will also partner with Edtechs to help educate users on how they can change their behaviours to reduce their carbon footprint, and they just announced a partnership with VOIZ Academy, a startup aiming at educating the next generation of climate leaders.
What challenges do the founders face?
"We're dealing with a remote team, so that is hard. Although the biggest challenge for me is dealing with the cancer of my young baby," says David.
His son was born with a genetic variation of retinoblastoma– the same type of cancer that David developed when he was a child – and is still battling with the disease. But he mentions that “the resilience and grit that I’ve developed during these gruelling times encourage me to work even harder, and keep things in perspective”.
"My son will be 29 in 2050 and I want to show him that even with the rough start he's had, his papa was doing everything he can to make the planet a more liveable place."
Daniel's answer was more startup focused, though the pair joked that David's response was hard to follow.
"It's been challenging to figure out the right tools, the right ways to communicate, and sometimes we feel like we are not being as efficient as we could be.
"If you are remote, it's difficult to really discover the things that are working for you," adds Daniel.
A day in the life
David says that the pair are "always trying to prioritise what's important." He gives examples of figuring out marketing, chasing partners, balancing family life, and trying to stay healthy.
"We do find that the two of us are sometimes working at 2am because that's when we have some peace."
However, the company is fully remote, which does help them. "We do have the flexibility, which is a plus of being remote."
Daniel adds that he finds himself always working towards the future and that being a founder requires sacrifice. "We have to. We're a small team and we need to grow and we need to be out there so that people discover us."
Where do the pair see themselves in 2028?
Finally, we asked the Zeru.Earth co-founders where they see themselves in 2028 and what the startup will bring to the world.
"I would say that in 2028, Zeru.Earth will be one of the global decarbonisation leaders, catalysing action not only on individuals but also on forward-looking businesses that see sustainability as an edge. We also believe that we can grow globally." says Daniel.
David added to this by saying they don't care about vanity metrics (aka being a Unicorn); what they really want to become is aGigacorn, a rare type of startup that can reduce or remove 1Gton of CO2 out of the atmosphere. They are adamant that the intersection of Fintech and Climate can further accelerate climate action, and start making individual and institutional contributions part of our systemic response to climate change.