About Us: History


Environmental Entrepreneur Roots

Prize Capital’s new model evolved from a combination of factors.  It originated from the company’s founder, Lee Stein, and his personal interest in the environment.

A serial entrepreneur, Lee’s involvement with environmental policy started in 2000 with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and lead to starting a chapter of its group Environmental Entrepreneurs, which believes a healthy environment supports healthy business.  He became personally involved in passing ground-breaking legislation in California that would increase jobs and provide environmental protection. 

As an entrepreneur, Lee traveled the globe in search of new and unmet investment needs for dealing with environmental change, meeting with governmental and non-governmental organizations, multinational corporations and environmental associations.

Introduction to Prizes

In October 2005, Peter Diamandis, founder of XPRIZE, invited Lee to Las Cruses, New Mexico to attend the first XPRIZE Cup event.  While at the event Lee had an experience that proved to change his investment and philanthropic focus.

Lee met Dumitru Popescu, President of ARCA, the Romanian Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association, a non-governmental organization, that promotes innovative aerospace projects.  At first it seemed funny, a “Romanian space team” (it sounded very much like the Jamaican Bobsled team). Soon Lee learned that ARCA joined the Ansari XPRIZE Competition in 2002 and since then it became one of the leading teams.

Lee found Dumitru and his team’s story to be fascinating. The raw spirit of opportunity and innovation was admirable, but was most intriguing for Lee was the fact that the ARCA team had invented a composite engine for their rocket launch, but had not filed any intellectual property protection due to capital constraints. The challenge was compelling: Figure out how to get capital to competitors so that others could follow in Dumitru's steps, but do so with the opportunity for financial gain.

So began the journey to develop risk mitigation methodologies which could be applied to solving future prize competitions for the benefit of those without access to financial markets.

The Prize Capital Model - First Steps

In June 2007, Prize Capital joined forces with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) - the largest financier of environmental initiatives worldwide - to launch and announce a $50 million Public Private Partnership (PPP), which was a strategic investment program to foster innovative technological and financial solutions to intractable environmental problems in developing countries.

The partnership launched with an approach that was developed by Prize Capital that generates capital for global competitions resulting in technological breakthroughs to solve complex environmental challenges.

What was dubbed the “Earth Fund” was announced by the Global Environmental Facility, IFC (a member of the World Bank Group), and Prize Capital.  The announcement took place during the COP-13 climate change negotiations in Bali in December, 2007.

At the time of the work with the GEF and the IFC, Prize Capital was developing the “3rd Generation Biofuels Prize”, an effort that progressed into the “Algae Fuel Prize”, which itself progressed into the “Carbon Prize” and lead to Prize Capital’s relationship with Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.  The Carbon Prize is preparing for a potential launch and will be run as the Carbon XPRIZE by the XPRIZE Foundation.

In addition to its work pioneering the Carbon XPRIZE, Prize Capital has taken the lead in the preliminary investigation of several prizes focused on energy and the environment on behalf of clients and partners:

  1. A prize investigated with and on behalf of a public-private non-governmental partnership in Brazil focused on rural renewable energy production;

  2. A Forest Carbon Monitoring Prize, focused on tracking forest carbon stock in tropical rainforests;

  3. A Sustainable Aquaculture/Aquaponics Prize, focused on sustainable fisheries and vegetation;

  4. An energy storage prize, investigated with an academic partner;

  5. A  Plug-In Hybrid Retrofit Prize, developed on behalf of a national advocacy organization;

  6. A small-scale cleantech innovation prize, investigated in conjunction with internationally renown leadership organization;

Additionally, Prize Capital and Tri-State worked together to scope out smaller prize challenges that could complement the larger Carbon Prize.  Fields investigated include challenges around “energy-to-energy” (focused on graphene and similar carbon-based technologies) applications, constituent emissions detection and removal, and soil carbon (and biochar) sequestration.  These challenges were written about in brief in Prize Capital’s publication “An Integrated Energy Test Center”, which is available for download here.

In This Section




Prize Capital founder and chairman Lee Stein on stage with Monique Barbut, GEF CEO and Chairperson, and Rachel Kyte, IFC Director for Environment and Social Development, at the COP-13 climate change negotiations in Bali in December, 2007

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