Welcoming Sean Strong as our new Head of Builders!

We are excited to share our newest addition to the Pear family, Sean Strong! Sean was the CEO and Co-founder of Grove XR, a Pear portfolio company, and studied artificial intelligence at Stanford. A Pear Garage alum, Sean is the perfect fit to be our Head of Builders, working with student and post-graduate technical founders at the earliest stages.

At Pear, we pride ourselves on supporting early stage founders across all fields – engineering, marketing, recruiting, and more. We understand the unique importance of investing in student founders at the beginning of their bright careers, and Sean joins us to do just that.

Sean has been deeply immersed in the Bay Area startup ecosystem since freshman year, even taking time off from college at one point to start his own. He first met the Pear team as a member of Pear Garage during his senior year, and that relationship blossomed when Sean’s VR management startup GroveXR became a Pear portfolio company. 

Pear has been there for every stage of my startup journey, first as a student and later as founder.  Mar and the rest of the team were hands-on and supportive through the early times, fun times, and most importantly hard times.

The essence of what we do at Pear is help people pursue their dreams. We aren’t just investing in companies, we want to build programs and communities that launch founders to the next level. To do this, we need hands-on, people-first team members like Sean who understand the ins and outs of being a founder.

Beyond working hand in hand with our founders, Sean will also be leading our efforts to refine and build out our programs to support students and early technical founders through Pear Dorm and beyond as our Head of Builders. His efforts will span Pear Garage, recent grad initiatives, and more to expand our partnerships with future builders, founders, and investors.  

Interested in connecting with Sean? Email him at sean@pear.vc or follow him on Twitter at @sean_t_strong.

Earth Day spotlight: interview with David Bromberg, the trailblazing Climate Tech founder behind Pearl Street Technologies

In celebration of Earth Day, we’re excited to spotlight a company changing the game when it comes to clean energy and moving the needle on scalable sustainability: Pearl Street Technologies. Pearl Street is a Pear VC-backed company that is making big waves in the clean energy space. Their mission is to accelerate the decarbonization of the grid, addressing the problem from two angles: by delivering software automation solutions to grid operators for timeline optimization, and in providing a risk assessment platform to help project developers successfully deploy and manage more projects. To date, grid operators have processed more than 60 GW of renewable energy and storage projects (equivalent to almost 200 million solar panels!) across more than a dozen states using Pearl Street’s software, reducing months of engineering effort to a matter of hours.

In this Q&A with David, Co-founder of Pearl Street Technologies, we explore their unique approach to solving some of the biggest challenges facing the clean energy industry today.

Can you tell us more about interconnection bottlenecks that are getting in the way of clean energy being deployed in a scalable way?

Before I do, it’s helpful to first define the term: “interconnection” is shorthand for the engineering study process to evaluate the potential impacts of one or more energy generation projects on the electric grid. Grid operators or utilities run these studies to make sure the power grid is capable of handling the proposed amount of generated power, and if not, to identify what upgrades to the grid are needed to handle that power without compromising reliability. The costs to pay for these upgrades are then returned to the developers of these potential projects, who decide if they want to move forward in the process (i.e., agree to pay those costs to upgrade the grid) or withdraw their project (i.e., decline to pay those costs, and therefore lose their ability to interconnect to the grid). Generally speaking, the interconnection process ends with a signed “generator interconnection agreement,” or GIA, between the project developer and the companies that own and operate the grid where the project is located.

The amount of time it takes to complete all the phases of an interconnection study is measured in years in most parts of the United States. The number of renewable energy projects submitted for interconnection has exploded over the last few years, and these two factors together have led to “interconnection bottlenecks.” There are a lot of projects to study, the studies take a long time, and as a result, we have gridlock. No pun intended.

How is Pearl Street working to accelerate this process?

Our software automates some of the more time consuming aspects of running interconnection studies, particularly around creating the simulation models on which the studies are run. These models are just snapshots of what the grid would “look like” with the new projects added, built from similar models of what the grid would look like without those projects (i.e., the default plan). But they’re not trivial to create – interconnection studies often involve modeling dozens or even hundreds of proposed projects, which represents a very big change over that default plan. Without getting into the weeds of the math, what our software does is automate the creation of these study models by adjusting existing grid facilities (like older fossil fuel plants) and at times the placement of new facilities required to support the new projects without causing a blackout. Through our software, weeks or months of engineering effort is reduced to minutes. So the bedrock of these studies gets built much faster in a repeatable, automated way.

Through our software, weeks or months of engineering effort is reduced to minutes.

Your new product focuses on helping developers better deal with risk and uncertainty in deploying renewable energy on the grid. Can you share some examples of how this product will help your customers overcome these obstacles?

Interconnection being a years-long process and the explosion in proposed renewable energy projects has become a huge driver of uncertainty for developers. They’re constantly trying to answer: What will my interconnection cost be when the study is finally done? What happens if a nearby project reduces its size? What happens if a project I was counting on to pay for a grid upgrade withdraws? What if it doesn’t? There are a ton of variables, and today, no scalable way to assess their impacts to inform decisions on projects. But with the same technology we’ve developed for grid operators to quickly build simulation models, we’ve created a platform to provide developers the ability to model and analyze all of the scenarios they care about and finally get a comprehensive sense of their “interconnection risk.” With our interconnection intelligence platform, they can answer the questions above and not just choose better locations for projects, but make better decisions along the way to improve the odds of signing a GIA. Interconnection will still be a tough hurdle, but we’ll be offering the first real solution to help grapple with the massive uncertainties.

We hear a lot about the problems getting in the way, but rarely the solution, so that is very cool. What sets Pearl Street Technologies apart from other companies working in the clean energy space, and what do you see as your unique value proposition?

We have an incredible team behind what we do. We bring together experts in simulation, optimization, software engineering, renewable energy project development, grid planning, and just all around good, motivated people to build technology with impact. We have folks who have developed massive solar and wind projects, and we have folks who have built industry-leading simulation software for nanoscale computer chips. We’re very collaborative and communicative as a company, and as a result we don’t shoehorn ourselves into one way of thinking – there is always an outsider perspective on a problem, and it’s the fusion of ideas from different backgrounds that enable everything we do. I could go on and on about our specific value propositions to different interconnection stakeholders, but at the root of it all is that our customers recognize us as an agile team with a deep understanding of today’s processes without being constrained by yesterday’s ways of thinking.

How do you envision your products contributing to the broader goal of decarbonizing the US energy sector, and what impact do you hope to have in this regard?

The Energy Information Administration estimates that electricity generation in the United States is responsible for 1.5 gigatons of annual carbon dioxide emissions – that’s about a quarter of the country’s total annual emissions. More electrification is coming – electric vehicles for cars and trucks, heat pumps, data centers – and we want it all to be powered reliably by renewable energy sources. When we talk about accelerating interconnection studies or helping developers navigate the interconnection process successfully, at the end of the day we mean one thing: more renewable energy coming online faster and reliably. To fully decarbonize, we need everything from policy changes to adoption of new technologies to help manage a nation-sprawling machine. But we hope to play a key role in unlocking the flow of clean energy onto the grid.

We hope to play a key role in unlocking the flow of clean energy onto the grid.

As a founder, can you speak to any personal challenges or lessons learned along the way in building Pearl Street Technologies?

Nobody who has met me would ever describe me as an optimist, but it’s not possible to start a company in a notoriously difficult market without at least being somewhat of a dreamer. My biggest challenge since starting Pearl Street has been balancing idealism with pragmatism – I want to see radical change to rapidly decarbonize the grid, but I understand the difficulties involved. Developing a deep understanding of all of the stakeholders in our corner of the electricity industry has been critical to growing Pearl Street, and I’ve found that the more we’ve learned, the better we’ve been able to find those opportunities to sneak some of our idealism into the mainstream.

Pearl Street Technologies is a company taking big strides when it comes to accelerating the deployment of renewable energy on the grid. By providing innovative solutions that reduce interconnection bottlenecks and help developers better manage risk and uncertainty, they’re making it easier than ever before for clean energy projects to get online quickly and efficiently. Pearl Street is poised to become synonymous with interconnections of renewables – a crucial gating issue in scaling up clean energy across markets nationwide. We’re excited to see what’s next for this innovative company, and encourage readers to check out their website and Knowledge Center for more information.

Welcoming Jo Zhu, Head of PearX

We’re excited to announce that Jo Zhu has joined Pear to lead PearX operations and invest on the consumer side! With a product background at Uber, Cameo, and DoorDash and investing experience at a16z, we are thrilled to have Jo on the team. 

Jo embodies all that we are at Pear: passionate operator, people-first investor, and jack of all trades. She is a skilled and seasoned product leader— her resume includes launching the new verticals product team at DoorDash, where she expanded the delivery app into “non-food” categories (grocery, convenience, and retail), growth and recipient experience at Cameo, and driver pricing and incentives at Uber. Most recently, Jo invested at the intersection of consumer and crypto at a16z. 

Jo first met the Pear team as a part of the W20 YCombinator batch, then joined us as a Pear Fellow while getting her joint MBA and M. Ed at Stanford. She was hooked on the Pear mentality. 

“A lot of people care about what the TAM is for any particular industry or problem. For me, if there is strong founder market fit, they will create a new market.”

As an early-stage firm, we have to be people focused. The people build the product, and knowing how to help the people is what defines great early-stage investing.

“What is the core problem you’re solving, and what are the features that you’re going to build to solve that? Together, we can craft a brand new space.”

As the Head of PearX, Jo will be in the trenches with founders from day one— riffing on GTM strategies, synthesizing key user problems, isolating for key metrics, and advising on growth, process, hiring, and fundraising. Her goal is to help founders avoid making mistakes she has learned the hard way, and to share practical and operational advice to build a business that is meaningful and enduring over time.

As an investor, Jo strives to open doors and dismantle structural inequities to make room at the table for diverse and underrepresented founders. She invests in platforms that bring convenience, collaboration, and community to everyday life that bridge the digital and the physical world.
Interested in connecting with Jo? Reach out at jo@pear.vc or on Twitter @joandthezhus.