Dawn Lippert is the CEO of Elemental Excelerator (EEx) and Director of Innovation and Community at Emerson Elemental.
Lippert founded EEx here in Hawaiʻi back in 2012, with the hope and vision to help other startups change the world, one community at a time. Under Lippert’s leadership, the program helps as many as 15 companies every year by funding each company up to $1 million, with the goal of transforming systems that affect people’s lives, such as energy, water, and agriculture.
Lippert also serves as the chair of the Hawaiʻi Clean Energy Initiative Advisory Board, a board of key energy decision makers who ensure progress is being made toward Hawaiʻi’s goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045.
The Yale alumna has worked on energy and environmental projects in communities around the world, including Africa, India, and Latin America. Her passion and dedication to improving the lives of others have earned her well-deserved awards and recognition. Lippert received the 2015 C3E Award from the Clean Energy Ministerial and was selected as an Omidyar Fellow by the Hawaiʻi Leadership Forum.
Looking back at your experience as a Pacific Century Fellow, what are some of the fond memories that stand out?
One class took an unofficial neighbor island visit to the Big Island, where we got to go inside the telescope and camp out in a large gathering hall on Mauna Kea. All of us from Oʻahu weren’t quite prepared for the 50-degree lows at night, so we came up with some creative ways to make fires and stave off the cold!
“It’s easy to get busy in our own lives and circles, when there is so much to learn from others addressing similar challenges in other verticals. Pacific Century Fellows is an opportunity to get out of your bubble.”
Another memory that stands out is visiting a couple of the facilities that handle our waste: waste to energy, landfill, and wastewater. As someone who works primarily with clean energy and transportation startups, I actually had little experience with waste and where it goes. It inspired us to invest more in “circular economy” companies, who use waste to create higher value products, and companies in the recycling space. We all went to our favorite gathering spot, Cafe Duck Butt, afterward to regroup.
What value did the Pacific Century Fellows program provide you?
The mission of Elemental Excelerator is to help startups change the world, one community at a time. We focus on systems that impact people’s lives: water, agriculture, energy, and transportation. In order to change these systems-level challenges—and to turn their solutions into real economic opportunity for the state—we have to work across every other island system, like housing, tourism, and education. Pacific Century Fellows helped illustrate how interconnected we all are, and deepened my relationships with people who are designing and building out island systems.
How have the relationships you made in the PCF program helped you in your career?
The people I met through PCF are still close friends and trusted professional advisors. In particular, my PCF friends have become neighbor island ʻohana for me and my husband. I also started a non-profit (WiRE: Women in Renewable Energy) with help from two of my PCF classmates.
Why is the program beneficial for those who want to better their communities?
It’s easy to get busy in our own lives and circles, when there is so much to learn from others addressing similar challenges in other verticals. PCF is an opportunity to get out of your bubble.
Getting out of your bubble is also important for island resilience. Data shows that communities and neighborhoods with strong community interconnectedness and social capital social, such as New Orleans, bounce back faster from natural disasters or economic disturbances than those with weaker ties.
What is your favorite quote?
“What is more dangerous, the pirate or staying tied to the dock? We said it’s being tied to the dock.” - Nainoa Thompson, Master Navigator