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Inspirational Female Founder Spotlight: Johanna Broell

Johanna Broell, an Executive MBA graduate of Mannheim Business School, is co-founder and CEO of Carbonsate, on a mission to fix the carbon cycle. They intend to capture CO2 from the atmosphere the same way nature does – through photosynthesis and biomass storage. By sequestering waste wood in the ground, they sell carbon dioxide removal credits to companies to offset their residual emissions.

Can you tell us a little about your background and company?

I’m Johanna, the co-founder and CEO of Carbonsate, a Berlin-based startup that’s tackling global warming through a revolutionary approach to carbon removal.

My background is in finance and procurement, where I spent nearly two decades in the corporate world. There, I honed my leadership skills and gained a deep understanding of business operations. But I always felt a pull towards innovation and sustainability, and I knew I wanted to use my skills to make a positive impact.

That’s what led me to co-found Carbonsate. We’re the first European company to use biomass storage for carbon removal, mimicking the natural process that created coal millions of years ago. This method is not only highly efficient, but also permanent, scalable, and ready for deployment.

I’m incredibly passionate about Carbonsate’s mission to significantly reduce CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere and combat global warming. It’s a challenging but necessary endeavor, and I’m driven by the potential to make a real difference. We’re developing cutting-edge hardware and software technology to enable large-scale, permanent carbon removal through biomass storage. We believe this technology has the potential to play a crucial role in achieving net zero.

How did the idea come to you for your company?

The idea to found a climate startup originated from a confluence of personal reflection and purpose-driven ambition. After graduating with my Executive MBA, I took a step back to consider my next move. While my leadership role in a multinational pharmaceutical company was interesting, I craved a broader, more impactful role that aligned with my values. This introspection led me to two key questions:

What truly excites me? I discovered that I thrive on thinking holistically and building something from the ground up, a process that brings me immense flow and satisfaction.
What matters most to me? The answer was clear: I wanted to make a significant contribution to solving global challenges, particularly climate change. These two realizations converged perfectly, so I embarked on a journey to explore potential solutions. This led me to join an incubator program in Berlin, where I had the serendipitous opportunity to meet my co-founder, Fabian, an entrepreneur by nature.

Fabian, with his academic research on carbon removal, brought the crucial piece to the puzzle. He proposed an ingenious idea: harnessing a natural process and accelerating it through technology to create a permanent and scalable carbon removal method. I was immediately convinced by Fabian’s vision, and together we founded Carbonsate to bring this groundbreaking concept to life.

How did you achieve awareness?

When we started out, the concept of carbon removal by biomass storage was widely unknown, even among climate-interested audiences. So, building awareness was crucial.

We started building a strong social media presence on LinkedIn. We use this platform to share our latest developments, engage in discussions, and explain the science behind our technology. We also share stories about our team, our mission, and the positive impact our technology could have on the planet. This helps us connect with people on an emotional level and build a community of supporters.

Besides social media, we engage with industry leaders, NGOs, and policymakers at events, trade fairs, and forums to raise awareness and build partnerships. Also, the carbon removal community in Berlin has been growing, and we recently hosted a meetup to connect and share experiences among other founders in this space.

How have you been able to gain funding and grow?

Carbonsate is still in its early stages, and we’re currently bootstrapped. This has allowed us to maintain complete control and focus on building a solid foundation for future growth. Our business model is designed for early profitability, which will be beneficial in attracting future investment.

We’re encouraged by the continued strong interest in climate solutions, even amidst the broader economic challenges. This growing recognition of the business opportunity presented by climate change is attracting not only specialized climate VCs but also increasingly general VCs who recognize the long-term potential of sustainable technologies. This trend gives us great confidence that, when the time is right, we can raise the investment needed to accelerate our growth.

What do you consider your key successes?

While Carbonsate is still in its early stages, I’m proud of several key achievements.

Firstly, we’ve been able to generate significant interest, resulting in a well-filled pipeline of opportunities. This strong engagement from diverse potential partners validates the importance of our mission and the potential of our technology.

Secondly, we’ve played a crucial role in raising awareness about carbon removal through biomass storage. This was a relatively unknown concept, and we’ve effectively spread the word, contributing to a broader understanding of this promising approach to tackling climate change.

Finally, our first project successfully demonstrated our technology’s viability. This initial proof of concept is a major milestone, paving the way for further development and large-scale deployment. It demonstrates the technical feasibility and potential impact of our solution.

What were/are challenges you have faced and how have you overcome these?

As a pioneer in an emerging and complex field like carbon removal, I’ve definitely faced challenges in gaining widespread understanding and acceptance. Initial reactions often reflected an unrealistic expectation that fighting climate change should come at no cost or trade-offs. This expectation of a “flawless solution” mentality sometimes left me frustrated, as I knew humankind couldn’t afford to wait for a silver bullet.

I’ve learned to overcome this challenge by making my narrative more flexible and adaptable. I can now explain our approach from multiple angles, tailoring it to different audiences and addressing their specific concerns. While our solution isn’t as readily grasped as some consumer products, I realized clear and multifaceted communication was key.

As a result, I’m seeing a shift in perception. While I can’t convince everyone, I see increasing success in building trust. Ultimately, facing these challenges hasn’t deterred me. I remain driven by the conviction that this work is essential, and I’m committed to continuing to connect with others and build momentum, even if it takes time and adaptation.

What are your plans now and for the future?

At Carbonsate, we’re driven by a clear vision: to be a leading force in combating climate change through innovative carbon removal technologies. To achieve this, our immediate focus lies in three key areas:

  1. Advancing our technology through a commercial pilot project. Compared to our proof of concept last year, this larger pilot will allow us to validate our solution on a larger scale, gather more data, and refine our approach for large-scale deployment.
  2. Continuous learning and research. We’re committed to staying at the forefront of carbon removal research and development. This involves actively collaborating with experts, conducting ongoing research, and exploring new avenues to improve our technology and expand its potential impact.
  3. Growing our company and team. We recognize the need to grow strategically. This involves expanding our team with talented individuals who share our passion and expertise and building a strong organizational structure to support our goals.

This journey is ambitious, but we’re fueled by a strong sense of purpose and commitment to making a difference.

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?

For anyone considering an entrepreneurial journey, I’d offer three pieces of advice:

  1. Don’t wait for the ‘perfect moment’: It’s a common misconception that there’s an ideal time to launch your own venture. In reality, every moment has its challenges and opportunities. The most important factor is your personal conviction and readiness. If you have a compelling idea, a strong work ethic, and a willingness to learn and adapt, don’t be afraid to take the leap.
  2. Embrace imperfection: Starting any venture requires embracing the fact that you won’t have all the answers right away. You’ll make mistakes, face setbacks, and continuously learn as you go. The key is to approach these challenges with a growth mindset, constantly seeking feedback and refining your approach. Don’t let the fear of imperfection hold you back.
  3. Cultivate ‘strategic naiveté’: While being realistic about the challenges ahead, allow yourself to believe in the possibility of success. This doesn’t mean being ignorant, but rather maintaining a determined optimism that fuels your drive and resilience. This belief, coupled with hard work and strategic planning, is a powerful force in overcoming obstacles and achieving your goals.

Do you have any top tips for entrepreneurial success?

Show up every day and keep going even when it is tough. Be a learning machine: Question assumptions, adapt constantly, and embrace feedback. Build your support system: Seek advice and prioritize your mental well-being.

Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?

I draw inspiration from various people who embody perseverance and strive for seemingly impossible goals. From scientists battling climate change to activists fighting for social justice, their dedication and impact fuel my own drive to leave a positive mark.

What are your favourite inspirational or motivational quotes?

“If you don’t look back at yourself and think, ‘Wow, how stupid I was a year ago,’ then you must not have learned much in the last year.”
― Adam M. Grant, Think Again

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”
Nelson Mandela

What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and website links so our readers can connect with you?

The best way to reach me is via LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/johanna-broell/
To follow Carbonsate: https://www.linkedin.com/company/carbonsate/