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Centre for Building Sustainable Value · Lexi Wright

James Larsen: Destined for Cleantech

Nov 2, 2023

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James Larsen, MBA ‘11, is a rare example of someone who has been unwavering in their goal since their teenage years. As a 17-year-old, James knew he one day wanted to be the CEO of a Cleantech company. He didn’t know how to get there, but he knew the destination. James has achieved his goal, but the path was full of twists and turns.
Leading change

James knew if he wanted to achieve this dream, he would need a strong knowledge of both technology and business. He began his studies by completing a Bachelor of Engineering and subsequently working in renewables and the energy transition, later focusing on business by pursuing an Ivey MBA.

Upon joining Ivey, he was steadfast in launching the first-ever MBA Sustainability Club and Conference. In 2010, sustainability was still a niche in business schools. James describes himself as the “kooky, hippie friend” among his classmates. That being said, those around him were still very supportive of what he was pursuing and injecting into Ivey. James even launched a carbon footprint challenge for the Ivey community that year.

To be or not to be (an entrepreneur)

When asked how he decided whether to pursue a career in entrepreneurship, James expressed that he feels people have an innate sense of whether they’re entrepreneurial or not. James possessed this sense.

For him, entrepreneurship is such an attractive path because you get to “control your own destiny.” He notes that, unique from working at a large firm, fulfillment directly correlates to your level of input. You can “throttle as hard as you want and really make things happen.” However, James has also spent his fair share of time at said large firms (including Bain & Company), where he notes that he learned and developed some of his most important skills. 

Impact through deep tech

James joined e-Zinc in 2018 as the 5th employee of a lab start-up and now has 75 employees moving into a new 50,000-square-foot pilot manufacturing facility. However, he notes that the battery storage company is still in its early stages.

e-Zinc is on a mission to be a comprehensive energy storage solution. Energy storage is key to a decarbonized future that provides affordable, safe, and reliable energy. We need renewable energy to achieve our decarbonization goals, and therefore we need energy storage to balance the intermittency of those clean generation sources. Thus far, e-Zinc has been deep in the research and development phase, working to build “brand new, unique, never been done before” technology.

Now that they have the technology to begin manufacturing and sales, e-Zinc will begin major commercial projects with groups like Toyota and the California Energy Commission.

What will this transition look like for e-Zinc?

“Right now, we’re an energy storage manufacturer. But really, what a customer wants is an energy storage solution. A solution is not just the battery. It's how it's integrated. It's the site prep. It's the software and controls. There's financing to it. The long-term vision for this company is to evolve ourselves where we can provide a holistic solution to a customer versus just the technology.”

Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs

The best advice James has ever received about entrepreneurship came from one of his Ivey professors. James recounts that he had asked the professor, “When is the right time to become an entrepreneur?” James already had the itch but hadn’t acted upon it yet. He had always heard the adage, “Do it when you're young, before you’re married, before you have kids, and before you have commitments.” The professor said: “Do it when you have so much conviction for a particular idea that you’re willing to get up on the hardest mornings of your life, and you're still motivated to go to work because you're that compelled and hold that much conviction.” James always kept this on his mind and patiently waited seven years after his MBA until he found that opportunity.

Advice for those driven toward sustainability

James says ‘bravo’ to those looking to enter a career in sustainability. He notes that the field needs extremely talented people to solve global challenges. He encourages young professionals to be patient. James knows that in many instances, especially Cleantech, impact may not feel like it’s happening right away. It may take years of dedication and service, and someone truly committed to the task at hand.


To connect with fellow alumni, join Ivey's LinkedIn Sustainability Community.