In the dynamic world of entrepreneurship, few stories are as compelling as the journey of Zafrir Yoeli, the founder of Enlight Renewable Energy. This company went public on both the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, reaching a peak valuation of $2.5 billion.
Today, Zafrir is venturing into the world of climate tech investments, leading the charge at Gravity Climate Fund. In this blog, we’ll delve into his fascinating transition from engineering to business, the success story of Enlight Renewable Energy, and the vision behind the Gravity Climate Fund.
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Engineering to Business: A Personal Evolution
Zafrir’s roots lie in a kibbutz near Israel’s northern border, where his upbringing fostered collaboration and teamwork. He grew up in a community dormitory with a bunch of other kids. In this social environment, there was no mention of capitalism or the economy.
While Zafrir gained a solid education, he admits to having zero understanding of how the economy truly works. He remembers how the trend was more toward law and engineering. For a time, he served at one of the IDF elite intelligence units, which led him to a technical profession.
Zafrir went on to study engineering at university but took a product management position at one of the communication companies in Israel. Later, he transitioned to sales and marketing in the tech sector when he joined a relatively small semiconductor company.
Zafrir started out as the VP of sales and got a close feel of the business. Later, he became the CEO and served for several years. His desire to understand how organizations operate, emphasizing cash flow, profit, and loss, drove the shift from being an engineer to delving into the business side.
This foundation would later play a crucial role in his entrepreneurial journey.
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Enlight Renewable Energy: A Vision for a Sustainable Future
In 2007-2008, Zafrir, alongside co-founder Gilad Yavetz, identified an opportunity in the renewable energy space. The duo founded In Enlight Renewable Energy, focusing on a unique business model – being a renewable energy developer and power producer.
The goal was to move beyond merely selling projects or equipment to becoming the owner and developer of renewable energy assets.
Enlight takes a comprehensive approach, from identifying suitable land plots to obtaining regulatory approvals, financing, construction, and eventually selling electricity from renewable sources.
Zafrir explains how the process starts with identifying the right pieces of land plots for solar panels, wind turbines, or energy storage systems on a utility-scale of tens of hundreds of Megawatts of power. Next, they work on getting the regulation approvals and permits needed to operate the facility.
The entire process requires an investment of time, energy, and know-how. It also needs finances and capital expenditure at the development and construction stages. This means that the company needs to be very well funded on the corporate and product levels.
After financing and constructing the facility through subcontractors, the company holds the solar farm or wind turbine farm asset and sells the electricity from this facility to different off-takers.
These users could be local utilities or the Googles and Microsofts of the world that want to buy green energy and electricity.
That’s how they support and advance the energy transition from fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases to fully renewable electricity that does not emit any greenhouse gases.
Despite operating in a competitive market without a clear technological edge, Enight’s success is attributed to an experienced and execution-oriented team.
Keys to Success: Focus, Expertise, and Strategic Team Building
What set In Enlight apart was its unrelenting focus on the business model. This, coupled with a strong executive team and expertise in corporate and project financing, created high barriers to entry for competitors.
Strategic team building also played a crucial role. The company attracted top talent, ensuring a competitive edge. Zafriri emphasizes the importance of a focused team, especially in a market where execution is paramount.
He and his co-founder also brought in Amit Paz, who joined as co-founder, to lead engineering and operations.
The Enlight team comprises top-notch talent with a very good execution track record. Building their company involved a lot of understanding and skills in different verticals and defining the technology they would deploy. It also needed a lot of financing since it was very capital-intensive.
Eventually, Zafrir and his co-founders established a cluster of projects and managed to bring financing for them. To execute that, they brought in the best financing team they could find, with a highly qualified CFO who has been with the company for 10 years or more.
Going Public: Accessing Capital for Growth
Enlight’s journey to becoming a publicly traded company involved strategic decisions around accessing capital. The move to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange provided crucial equity and debt, enabling the company’s rapid growth.
Over time, as the company expanded its footprint and pipeline in the US, a dual listing on Nasdaq became instrumental in accessing US markets and investors. The company reached a peak valuation of $2.5B, which is absolutely remarkable.
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A New Frontier: Gravity Climate Fund
In 2022, Zafrir decided to step down from his executive role at In Enlight to pursue his passion for combating climate change. This led to the creation of Gravity Climate Fund, an expert-led venture capital fund focusing on climate tech.
Alongside Dr. Bracha Halaf, former Chief Scientist of Israel’s Ministry of Energy, Zafrir seeks to leverage his experience to guide early-stage entrepreneurs in the climate tech space.
He saw a great opportunity to establish an investment platform for founders building the next generation of climate technologies.
In addition to funding, Zafrir assists players in the energy ecosystem with identifying their business models and structuring the executive teams in accordance with the business model. In this way, Gravity brings value to the founders by eventually boosting their success rates.
Future Vision: Nurturing Early-Stage Climate Tech Ventures
The Gravity Climate Fund recognizes the potential in early-stage climate tech ventures, where innovation is abundant but expertise is crucial. The fund aims to provide financial support and strategic guidance to entrepreneurs navigating the complex landscape of climate technology.
Conclusion: A Legacy of Innovation and Sustainability
Zafrir Yoeli’s journey from engineering to founding a publicly listed renewable energy company and now leading a climate tech-focused fund is a testament to the power of vision, execution, and adaptability.
As Gravity Climate Fund takes its first steps, it represents a commitment to nurturing the next generation of climate tech pioneers. With a legacy of success behind him, Yoeli continues to contribute to a more sustainable and innovative future.
Listen to the full podcast episode to know more, including:
- Zafrir Yoeli’s journey reflects a shift from engineering to entrepreneurship, driven by a desire to understand the business side of technology.
- Enlight Renewable Energy’s success stems from its unique business model, evolving from a renewable energy developer to a comprehensive power producer.
- The success of In Enlight is attributed to a focused and execution-oriented team, emphasizing the importance of team dynamics in a competitive market.
- Enlight prioritized building a strong executive team, attracting top talent, and creating high barriers to entry for competitors in the renewable energy sector.
- Going public on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and later on Nasdaq provided In Enlight with crucial access to capital, enabling rapid growth and expansion into new markets.
- Zafrir’s move to lead the Gravity Climate Fund underscores a commitment to combat climate change by supporting early-stage entrepreneurs in the climate tech space.
- Gravity Climate Fund aims not only to provide financial support but also strategic guidance, recognizing the potential in early-stage climate tech ventures and contributing to a more sustainable future.