Feb 20, 2024

Adeel Abid: The Eco-Innovator's Quest for a Sustainable Future

The art of sustainable venture building

Adeel Abid: The Eco-Innovator's Quest for a Sustainable Future

Interview multiple candidates

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Search for the right experience

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Ask for past work examples & results

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Vet candidates & ask for past references before hiring

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Once you hire them, give them access for all tools & resources for success

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Adeel Abid is a testament to turning dreams into tangible realities. Born and raised in the bustling city of Islamabad, Pakistan, Adeel's journey from a curious student to a visionary venture builder is a narrative across continents, cultures, and corporate philosophies.

Adeel's early life in Islamabad laid the foundation for a career that would later traverse the globe. His academic pursuits took him from there to Canada, where he dove into the realms of Strategy and Management, not just as fields of study but as lenses to view the potential impacts on the world.

Adeel is inspired in no small part by his mother, an art teacher, designer florist, and morning show host. Her legacy, Floristan—an online marketplace for specialty bouquets—though short-lived due to her battle with cancer, symbolizes the blend of creativity, entrepreneurship, and personal commitment that Adeel embodies.

The narrative of Adeel's venture into the corporate world is no less compelling. From assisting a professor in a boutique Product Development consulting firm, which was soon acquired by Bain, to pioneering venture building initiatives within Suncor Energy's Energy Transition Innovation Hub, and transforming Nesma's JV and M&A division into a beacon of corporate innovation, Adeel's journey is marked by a series of bold moves and strategic insights. His experiences across different cultures and industries have honed his ability to identify and nurture ventures that not only promise financial returns but also drive sustainable development.

Living in Bahrain with his wife, Nermeen, a self-taught painter, and their two sons, Adeel's life is a tapestry of personal and professional endeavors that span continents. His work with Roots Ventures, Saudi Arabia's first sustainability-focused Venture Builder, and the launch of NextBillionX, aimed at addressing climate challenges through innovative partnerships, underscore his commitment to leveraging business acumen for environmental stewardship.

What sets Adeel apart is not just his track record of successful ventures but his holistic approach to venture building. It's a methodology that incorporates self-discovery, trust, credibility, and a keen sense of the gaps within corporate structures that can be bridged with innovative solutions. His guiding principle in life and work—to embrace continuous learning and growth—reflects a mindset that is both reflective and forward-looking.

Adeel Abid's story is more than a narrative of personal achievements; it's a beacon for aspiring entrepreneurs and corporate innovators alike. It's a reminder that in the labyrinth of global challenges, there are paths that lead to solutions, crafted by individuals who dare to dream and have the resolve to turn those dreams into reality. As we delve into the nuances of Adeel's journey, we find a blend of resilience, innovation, and a relentless pursuit of sustainability that promises not just a better future for businesses, but for the planet itself.

What, in your opinion, are the key elements that make a successful corporate venture studio, especially considering your involvement in co-creating and scaling three of them?

Self discovery: You first need to identify your core competencies and expertise where you strongly believe you can offer value to your corporate partners. You need to identify what they are not doing (or not doing the right way). You cannot offer them everything. You also cannot do everything on your own, so you need to build a core team of experts and ring-fence your studio offering.

Trust & credibility: It is really important to build a level of trust and credibility with corporates early on. Your personal brand, past experience and work ethic reflects a lot of that and helps to open doors with corporates.

Relationships & stakeholder buy-ins: Building close relations with the senior leadership within a corporate is really important (preferably C-level). You have to be out there at every possible networking event, meeting C-level decision makers to get to know them better and then secure a personal facetime with them.

Gap analysis backed by data as your golden source of truth: Once you’re in, your team needs to spend more time with the corporates to deep-dive into their innovation and growth journey, do a gap analysis and identify their and their customer's pain-points. Map those gaps with the solutions that you are offering. Capture as much information, interview as many stakeholders and build a data warehouse. Use the data as your single source of truth to further develop your solutions.

Securing mandates and stakeholder buy-ins: Once you’ve carved-out your data-backed solution, you should go back to the senior corporate leadership to secure the off-take agreements, lock-in stakeholder buy-ins from the end-user of your solution and prepare for next steps.

What motivated the launch of NextBillionX, and how does it differentiate itself in addressing climate challenges in the MENAP region?

I have spent about 15 years building products, solutions, ventures and venture studios (generating over $2B in value) for Corporates, without having my own equity ownership in any of those businesses. In 2022 I came to a decisive point in my career where I thought that if I could do it for others, I could do it for myself.

The motivation behind launching NextBillionX was that there are an endless number of climate related problems across the globe that need to be solved at massive scale and speed - which I believe can only be achieved through Corporate Partnerships, Grants, Philanthropy or Debt (70% is currently financed through debt). The world needs to spend $4.5 trillion annually to be able to meet UN-SDG targets and needs to remove hundreds of billions of tons of carbon from the environment to achieve NetZero by 2050. This will require the world to have a paradigm shift in how we eat, drink and live (and breathe).

I strongly believe that climate action challenges in Pakistan can be solved working hand-in-hand with local and regional corporate partners. Pakistan has quite aggressive 2030 NDC targets (the Nationally Determined Contribution committed to the UNFCCC) that require over $40B in investment. There is no way banks, non-profits or VCs can fill this climate finance gap. We need to unlock corporate finance to co-build sustainable carbon negative products and solutions originating from Pakistan which can be exported to MENA markets.

How do you see the role of sustainable products originating from the Global South in addressing the climate challenges in the Middle Eastern markets?

The majority of the world’s natural carbon sinks are located in the Global South, that can sequester carbon for thousands of years. You can make so many sustainable products and solutions from sequestered carbon, such as carbon negative plastics, concrete, biochar, and so on. The Middle East on the other hand is a demand-driven market where everything, other than carbon (in the form of fossil fuel), needs to be imported. If we can bridge this gap, we can solve some many climate challenges not just in the Middle East but majorly in Pakistan. It’s like making carbon from thin air, and then exporting it to the Middle East in the form of sustainable products!

What strategies do you employ to build and maintain strong relationships with key stakeholders throughout the venture lifecycle?

Any personal relationship is built on empathy, trust and credibility and the same goes for corporate relations. Throughout the venture building lifecycle, one must maintain the level of trust with their partners and co-builders (the same level that you established on day one) and be empathetic towards all your stakeholders (especially the ones who are less informed about the core activities of the venture). The information should flow freely and in a transparent manner so that no one feels left out.

With the rapidly changing landscape of technology and sustainability, what trends do you foresee shaping the future of corporate venture building, especially in the MENAP region?

Considering the speed and scale at which clean-tech solutions need to be deployed to meet the global 2050 net-zero targets, venture building through corporate partnerships will play a key role in unlocking the required capital to build and roll out the next-gen climate action solutions. Energy transition, energy storage, water management, waste incineration… all of these are R&D and Capex intensive—and the MENAP region is far behind in all this. Many of the solutions in this domain are being adopted from mature markets on a joint venture basis. What will really shape the future of this region will be the adoption of carbon markets, circular products, regenerative tourism, and so on, targeted towards Gen-Z (as they are the most carbon-conscious generation).

How does NextBillionX plan to adapt to emerging trends and continue to address the region's most urgent climate challenges?

We are looking at carbon markets as an emerging trend in the MENAP region. Although there is a lot of backlash on the credibility of carbon credits currently in voluntary markets, we believe that carbon credits will play a major role in the next 5 years to address the climate challenges in hard-to-abate sectors (mostly air travel and tourism). A lot of corporates will need to off-set their emissions to achieve ambitious national and regional targets. We plan to actively work with global carbon standards, project developers, regulators (the government), off-setters and other key stakeholders to build a credible carbon market emerging out of Pakistan.

What's your one guiding principle in both life and work?

My guiding principle in both life and work is to embrace continuous learning and growth. I believe that every experience offers an opportunity to gain insights, acquire new skills, and evolve as an individual. This encourages me to approach life with curiosity, an open mind, and a willingness to adapt. Professionally, it motivates me to seek out challenges, learn from setbacks, and stay proactive in acquiring knowledge and skills relevant to my work.

Image courtesy of Adeel Abid

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