Tulika Raj: ClimateTech Learning Curve, Kazakh Oil Rigs & Getting Smart vs. Getting Even - E141

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It was a big deal to go and be an engineer in an offshore oil and gas rig in my early 20s and I did face some opposition from friends, family wondering what it was I was gonna be doing there. As we have in South Asia and Southeast Asia, we have closed-knit families and friend circles and lots of well wishers and I don’t ever remember having seen that attitude from either of my parents, and, in fact, my mom was my biggest champion. She was like “Of course, you must go and try this if that’s what you want to”. So that was a motto that I grew up with. If you have to try something, just be your best self. Wanna try something, go ahead, try it. There’s no such thing as failure - Tulika Raj

Tulika is the co-founder of SunGreenH2, a startup disrupting green hydrogen production with its high performance, low cost electrolyser technology. Originally an electrical engineer who started out working on offshore oil rigs in Kazakhstan and Norway, she pivoted towards clean energy in 2007 and has never looked back.

Jeremy Au: (00:30)
Hi, Tulika, good to see you again.

Tulika Raj: (00:32)
Hi, Jeremy, nice to be here, thanks for the invite.

Jeremy Au: (00:34)
Yeah, so, I’m really excited because you’re one of the few founders who are tackling decarbonisation in Southeast Asia which is a very, very rare thing to pursue around the world, let alone Southeast Asia. I’m just interested to profile your story


Tulika Raj: (00:49)
Thanks so much for the invite. Happy to talk about decarbonization till the cows come home because I think when we’re trying to solve that problem, we’re trying to solve something for our future generations, that’s very, very important. It’s quite imperative for the moment.


Jeremy Au: (01:02)
How did this start? You’ve been working on energy for so long, how did your love or specialization in energy begin?


Tulika Raj: (01:10)
Yeah sure. Happy to talk about that, you know, energy has played a big role in my life right from the very beginning. So, I’m Indian originally and I grew up in the Middle East, actually, in an oil outpost called Kuwait and very early on in 1990 the Gulf War happened and that was all about energy being a geopolitical force that can be disruptive at times and as a general rule, my sister and I decamped to the desert, we figured out later obviously were in refugee camps then completely displaced from home life and what have you and move back to India at that time. So, my father is very entrepreneurial and it’s very rare that you get to see your family so that start to pick up the pieces and rebuild something from scratch. Normally, you are growing up in a family, things are stable. Very early on, we had sort of energy play a bit of a disruptive role in the growing up years and two things happen at the same time. Because of this we were displaced very early on and I also got to see sort of family rebuilding life back from scratch etc etc. So that was like a bill of inequality. Introduction to you know how energy can impact people and why it’s a pain, how it’s a part of our life and it’s part of a bigger picture. So maybe that was the early fascination. And then once I finished, once I was a qualified as an Engineer I was very keen to work outside of my home country and learn a little bit about the world outside India, really, at that point, and I was lucky enough to get a foreign posting with my first company that I joined. But amazingly enough, I pushed really hard to be placed outside of India and landed up in Kazakhstan for a couple of years and it was really amazing because it was a wild, wild, west of energy exploration and they were developing the world’s second largest oil field outside of Saudi Arabia and as an engineer who got to be on that exploration journey as a wireline engineer who’s working for a company called Schlumberger, did that work for years. Worked in Norway for another year on a more mature oil field production site. And something was becoming extremely clear. My fascination with the energy industry was growing and growing because the more we worked in it, the more you sort of the global landscape on which energy plays out. Oil prices rose, you know we were flush with contracts, oil prices, dived and suddenly politics were, you know, shutting down all over the place. So, it was really interesting to get that sort of early introduction in my career to you know the how the energy business works, but what was also apparent to me after two years in the business was that I was missing some commercial skills. As an engineer there was like a technical pathway that was emerging in the energy business, but my interest in energy was beyond that. It was wider. I really wanted to understand how the commercial side worked, etc, etc. So made a decision to go back to school, actually, and study. And it was while I was supporting myself as a broke student in London that I was introduced by one of my professors to BP and BP has their headquarters in London in Saint James's Square. In the mid 2000s, in an oil and gas company like BP, where fascinatingly enough, they were just setting up their alternative energy business, which is what they were calling it at the time. So BP was making its first forays into renewable energy at the time, and it seems like a bit of a roundabout way to get into renewable energy via the oil and gas side. But that was my background. I had an oil and gas background, I was fascinated by the energy landscape, but having worked offshore oil rigs for the last three years, it was also just a very natural gravitation towards something that was more sustainable. Because when you’re actually on the rigs and you’re working and you can just see how what the environmental implications are. You have to believe that there is a more sustainable way for future generations to power their economies, so that was without much of a conscious articulation, I guess, of this thought I was naturally gravitated towards the clean energy side of things. So when I completed my master’s, two things happened. So there was also an ongoing fascination with entrepreneurship and with energy at the same time. So during my master’s is like as I mentioned, my dad’s an entrepreneur. He picked himself back up and rebuilt his business after we got, you know, rudely disrupted with the first Gulf War. I worked with a couple of startups during my master’s and one of them was a company called Sun Renewable Energy. They were writing a business plan to go pitch institutional investors for solar renewable energy play so I helped those guys and something very interesting happening in the European renewable energy market at the time. Anyway, I went off to work at BP and we did wind farms in India, JV’s with turbine manufacturers in China, registered the first carbon credits from the Indian wind farms and you know they were being sold into the ETS, the emission trading scheme in Europe. So all very fascinating until Lehman went down and the global financial crisis hit, and as many large companies tend to do, there was a gravitation back to bthe oil and gas business and I just didn’t believe that my future lay in the dirty side business anymore. So, from there, on and here we are, it’s been clean energy all the way starting with wind and solar and now in hydrogen.
 

Jeremy Au: (06:11)
I think you mentioned a second thread which is about your entrepreneurship thread that started from your father. Tell us more about how your father inspired or motivated you about becoming a founder one day because you mentioned him twice.
 

Tulika Raj: (06:25)
Yeah, actually, both my parents, my mom and my dad, both very type-A personalities, immigrants who moved first from India to the Middle East to build a life and sort of find early success in that and then moved as refugees 10 years into that life. Sort of, unexpectedly facing a global war crisis and then picked up and rebuilt again. And sorted it out. I’ve always seen my dad, especially has always been get up and go. Just do it. That’s his attitude. His attitude is that there’s nothing to stop you, just do it. But there is no such thing as failure, it’s a learning experience. There’s no such thing as a limit. Believe that you can do it and you can do it. And the other inspiration for my mom was actually I’ll mention it here. I’m a female founder, it was a big deal to go and be an engineer in an offshore oil and gas rig in my early 20s and I did face some opposition from friends, family wondering what it was I was gonna be doing there as we have in South Asia and Southeast Asia, we have closed-knit families and friend circles and lots of well wishers and I don’t ever remember having seen that attitude from either of my parents, and, in fact, my mom was my biggest champion. She was like. Of course, you must go and try this if that’s what you want to. So that was a motto that I grew up with. If you have to try something, just be your best self. Wanna try something, go ahead, try it. There’s no such thing as failure. So they both inspired me and I’d see my dad create a business a couple of times from scratch and they were quite successful at it. Somewhere in the back of my mind there was a bit of the dallying with the startup scene when I was completing my master’s, but there were two, there was a bit of a dichotomy because the energy business is a, as I said, it’s a geopolitical business. It’s on a grand stage and it’s very capital intensive. So my thought was I need to plug some gaps here in terms of my own ability to lead a company like this, there needs to be some understanding of the basic fundamental drivers of the business, but also there needs to be need to understand how the capital plays out in the business. You need to understand how development to growth to mature stage companies come about, etc. So spending some time doing all that stuff grounds out while I was on the oil and gas company then at the BP’s alternative energy business and then when I had the opportunity to leave, I don’t wanna go back to my oil and gas roots, as I said, I joined a firm called Denham Capital. They’re a spin out of the Harvard Endowment fund and they had a power renewable team based out of London that was doing business all over Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and interestingly, they’d invested in the startups under renewable energy that I mentioned that I helped write a business plan for. So it was one of those very early lucky things that happen. Sometimes just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, but I got to sit alongside them in a very hands on sort of atmosphere and work with them as they built up their first solar farms in Europe and then, amazingly, within a couple of years sell the company for four times money multiple to a solar manufacturer. So that was, I think, very fortunate because you sometimes can spend like quite a long time in your career trying to see those sorts of...but here there was a startup that I worked with alongside and they grown and they made all those decisions about how they would grow from development stage to construction to operation, and then had that massive pipeline of projects and then, that was it. We exited them. Another really great experience was, and it was quite entrepreneurial as well, was the restructuring a company in South Africa that is today known as BioTherm Energy, again, wind and solar developer wildly successful group hugely, so very proud of the role that I played at Denham in bringing both those companies to fruition, and so that was a little bit sort of working alongside startups, learning the business, learning how that will go . So then when I left Denham, I set up my first startup which is called EastRay Capital. It was originally set up out of London and there is a chapter in Singapore as well and that was an early foray into trying to figure out how I could be part of the energy business in a less capital intensive way, right? So, having like an investment advisory service connecting India was picking up its renewable story in the early 2010s, and so the idea was to connect the institutional pools of capital out of the west with the project developers in India and so that was something that I was very proud to work with on with a friend of mine’s, a lawyer as well, and we took it to a certain stage until an opportunity getting came knocking in a larger part of the renewables business. It’s called a fund called Octopus Investments was doing something very interesting in solar in London at the time. I was to start up store a little bit, let it run by itself in the background while I went to do some more work on solar assets for that company. So that was a little bit the running theme of entrepreneurship journey in London. In 2015, I relocated to Singapore and Singapore is really crucial now I think to why I’m doing what I’m doing in hydrogen and that was really Singapore is very interesting spot within Asia Pacific and globally. It's a melting point, it's a conflux of so many and so many energy companies are headquartered out of here in doing business all over the region and in 2015 when I moved here, I felt like it was really all just starting to pick up all the Asian activity that we were seeing in renewables was really starting to pick up in Singapore very much a focal point of that activity and I thought it as a bit of an epicentre of which lots of interesting work is happening all the way in Australia and Southeast Asia. So I worked for a couple of companies first to get the lay of the land, build the network that I needed and you know really got to understand what the, I guess, the scene was, how it was all set up and how things were really working in this part of the world, and then last year they launched the SunGreenH2 which is the green hydrogen startup I’m working on with my very talented cofounder now. And that’s the story of how we’re trying to build the world’s highest efficiency low-cost electrolyser for green hydrogen production. It's a Singapore story.
 

Jeremy Au: (12:20)
You just threw in a bunch of keywords right there at the end. Tell us what all those things mean, in the context of energy.
 

Tulika Raj: (12:28)
Yeah, absolutely. There’s so much there, right? We have a world that is decarbonized as much as it can with wind and solar and just like the rest of the world, Asia, including Singapore, Southeast Asia, and Asia Pacific, Japan, Korea, Australia has seen all of that play out, but I think we’re the world and we are as much as part of it in from here based out of the epicentre of Asia, if you like, in Singapore, we’re as much as a part of that too. We’ve gotten as far as we can. The world has decarbonized electricity as much as it can, realistically possible, but we’re still on a pathway to climate change that is going to exceed 2 degrees celsius, which has got catastrophic implications for…so there’s catastrophic implications for what it means for the environment if we cross 2 degrees Celsius. So, we’ve done a great job, I think, globally, the ones with great job getting electrification decarbonized as much as you can. We electrified whatever we can, we got electric vehicles, batteries have a role to play, but increasingly, it became apparent that, and this is a fact, you can’t decarbonise everything just by electrifying it. So here is a crossroads at which we are at and this equally applies here in Singapore in Southeast Asia as it doesn’t work. You can’t decarbonise your industry and you can’t store huge amounts of renewables which is causing great instability. At the moment there are no solutions to decarbonize these parts of the world. So, if we do have to achieve some kind of net zero scenario to which most global nations, including Singapore have now committed, we need more solutions. It’s really incredible, the International Energy Agency predicts that all the technologies that are needed to get us to an actual net zero pathway, whatever we have today, a majority of that technology still needs to be developed. All these new technologies that are earlier TRL stages that need to be brought to fruition before we can have the solutions that we need in order to decarbonize completely. So that’s where hydrogen sort of comes in, and that’s where for me I understood that hydrogen has two roles to play. You can use hydrogen in vehicles and you know produces water vapor and it burns very cleanly, and so that’s a very natural answer when you think about those vehicles which cannot be electrified. So, you don’t electrify passenger vehicles, but you can’t electrify trucks, for example, or ships, or planes, but these are causing major carbon dioxide emissions. So, in our climate change story, in our decarbonisation story, we need a way to decarbonize these sectors and hydrogen is a way to do that. Same thing goes with renewables, right? Because there’s theoretically there is no limit to how much wind and solar you can bring in, you know electric hybrids with. What is a constraint is the availability of these sorts - how much land do you have? How much water access do you have for offshore for example? And then there’s the infrastructure constraint, like how much your grid take in, hundreds of years of grid building have gone into the electricity networks that we have today. We cannot, overnight, in 10 years, change these networks and this infrastructure. These are billions and trillions of dollars of investment that needs to happen before we can get these pieces of infrastructure that took us 100 years to create to be ready to accept and absorb all this huge amount of renewable energy that's coming on board. So what's the solution there? The solution of long-term storage of renewable energy, in fact, what wind and solar do is they don’t provide baseload power, right? So based on how intermittent they are in the pickiness of this energy source, the grid still look the more volume of this energy you have coming on, the grids really struggled with it. So what you can do is take all this wind and solar converted to hydrogen, store it, and then eventually feed it back to the grid via fuel cell to take out the pickiness for all the renewals that we have. So large scale, intermittent renewables, finally have a solution to the infrastructure problems they’ve been, you know, accused of causing by virtue of taking them into turning into hydrogen.
 

Jeremy Au: (16:17)
OK, so some people are just gonna be like wow, that was a lot of jargon and big words, so why does it matter? I mean, OK fine, it’s getting a little bit warmer these days. I see it in the news that there’s a bit of climate events, but they’re far away. They’re not here, or if it’s happening it’s happening in America or Africa, so why should someone in Southeast Asia care? I mean no one is really saying anything has really happened. Any adverse weather events or climate events haven’t really seemed to happen in Southeast Asia, so why should we care about this? Let’s just continue being a middleman for the world’s oil and gas, we’ve got a good thing going and then we can let the nerds continue working on clean energy wherever they are in the world. Whereas in Southeast Asia, let’s continue with oil, we have gas, we have coal, and it’s good enough for our economies and cheap electricity. So, what’s your point of view on that?
 

Tulika Raj: (17:09)
Southeast Asia, can’t afford to really ignore this problem, there’s two key reasons why, and the first one is our own health. We know that Southeast Asia is responsible for the fastest rise globally in carbon dioxide emissions in the last ten years by virtue of the fact that this is the region that’s growing fast, is developing fast. This is where progress is coming very fast. This is where all our data centres are sprouting up and what we’re doing when we’re fuelling all of this with fossil fuels is we’re creating a problem for ourselves. So airborne, like particulate matters, right? Sox, nox, carbon dioxide emissions. So, carbon dioxide causes global warming. But let’s talk about sox and nox. The more vehicles we have on the crowded streets of our Southeast Asian nations Singapore’s a little bit more control, but having said that, in the region, the more dirty fossil fuel source of energy you have, the more emissions you have, the more lung related diseases and deaths you have, and these are all directly linked to air quality. I don’t know if you remember, but when the Beijing Olympics had happened, I had the pleasure of visiting China right before then and there was a yellow smog over the city, right? And what it was, was it was as a result of all the emissions from the factories in the manufacturing that grows on the outskirts from Beijing. Those were switched off during the Beijing Olympics and as a result the world was able to see what Beijing residents were able to breathe free, clean air for the first time in months. And if you closely study, lung and respiratory diseases in these regions, they’re probably growing as fast as carbon dioxide emission are. So, you and I, we all need to care about the environment and the air that we breathe because it’s impacting us directly and the second reason why Southeast Asia needs to care about this is rising sea levels. We’re talking about land reclamation projects. We’ve done a bit of that already, in Singapore, there’s certain extent to which you know you can reclaim land of that all nations are in the same hot water, if you like. And that’s also why we need to care about the environment. If this generation doesn’t figure out pathways for ourselves to develop and develop sustainably. Unfortunately, we’re just leaving like you know, we’re pushing away catastrophic problems for our own future generations, and we’ll still be here. We’ll be here in Southeast Asia. Our kids will be here and we’re just leaving them a legacy of issues to solve. Let’s be a generation of problem solvers instead, let’s not leave it for the next generation to figure it out, but it might be too late.
 

Jeremy Au: (19:28)
Why not just push it for the next generation to figure it out? We got problems that the previous generations gave us. So, why don’t we just push it off to the next generation?
 

Tulika Raj: (19:37)
There’s no reason to. Most reasons to push off problems for future generations to solve it because they’re too costly or too expensive to solve ourselves now. But in most parts of the world, including let’s say I’m from India originally. When you want electricity, for example, is cheaper than fossil fuel-based electricity. So here we have now a compelling reason economically to do this as well. So why wouldn’t we? There’s just no economic reason to push this problem off for the future, and I really think that in Singapore, for example, we’re already seeing that happen. We’re seeing that there is a very proactive way to start thinking a little bit about carbon. There’s a very proactive way in which to sort of start thinking about cutting our carbon dioxide emissions. We’ve just had the government release a hydrogen study that really talks about how we can start to use hydrogen increasingly in gas blending in the power sector, in the transportation sector. If we don’t place those sort of road markers or milestones for ourselves to achieve in the next, not today, but 10, 20, 30 years, at least, let’s leave them a blueprint with which they can figure out the problem. We don’t make those moves today, there may be a point of turning backwards, it’s just too late and so I firmly believe that, amazingly enough, and it’s really great to see that within Southeast Asia there is a lot of commitment to laying down those markers and those milestones instead of leaving roadblocks for future generations to do it, now. I think we’re seeing that gathering momentum over the last five years, I think it’s certainly picked up a pace and I think in the next 5 to 10 years will really see that Southeast Asia has figured out and is trying to decarbonize not just to keep pace with the rest of the world, but for its own sake.
 

Jeremy Au: (21:11)
Yeah, but it feels so unfair. America got the burn so many years of free energy and then now they’re shoving down this mandate and peer pressure to do so. So why don’t, can’t we now just get to burn; they’re still one of the highest per capita emitters of all kinds of gases because of how rich they are as well, so don’t we emerging markets have responsibility for our people to get rich first, as rich as the Americans are, and then we can decarbonize later. And when that happens, we could use some more active carbon capture technology would have improved by then. And then there be some cheaper way to make it clean or reverse the damage, so why don’t we just burn now and then solve it later because America got to do it and Europe too as well.
 

Tulika Raj: (22:00)
Yeah, I’d say that now is not the time to get even, now is the time to get smart, so, we’ve seen what the what the US and the European economies have done in terms of creating the carbon dioxide emissions of the world. Having said that, I think given that we’re coming up the current development now, we have a beautiful opportunity to learn from all of that. Take the best of the lessons that we’ve learned from outside of Southeast Asia, and in this part of the world and apply them for our own benefit. And that’s the best part of it. If you think about the price that, for example, I worked in New York for awhile. If you think about the price of the European governments have paid in order to subsidize all the renewables that were subsequently rolled out to sort of start making inroads into the carbon dioxide emissions. Why create the problem then create pools of capital to subsidize the solutions to the problem and then eventually implement them and wait for a whole curve. One of the most amazing things that’s happened in Asia at the same time the renewables story played out across the globe, there wasn’t a massive amount of feed in tariffs that Asian governments came up with. They learned from the Western governments, I think, very fast that subsidies will create the demand. The demand will then create the energies and economies of scale that will bring down the cost of renewable wind and solar panels, for example equipment, etc. And I think we saw it first in India, they immediately leapfrog to action there. So we have, let’s say, the US and Europe which heavily subsidized renewables and allowed there to become like an economy of wind and solar equipment suppliers. Which have now really come down the cost curve. We already have access to this low cost wind and solar power. Why would we need to shoot ourselves in the foot and subsidize all this? Why don’t we just become smart and utilize all of this cheap renewable electricity that is available to us today for the benefit of our nations now? So in many ways, we’re not actually sort of trying to get even with what happened in the west, we should really trying to be leapfrog the learning curve and give ourselves a benefit or the advantage of what happened there and leapfrog that whole learning curve and implement those lower cost solutions for the better quality of life in our citizens now. Don’t get even, get smart.
 

Jeremy Au: (24:14)
Okay, so, let’s just say I accept all those things, right? Accept it’s a problem, it’s a chance for us to leapfrog, we might as well do it now, it’s not too expensive, rather be smart than to get even. Even today it feels like why should we do it? Because other people aren’t really doing it. Look at America they’re like bipolar. They’re in and then they out and now they may be quasi in again, but nobody really knows if they actually get it in. I think Europe, obviously, is a little bit more probably in. China’s made a big in of commitment, but who knows, it doesn’t really feel like they’re doing anything massive to execute against it. It’s kind of like why should I be the one to be the first? Why should Southeast Asia get started on this?
 

Tulika Raj: (24:57)
Look. I mean, I think so much of what it’s about relevance. It’s not about why should Southeast Asia do something like why are we trying to keep clean now? Why are we trying to clean up Singapore? It was a major port destination we see so much maritime business out of our red dot. The reason to clean up is to provide a solution for all the European and all the international cargoes that are coming through there are international regulations now for bunker fuel, which is really the lowest quality and dirtiest fuel out there, right? Whose air is getting contaminated with those pollutants. So, it’s in our benefit to forcible clean-up for ourselves. And secondly, we have to keep up with international regulations in order to be relevant in the world as it grows and moves forward into a decarbonized future. In many of the steps that we have to take are really about hanging on and making sure we're at the forefront, not just lagging behind and trying to catch up with the forefront of clean solutions that allow people to do business in the framework of international regulations that have come to be as Singapore as a signatory, as in many other nations. I don’t know if people will get a carbon price out of it, but carbon taxes at borders are real emerging reality. I think there is no solution left. If you are an economy that is carbon intensive in terms of your manufacturing practices, at some point we are headed down the road of getting penalized for that. At some point, we’re gonna have to start paying this government taxes the border, which will make us less competitive than our neighbors and other decarbonized nations. So, for all those reasons as well it’s worth trying to keep a pace and trying to get ahead of what needs to be done in order to be relevant to the future of the decarbonized world.
 

Jeremy Au: (26:31)
OK, so let’s just say, I heard this podcast and I’ve been compelled. I decided that I want to get smart, not even. I think that it’s the future and so forth, so I’m compelled as an individual Southeast Asia citizen, but no one around me seems to care. I feel like a crazy person because the only people who care about this are all foreigners and hippies or super liberals. So, I care, what should I do? How could I help?
 

Tulika Raj: (26:59)
Yeah, absolutely. So, I beg to digress a little bit. I think. Actually, if we look around ourselves in Singapore, there is an amazing epicentre of activity taking place. If you want to look at solar, please look at the companies like Sunseap for how they’re doing amazing work and they’re not the only ones. There are other solar developers. There are opportunities to get involved with associations like the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore. If you want to dabble and not immediately, you know, sort of pursued career opportunities in that there is a vibrant diaspora of startups that are trying to make you know technological advances and reality that are also based out of Singapore that are, by the way, supported a lot by Singapore government like, as you know. They run a bunch of let’s say you and I met on the first. There’s a few other incubators like that out there. So depending on the age and the stage of the interest that any citizen has in the region, I would challenge them to not walk around and take a look at the emerging amount of opportunities to become involved in officially or unofficially. I think you’d be hard pressed not to stumble across a sustainable option for you to get involved and make a difference. Clean up your beaches. Help collect waste. Let’s talk about whatever you are, I think there’s a way to convert waste energy. There’s a way to improve your sort of carbon dioxide emissions on a personal basis. Support a rainforest project, trying and plant more trees, whatever way you want to sort of negate your carbon impact with your existence, there are ways to do it, like bike/walk there. Every single bit is making a difference. Andrea ran amazing app challenge in China or sometime back where it was just a gaming platform through which you know people were able to. Game away, enjoy themself in the app, then also the credits that they collected were going towards planting more trees and decarbonizing. Those are very simple ways in reading the opportunity to improve our carbon impact and so dip a toe. Dip a toe, that’s the first way to get involved and then you’ll be surprised to see how many opportunities there are leading on from that. I think it’s really about opening ourselves. To what’s actually happening in the landscape in and around us, you’d be surprised to see that. But in Singapore itself, for example, there is a pretty strong movement now, and a lot of interesting work being done all the way from solar to batteries to the government just announced electric vehicles coming on board soon to hydrogen. Hydrogen is the future. I firmly believe that is the reason why my startup is here to make a difference and to bring low cost hydrogen. There’s lots of ways in which you can use that and so seek the opportunity to decarbonize your own footprint. You’ll be amazed to see how you can start to impact efforts to decarbonize in nations footprint and regionally and globally as well.
 

Jeremy Au: (29:42)
For so many folks, obviously, that are listening to this. It’s scary, right? Because so much of the economy and so much of the existing energy infrastructure is not on renewables. Even though you say it’s easy to switch to so many oil and gas jobs in Singapore, it’s a huge sector. It’s an employer, and a good employer, for so many families and their dependents. So, it feels like a big ask, right? As we do the transition like people are gonna lose their jobs, their livelihood will be impacted. That feels like the perception that would be, if we moved towards a more renewable energy. It’s a win-lose dynamic here or substitution.
 

Tulika Raj: (30:20)
Oh no, I don’t think so, actually. I think what it is, is that we need to just become more aware of the way that we can sort of decarbonize individually and I don’t think there’s any major massive changes coming that would cause economic shocks in the economy. I think one thing that we’re aware of that the Singaporean government does is really make sure that there is a transition plan for everything and it’s like in the order of 10, 20, 30, 40 decades. So, I don’t think there’s any immediate risk of that. I think there is a risk of perhaps misrepresenting the scale at which change is happening, but I also think that the next generation, the current generations, need to become aware of the emerging opportunities and choosing pathways now that put them on that sort of clean energy. Choose those pathways. The oil and gas opportunities are here already to the extent that shipping is around, shipping may become decarbonized in the future that doesn’t take away shipping jobs. We don’t have an oil and gas industry that’s about to go away. We have carbon capture and sequestration that’s coming as additional add-ons. Let’s place ourselves on those parts ways. Let’s try and figure out what are the decarbonization opportunities and the industries that are underpinning our economy today and make ourselves future relevant by being involved in those. I think that’s really the opportunity sets emerging as opposed to any change coming on. You know the way things have been done today. I don’t think that’s going away. I think there’s just more and more opportunities coming around how we decarbonize all those sectors that are underpinning the economy today, so, if anything, more opportunities as a result of trying to walk that decarbonization challenge as opposed to less.
 

Jeremy Au: (31:53)
So, starting to turn a chapter here, could you share with us a time when you have been BRAVE?
 

Tulika Raj: (31:58)
Sure. So 12 months ago, coming straight out of lock down in the midst of a global pandemic, my cofounder, Saeid and I launched SunGreenH2, our startup, and what we’re doing with the startup is, we’re trying to build the world’s lowest cost electrolyzer, which is a machine that makes green hydrogen then launching a business, a startup in the midst of a pandemic with, at the time there weren’t vaccinations in sight, we don’t really know what the end was with travel disrupted, no meetings happening in person it was probably one of the bravest decisions that I’ve had to make personally because, in many ways, I think maybe that tells you that you are ready for your entrepreneurship journey is when you see opportunity instead of roadblocks when you see that – right, if there’s a pandemic and people are out of their offices, that means everyone is available on zoom. I think that’s when you can really start to think of really the blue sky thinking and the get up and go attitude, I think that you need because trying to pull a company from scratch is not easy to begin with and to start with it in a pandemic. Also you can sort of question your moods to think, perhaps will be more closed doors then open ones, but I think we chose to see it as a way that to really go out and set up a global business that is relevant from Southeast Asia to, let’s say, our immediate neighbors, right, Australia, Japan, Korea, but also in Europe, and, have a bit of vision around the regime change in the US, to cover and to say that that’s great ‘cause everybody is at the end of Zoom. You could reach out anywhere to anyone globally, and so we really didn’t think of it as physical doors. Close money, a lot of digitally opened doors worldwide to be knocked on, to get up and get a business off the ground. I’d say that’s the bravest thing that we did, I did, personally.
 

Jeremy Au: (33:44)
What was it like because you and I were both, at that time, in the Entrepreneur First cohort and you went on to found a startup whereas I went on to join a VC, because they pushed me. So, very different paths there in the middle of a pandemic. So, I made the same calculus. I’m just curious, what were the people around you saying when they heard that you wanted to found a startup in the middle of a pandemic, were they supportive, where they concerned, what was it like, what was your husband thinking?
 

Tulika Raj: (34:09)
Yeah, that’s a great question. Actually, amazingly enough, I have a very supportive husband and family and, as I said, there’s a bit of a trend around my family to kind of never see roadblocks, always to see opportunities and my family was very quick to get behind me to see opportunities. But I'm also lucky. I'm also lucky in that I have a professional career where I was able to build up some savings in order to fuel myself through the pandemic. That's something that it's not just about picking up and being spontaneous. It's also about very meticulous planning and having that sort of buffer that allows you and give you some time in which to experiment and try and launch businesses and see you can be successful with it or not. So, there was a bit of planning that went into it. I had always had a bug for the entrepreneurship side, as I said, I’ve been working around startups to begin with, then launch my own startup early on in London. And this time around when I came across my cofounder’s technology. So I’m the commercial half of the team and the cofounder is really building the technology from everything that I’ve known and experienced in the world in the renewable energy business. To me this was a solution. A compelling solution to a problem, despite any naysaying that perhaps might have heard once I came across what our technology could do and what it could mean in terms of the next solutions to be available in decarbonization? So green hydrogen I couldn’t walk away from it. I tried to tell myself that perhaps launching a hardware business is really quite hard. You question yourself, but I couldn’t walk away from the idea to begin with, because to me it was a solution to a massive problem, that was one. And then, secondly, I immediately went and I spoke to all the industry players that I’ve had the good fortune to work with in the past, all the way from Europe to Asia, to say, what do you think of this idea, you know, is this solving the problem? I really tested the market and hypothesis and I started out some of the really big players and increasingly what we heard from potential customers was how soon can you solve this problem. This is really a problem. So, what I did was to test the hypothesis really early on and it was really clear that we were onto a solution. But, of course, the solution is not born overnight. You have a technology, you have an idea, and then you pivot many times to try and find the right product market fit. So then follow the journey of six months with the earth, where increasingly I was hearing on the one side from customers about two things - that it was solving the problem, but that there needed to be a basic form factor to the product. Couldn’t be too small, it can’t be too decentralized a solution, but just about decentralized enough that it was solving a CapEx issue right? Because when you have large equipment or large pieces of kit, the larger you build them, the more the barrier it is for people to adopt it right? Because you need those millions of cost to do, to me from your budget. So, we realized that the more decentralized we could build a solution, the more we were opening up doors for, let’s say, factories, individual units in communities, hospitals, resorts, what have you, including utilities for the largest scale, renewable energy producers to be able to access this. And so that’s how we sort of pivoted, pivoted, developed, developed to get that product to fit so that was my journey during the year. It was early on about trying to figure out if there was a problem worth solving. Very quickly, it became about - of course this problem is worth solving. Now let’s try to find the right product market fit, but that wasn’t the majority of my experience. Ever since we’ve launched then we’ve been trying to get the product ready to put into practice. So that’s us today.
 

Jeremy Au: (37:30)
Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Tulika. I’d like to paraphrase the three big themes that got out of this conversation. The first is thank you so much for sharing about your own professional journey about how you fell in love with clean energy. I thought that was a fascinating discussion, not just about you as a child, being a refugee, but also being inspired by your father to be entrepreneurial and then, you also discovering was it like to venture into energy and become a founder yourself in clean energy. So, this such a nice, beautiful slide into it. The second one is I enjoyed voicing the cynic of the climate and having you kind of share in. I love the key phrases that you shared about “get smart, not getting even”. You shared about there’s opportunity, there’s a leapfrog, that it is actually much more rational to use clean energy today, especially for Southeast Asia, and that developed markets, although they have benefited from clean energy also had to go through all of teething problems that we get to bypass, so I think there’s a nice reminder about what the bull or the positive case for what climate change, but also clean energy and what every individual person can do. And thirdly, thank you so much for also sharing your personal founder journey as well about what it was like to create a hardware-centric deep tech company in the middle of a pandemic. And I think there’s such an amazing and inspiring story for so many people out there.
 

Tulika Raj: (38:50)
Thanks so much, Jeremy, for having me, it was an absolute pleasure to discuss with you, playing the different devil’s advocate on clean energy, really, it’s been an enjoyable last hour of discussion with you. Thank you so much for inviting me.