2023 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: PRONOE, INSEAD



Industry: Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR)

Founding Student Name(s): Nicolas Sdez, INSEAD MBA 23J

Brief Description of Solution: PRONOE is a France-based startup company working at the ocean-climate nexus. We restore the ocean’s natural capacity to permanently remove CO2 from the air, in a sustainable, scalable and asset-light manner. We develop and deploy automated water treatment systems that safely turn the liquid discharge of coastal industries into less acidic, more alkaline flows, within current regulations.

Funding Dollars: US$330,000 (3 months post-MBA)

What led you to launch this venture? I have had the chance to have my first entrepreneurial experience in building wind propulsion systems for seagoing ships. This led me to dive into climate topics, and realize how dire the situation is. Since April 2022 and the last IPCC report, it is clear that because of continuously delayed climate action, we will need carbon removal technologies. In just a few moths, in a move that’s unique historically, major companies in the private sector joined forces in setting up Advanced Market Commitments (eg. Frontier coalition) to scale such approaches – a clear demonstration of businesses acting as a force for good. Necessity, technology and market opportunity aligned for Carbon Dioxide Removal to take off.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? So far, we have been able to set up strong partnerships with equipment providers and coastal industry partners, while being recognized as a top supplier by premium buyers of CO2 removal certificates. We were thus able to prove the key assumptions we had when starting this venture.

What has been the most significant challenge you’ve faced in creating your company and how did you solve it?  When building a company, the most significant challenge is to quickly prove your key assumptions right or wrong. One of the them was the interest for coastal industries to host our systems, which required an integrative discussion on technical, regulatory, commercial, and contractual aspects with executive members of industrial companies. Leveraging our current extended network was key in fast-tracking those discussions.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? My INSEAD MBA helped me tremendously in setting up and operating this venture. It allowed me to take necessary time to set and articulate the mission and vision of the venture, and lay ground for the appropriate company culture and organizational design best supporting it. It also provided me with a solid academic background upon which to build a carefully planned business plan, while helping me better realize the tremendous value of diverse connections and opportunity seizing while building an innovative business.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? I can’t think of a single entrepreneurial figure who is the sole source of inspiration. I have always been fascinated by the impact one can have and amazed by people able to maintain a beginner’s mindset, showing openness, eagerness and a lack of preconceptions, such values, among others, that I try to live by.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? Some of the most valuable classes for me were Organisational Behavior classes, from which I recall how to best motivate individuals. At the end of the day, the single biggest advantages of startups have over corporate is the ability to move fast through rapid decision-taking and unleash individuals’ full potential to contribute to a clear, compelling mission.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Pierre Hillion, an INSEAD Finance Professor has made a significant contribution to my plans.  I had the chance to take his Project Finance elective course, which helped me a lot in anticipating the structuring of the commercial contracts and ownership structure of Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs). Such approaches, when diligently used, can alleviate a significant part of the initial CAPEX requirements traditionally required to deploy hardware-based innovation, hence accelerating their deployment.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? The local ecosystem in Paris is a European hub for startup building, and a global hub for DeepTech and ClimateTech. Beyond meaningful and highly relevant connections and access to global talent, this local ecosystem has helped us on every aspect from legal and administrative requirements, to finding desks and laboratory spaces, to building business partnerships and accessing grant financing.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? The long-term goals for PRONOE are to meaningfully contribute to climate action and Net Zero goals, by bringing an asset-light, low-cost CO2 removal solutions fitting most geographies – and scale them at multi-megaton scale by 2050; and to locally mitigate ocean acidification – a largely unaddressed issue which threatens to be the 7th of 9 planetary boundaries to be crossed.


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