Sally Paridis came to NYC in 1993 with her husband Steve. She has a background in law and philanthropy. While completing her Masters in Science and Sustainability Management at New York’s Columbia University, Sally developed the idea for her company CoClear.
Tell us about CoClear and what inspired you to start the business?
CoClear is web application that measures and traces a company’s Green House Gas (GHG) performance. We use fast life cycle analysis (LCA) to inform companies of their environmental and financial impact.
I was inspired to start my business after closely considering where the real market opportunity lay with GHG reduction. I believe companies will insist on controlling their own accounts for GHG’s in the same way they control their financial. Eventually, when carbon has to be publically reported in annual reports (“Integrated Reporting”), corporations will require an accurate, scientific and reliable carbon accounting system on the market. That is CoClear’s main value proposition.
What has been your ‘Ah Ha’ / ‘I’ve made it in the USA moment’
Despite the temporary politics of the moment, having the largest corporations in the world inquiring about our process is encouraging. I think my “Ah Ha” moment is waiting for me along the road.
What have been the hardest lessons in starting a business in New York and how does it differ to Australia?
The US provides a carefully nurtured process for starting a business. There are many academic, state and federal support mechanisms in place, especially in New York, to facilitate, encourage and mentor start-ups. By utilizing and participating in innovation competitions such as the Verizon Powerful Answers award in which CoClear placed in the top 10, being selected by Columbia University to participate in NYCRIN (New York City Innovation Node) programs, we have been guided and assisted at every step of our journey. Americans do this nurturing of businesses very, very well.
The Australian market for innovation programs is just starting to grow and friends in Australia tell me this market is a hot market right now.
Where have you been most successful in marketing your business?
Companies have to believe in the idea of GHG reduction before they contact us. We are not selling anything material to them. We rely on recommendations from our pilot clients, the expertise of our team, and our pioneering reports to set the tone. Once you have come in contact with one of those it usually triggers a genuine appetite to find out more. We’re a word of mouth business and the sharing of our reports by the most respected voices in the business is helping to build our brand.
Do you have any mentors, and how have people been with sharing information and their networks?
I have a highly accomplished and diverse advisory board that have all been generous to CoClear with their time. I have received legal advice from the outstanding Australian legal expert Christine Zorzi who also lives in New York. This has been an invaluable asset and her good judgment continues to inspire me to make sound decisions. I know our earliest decisions stand to become the foundations of something strong and resilient. Christine gives the best advice I can’t afford. I also thank my husband, Steve Paridis, for the same unflinching support and mentorship.
Academics, business contacts, banking friends and consultancies have all invited us in to lecture and present to them about fast LCA. It is a break-through technology and CoClear is a break-through way to present the information to businesses and the public. Our network grows every time we present.
What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business?
Write a business plan. Don’t get caught up in the hyped forecasting that early seed funders and ‘angel investors’ encourage businesses to write. They can create a sense of delusional hope in young entrepreneurs to lure them into loans and debt. Stay realistic, go slow, tread carefully and avoid crippling debt.
You have a wealth of experience in business – what have been the unique challenges in developing a consultancy the technology space?
Building a reputation as a Consultancy in a relatively new sector requires patience. Our customers are on a learning curve in the green house gas reduction sector as well and we receive an enormous amount of questions from them. Usually there are a number of departments who participate in choosing the direction of a sustainability initiative. We find it best to work with a champion within a corporation who is knowledgeable about life cycle analysis and the traceability that LCA provides into the supply chain. Enormous value can flow from this. Without that champion we are leading the blind.
Other than yourself, what piece of Australia have you put into your business?
My business partner, Erika Whillas. Erika is astounding. She has more intellectual capacity that most people I know. We both have an essentially Aussie sense of humor so we can be talking about a complex technology problem or supply chain scenario and for relief we’ll start throwing in a few slightly ribald Aussie jokes – it releases the mental tension immediately. Erika is self-deprecating, down to earth and intelligent – the best of Australian characteristics.
What is next for CoClear?
We have a tech development hackathon coming up with Columbia University in Spring. CoClear has created a data set based on the public disclosure to CDP of the life cycle assessments of 546 products spanning 108 companies across 26 countries and 29 GICS Industry Groups! We will explore the most effective data visualization, enable participating companies to interact with the data and compare across products, industries, and competitor. The goal of the hackathon will be an interactive visualization on a publicly available website. We believe that when companies can interact with their own publicly disclosed LCAs and see and compare them to other brands in their sector the sense of competition will increase. We’re also cultivating new clients all the time.
And what about big picture focus?
It is essential that we create the political will to develop regulation around GHG emission reduction – companies won’t act unless governments require them to do so. It’s the same as smoking, water pollution or any other inconvenient issue. We as humans seem to respond to a fine, a tax or penalty to create change. My hope is that we’ll eventually realize we need to manage our use of earth’s resources the same way we manage a global corporation. It just takes the will.
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