Site visit at a new timber build – Trinity College Cambridge

We need innovative solutions to address globally pressing issues, and the Climate Investment Challenge, organised by Imperial’s Centre for Climate Finance and Investment, aims to address this.

We knew that joining the competition would be a great chance to, not only explore potential solutions, but also to expand the knowledge and skills we had acquired so far on our Cambridge MBA.

Cambridge is a unique environment that is full of opportunities to foster creative ideas through chance discussions, including a casual chat in the Cambridge colleges, where Tomomi and Jeff started coming up with a potential idea.

The discussion about the competition started at ‘Darbar’, the well-known graduate student bar at Darwin College, where we started brainstorming areas that we wanted to focus on. We soon chose the idea of promoting sustainable timber as a construction material. Our core idea was to accelerate the adoption of a technically proven engineering solution, but we needed an innovative financial solution to create a market ecosystem that would truly create the impact we envisioned.

The next day we pitched the idea to our friend Nareewat Kujareevanich, or ‘Eng Eng’ for short, who was an investment banker from Thailand, before starting her Cambridge MBA. After an early morning meeting, we decided to go for the proposal. Eng Eng suggested that we should expand our team with someone who had further expertise in the real estate sector. We invited Jidapa Jittasaiyapun, called ‘Tam’, to join us. We were ready to get into the details of our proposal.

The Development:

The competition called to develop creative financial solutions and innovations addressing the defining challenge of climate change. We gathered at Cambridge Judge Business School a few times to brainstorm our idea. We carefully developed the proposal to align with the competition criteria:

Degree of Innovation, Implementation Feasibility, Scalability and Climate Impact.

Our idea focused on the climate impact of growing urbanisation, which by 2050 is estimated to require housing for an additional 2.5 billion population. With the current real estate development methods, this will contribute a further 100 billion CO2 emissions, 10% of the total global CO2 emissions at present.

With a background as a structural engineer before his Cambridge MBA, Jeff suggested one possible solution. Introducing timber material into urban buildings, which could potentially reduce a significant amount of CO2 emissions. Although the technology and timber-made buildings already exist in many countries across the world, he knew that the industry was finding it a challenge to adopt this method of construction, and that the market needed further incentives to accelerate the change.

First, we analysed the stakeholders to understand the bottlenecks and find the theory of change that we could then address in our proposal. We looked at possible financial solutions to incentivise the industry to adopt timber materials, and decided to introduce specialised REIT to invest in timber-based real estate. The Timber REIT would invest in greenfield properties, as opposed to completed assets in traditional REITs, to influence and scale up the timber building industry. The aim of this strategy was to create demand at the start of the value change, that would then, in turn, influence the decisions throughout the development and construction phase.

Developing the idea as a team

Proceeding to the Virtual Finals:

The news that we would be advancing to the finals was one of the few pieces of joyful news we received, as the world went into lockdown very soon after we submitted our first proposal. Although the final presentation was wholly online by the Spring, we were excited to further strengthen our idea at the Finals. To polish the idea and fully understand the opportunities and bottlenecks within our competition entry, we shared our pitch with Cambridge Judge Professors, as well as our Cambridge MBA cohort to get further feedback. Even with the lockdown restrictions, we tried our best to prove the feasibility and potential scalability of our idea.

One of the best memories at this time was visiting the site of a timber building that was still under construction, the student accommodation building for Trinity College, and at the time being able to engage with experts actually working on the build. Seeing how our idea would come to life taught us about the real challenges within such a project and helped us further improve our initial idea. We became confident that the proposal was not just good on paper, but would also be effective and make an impact in the real world.

The Final Event:

The final presentation was set to be a challenging but rewarding experience. Eng Eng and Jeff were presenting our work in a 5-minute live virtual pitch, and the whole team would spend the next Q&A period with the Competition judges. We went through the presentation as we had practised, and we were able to confidently answer the questions. The competition was tough as there were multiple competing proposals, including one from another Cambridge Judge Business School team that was looking at tackling issues around sustainable cattle farming. In the end, after a suspenseful intermission, it was announced that we had won first place, and we were thrilled to have our idea accepted by the judges, all of whom were experts in this area. 

The moment the winner was announced!

Connecting the Dots:

Looking back, there are a few factors that gave us confidence in our final proposal. We strongly believed that our solution could be a true answer to an urgent climate challenge. We also formed a team of classmates with different backgrounds and expertise, and each of us contributed equally to provide different knowledge and ideas. Jeff had the original idea, and his technical knowledge and experience in the construction industry helped to further develop the proposal; Eng Eng made the investment strategy and financial analysis; Tomomi connected the pieces and various different aspects, from the global climate agenda, investment theses, and technical feasibility through to the scalability of the proposal; and Tam created an investment structure and analysed investment risks based on her previous experience and expertise. Our Cambridge MBA year had emphasised our need to respect each other’s opinions and working style, as well as enjoying the development of the original idea as a team. The support of the competition organisers, alongside our friends who attended the virtual finals, also helped us to deliver our best project pitch on the day.

Attending competitions taught us a lot during our Cambridge MBA year, and winning one of them was a fun and unforgettable memory for us all. The team would like to thank to Imperial College London, the organisers, the judges and sponsors, and all those who were involved in the success of the very first Climate Investment Challenge 2020.

Go Team Timber!

All further details about the competition and our winning project proposal can be found here: