WBGC Partner Highlight and VertueLab logos

VertueLab Awarded Green Cities Navigator Contract and Is Hiring

VertueLab, a local nonprofit, has been awarded the Green Cities Navigator contract, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act to help Portland’s Green Cities businesses navigate new federal and state programs aimed at mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change.

Jo Brickman - VertueLab

Jo Brinkman | Deputy Director and Director of Impact Strategy at VertueLab

VertueLab won the contract in a competitive Request for Proposals process which Prosper Portland conducted in December 2021.  The Green Cities Navigator work will include scanning federal funding opportunities scanning for companies, assistance with research and development and federal grant writing, partnership with Oregon Government Contract Assistance Program (GCAP) to assist minority contractors bidding on public projects, and a partnership with Professional Business Development Group (PBDG) to help build capacity for minority contractors to expand their services into more green building and green infrastructure opportunities. 

Vertuelab is currently recruiting to expand its team with a new role, Community Engagement Manager, which  will be essential for the success of this program. Please spread the word about this opportunity. Candidates can go here to learn more and apply. 

Learn more about VertueLab and how the Green Cities Navigator fits in with the organization’s long-term goals in an interview with Jo Brickman, Deputy Director and Director of Impact Strategy at VertueLab.

What does VertueLab do and what role does it play in the Green Cities ecosystem?

VertueLab is a nonprofit tackling the climate crisis while also helping to create shared economic prosperity in our region. We do this by providing funding and holistic support to early-stage climate tech entrepreneurs so that they can have an impact at scale. Our core programs include a Climate Impact Fund, which invests capital into seed/pre-seed stage companies at a time when most institutional investors can’t stomach the technology risk. These catalytic investments ignite new opportunities for companies that hadn’t existed before. We also offer a whole suite of programs designed to meet the specific needs of cleantech companies right where they are. We serve early-stage green cities companies through a variety of programs including our Cascadia CleanTech Accelerator, Changing Tides Internship program, Federal Funding Assistance, and Entrepreneurs-In-Residence. We also connect early-stage companies with corporate strategic partners and later-stage investors, which is another way we connect with and across the local ecosystem. 

Can you tell us about the new strategic direction for Vertuelab? How does the Green Cities Navigator Contract help you to realize your Strategic Plan goals and expand your work?

We are really excited to get started on the strategic plan that was approved by our Board of Directors at the end of 2021. At the heart of it, we’re going to continue to do all of the things we’ve built a track record of doing over the last dozen years – but we’re going to build on those successes by reaching entrepreneurs and communities that we’ve not served with as much intention in the past. We believe that the PNW can be an innovation capital for equitable climate solutions, and that we can channel the massive influx of billions in spending on climate, economic recovery, and racial justice into solutions that tackle all three. As we lean into this new strategic plan, VertueLab will address both the causes and the impact of climate change in the Pacific Northwest. We will demonstrate how innovative capital and services provided to emerging and/or underserved innovators and climate solutions adopters will not only address the climate crisis, but also capture a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create lasting economic opportunity in the region. Putting equity at the center in this way is mission-critical for us.

This contract with Prosper Portland to provide technical assistance to green cities companies is allowing us to hire to fill a new role essential to our strategy – our Community Engagement Manager. I will partner with this manager to build out our community-focused programs. They will continue to develop and maintain relationships with community-based organizations and assess the unmet need for technical assistance. They will identify climate action project priorities as they emerge from partners and identify entrepreneurs interested in developing enterprises delivering climate solutions in frontline communities. They’ll partner with the community to assist in the collaborative pursuit of project funding, in coordination with our Federal Funding Assistance leader, Leon Wolf, and our program delivery partners, GCAP (Government Contract Assistance Program) and PBDG (Professional Business Development Group).

What is special about the Greater Portland Green Cities ecosystem and why is it a special place for Green Cities companies to grow?

What stands out to me, having worked with folks in ecosystems across the country, is the degree of collaboration that exists here. I’ve heard it said that we’ve developed this collaborative spirit out of necessity given the relatively few major industry players (and the resources they can bring) compared to other cities of similar size. Whatever the reason, we have a default setting for collaborating and for recognizing our interconnectedness and interdependence.

Green cities companies have a special opportunity here because of the culture and politics of sustainability. Our government, research institutions, private sector, and individual customers in the city collectively prioritize sustainability. Prosper Portland and Business Oregon have made long-standing investments in this sector. Our region’s policies (from city-level to state-level) support making sustainable choices, which makes a terrific local market for incubation. 

What companies or initiatives are you excited about right now?

I’ve gotten a whole new perspective on the opportunities emerging in our region through the process of bringing together a coalition of partners to jointly pursue federal funding for this cluster. We have a few different collaborations emerging out of the relationships built during that effort, and I hope to be able to share more about that soon. The inspiring part was to see the engagement and initiatives from multiple culturally specific organizations, including chambers of commerce. It was very exciting to see that evidence at the same time as we were ratifying our move in the direction of partnering more intentionally with community.