Reforestation (and Afforestation) Through Biotechnology: The MBA Internship at Living Carbon

Reforestation (noun): the action of renewing a forest by planting seeds or young trees.

Afforestation (noun): the act or process of establishing a forest, especially on land not previously forested.

 

Around 300 million years ago, the level of carbon dioxide on planet Earth plummeted from 2000 to 200 ppm. Temperatures dropped, ice sheets formed and spread from the North and South Poles, and the planet was launched into a 2.6 million-year Ice Age. Eventually, ice began to melt and roughly two hundred thousand years ago, humans began to roam the Earth.

So what created this massive change? To put it simply, plants.

A snapshot of nursery plants at Living Carbon.

Living Carbon is using the power of plants to rebalance the carbon cycle on our planet. The company is enhancing the photosynthesis in poplar trees and these trees have been shown in greenhouse trials to grow up to 53% faster than standard poplars. The faster these trees grow, the more carbon they pull from the air. Living Carbon’s goal is to plant their trees in areas that have been abandoned or deteriorated, like underutilized timberland and degraded mineland.

A photosynthesis-enhanced poplar (Left), and a commercial poplar (Right).

For the summer, I’ll be working under the Chief of Staff and focusing on Strategy, Innovation, and Scientific Communications.

 

So, how did I get here?

Linkedin. A lot of cold emails. Many lukewarm introductions. Persistence.

Living Carbon is a fifty-person startup located in the Bay Area. Unlike most MBA Internships, the position I wanted was not a job posting listed online. In most of my professional conversations, I was attempting to convince an organization to create a position for me that most hadn’t even considered.

When I started my Summer Internship search, I had three requirements:

  1. I wanted to work in climate technology.
  2. It had to be in the Bay Area or Remote.
  3. The company was an early-stage startup.

In a future blog post, I’ll go more in-depth on How To Recruit for a Startup, but the short summary is that after sending out several hundred inquiries and setting up over seventy video calls, Living Carbon decided to give me a real shot at helping them develop sustainable, large-scale decarbonizing solutions.

Is it even a real internship if you don’t have branded swag?

Now, what am I doing?

The crazy thing about startups is that they kind of let you make your own position. I wanted to have a role where I can utilize my scientific background with my MBA skills. 

Currently, I’m working on bridging the knowledge gap between the scientific and commercialization teams.

I’ve been shadowing the science team to understand the nitty-gritty details of how exactly you develop and grow a photosynthesis-enhanced poplar tree, I’ve helped with this company blog post about Carbon Removal Scalability and Permanence, and I’m creating a custom scientific knowledgebase to be used internally and externally.

And day-to-day, I’m trying my best to absorb everything-that-is-plant-science going on within the company. I’ve been shadowing the Research and Development team to learn the process of developing and growing a photosynthesis-enhanced plant. Check it out:

Living Carbon’s plantlets in tissue culture.

Poplar plants growing in the lab to eventually be transferred to the Greenhouse.

Twelve weeks of poplar tree growth (and myself as a height comparison).

I’ll be sharing more of my day-to-day internship experience in a future blog post, but until then, stay tuned for more posts from my fellow Tepper classmates about their internship journeys this summer!

Serena Dao | MBA 2024
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