Sponsored content: The Nature Conservancy’s Sherri Hammons on how the Techstars Sustainability Accelerator is working to address global sustainability issues

We need a little disruption in the conservation world. And we can learn a lot from the tech industry about how to do that. The startup mentality offers a model for how to change the way we approach conservation so we are able to scale our solutions at a much faster pace.

Consider: the world’s population is expected to grow to 10 billion by 2050, and recent reports show the world has just 10 years to make the significant changes required to put us on a more sustainable path.

Business as usual won’t lead to a sustainable future, but neither will our usual solutions. We need to get bigger, faster and smarter with our conservation efforts.

The conservation world can learn a lot from the tech sector about experimenting, innovating, and scaling at a rapid pace

In fact, the conservation world can learn a lot from the tech sector about experimenting, innovating, and scaling at a rapid pace. Tech companies move quickly and take risks, learning from their mistakes and iterating until they find a marketable solution. And there is certainly a market for sustainable solutions.

This is the motivation behind the Techstars Sustainability Accelerator. In partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Techstars works with for-profit entrepreneurs with commercially viable technologies that can rapidly scale to help sustainably provide food and water, and address global issues like climate change.

Each year, the programme accepts a new group of innovative, technical minds who are focused on addressing the most intractable problems facing our planet today. These innovators receive mentorship and support for their efforts during a three-month intensive accelerator.

The Nature Conservancy has aquired a wealth of data from its work in conservation. (Credit: TNC)

TNC’s expert mentors bring years of on-the-ground experience and a wealth of scientific data from their work on conservation and sustainability challenges. The Techstars entrepreneurs, meanwhile, bring fresh ideas about how to apply all this science and data to create smart solutions for solving the growing challenges facing our planet.

Data-sharing has long been key to innovation: what better example is there than the evolution of navigation systems? It requires a lot of data to route you from home to office in the most efficient way – there’s the actual map, but also live traffic information, pins to flag your favourite coffee shops and calendar information to ensure you make your next meeting on time. As they’ve migrated from dashboards to palms, each iteration of these tools has made it easier for the navigator to apply more data to the trip-planning experience.

Novel applications of conservation data can do more than change our day-to-day for the better; they can put the health of the planet on the right track. TNC has already initiated projects with several of the startups from the first class of the Techstars Sustainability Accelerator, such as a collaboration with StormSensor to create smart urban watersheds, using its sensors to establish baseline flow conditions and measure the impact of green infrastructure. StormSensor provides the data needed to track, predict and prevent stormwater pollution and flooding in real time, allowing cities to better manage water resources.

With AI, environmentalists can leverage data along a time continuum to begin to measure impact and start to simulate the future in real time

Another successful example is FlyWire, a company that is addressing seafood traceability by working with fishers and seafood suppliers to provide at-sea verification of sustainable fishing efforts. FlyWire has developed a low-cost electronic monitoring system that can record HD video, is linked to GPS, and has the ability to obtain quality data where none is currently collected.  

Meanwhile, TNC is launching its own technical initiatives in-house. One top priority is the creation of an open-data platform for the sharing of public conservation data. But data is just the beginning. With the advent of artificial intelligence, environmentalists can leverage data along a time continuum to begin to measure impact and start to simulate the future in real time. Machines can be trained to proactively communicate when natural areas are declining around the world. Or better yet, communicate when conservation interventions are improving a natural habitat or fishery.

StormSensor tracks flooding in urban watersheds. (Credit: FashionStock.com/Shutterstock)

TNC scientists have created a variety of algorithms that, for example, value carbon sequestration or global treasures such as our coral reefs. The next step is to put these algorithms to work across the world at scale – and that will likely require partners in the private sector.

It’s time that action for the planet moved at the pace of Silicon Valley. And as two sectors where problem-solvers thrive, tech and conservation may just be a natural partnership that’s uniquely suited for today’s greatest challenge: building a world where nature and people thrive.

Sherri Hammons is chief conservation technology officer of The Nature Conservancy.

About this content: This is a sponsored article from The Nature Conservancy, which retains full editorial responsibility for its content

Main picture credit: welcomia/Shutterstock


This article is part of the in-depth Tech for Good briefing. See also:

Can AI light the way to smarter energy use

The appliance of science: How AI is making inroads on transport emissions

How AB InBev is using blockchain to improve the lives of smallholder famers

‘AI can’t be put in the “too difficult” box. Boards have to take risks now

The drive to solve tech’s missing women problem

Speed-mentoring initiative Rebus will help women get a hand up the tech ladder

How Asia’s female entrepreneurs are reshaping tech for good


The Nature Conservancy  artificial intelligence  StormSensor  Techstars Sustainability Accelerator 

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