May 26, 2023
Sonam Velani featured in Insider’s Women in Climate Leadership
In this article, “Women in Climate Leadership: Meet 10 leaders who refuse to let the climate crisis go unchecked,” Insider Magazine highlighted Mária Telkes Fellow, Sonam Velani, as one of 10 women leaders who are working at the forefront of climate action. The article’s highlight is featured below.
Sonam Velani, a cofounder and managing partner at Streetlife Ventures
Velani knows what it’s like to live in outdated housing with environmental risks that so many low-income communities face in America.
She said that as undocumented immigrants from Mumbai, her family moved to a basement apartment in Chicago that regularly flooded. They turned on the gas stove to keep warm during frigid winters.
That upbringing shaped Velani’s work in sustainable urban development. Velani, 35, has spent more than a decade finding ways to finance big infrastructure projects to help cities both mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis while also improving affordable housing. She’s worked at Goldman Sachs and the World Bank and in the administration of former New York mayor Bill de Blasio. She also supports new startups.
At Streetlife, we are focused on marrying the product-development process of that early-stage startup with the policy planning of cities.
Velani helped design New York’s OneNYC plan, known as its version of the Green New Deal, that outlined $15 billion worth of investments and 30 strategies to achieve net-zero emissions, including using more-sustainable building materials, expanding a bike-share system, and building clean-energy projects that create jobs.
One project that stayed with Velani was in the Rockaways, a peninsula of seaside neighborhoods. In this section of Queens, there are now thousands of new affordable-housing units and a sewer system designed to withstand more extreme rainfall and storms.
The work in city government gave Velani an idea for her own venture-capital firm, Streetlife Ventures, which is in its first fundraising round and says it plans to invest in the “nuts and bolts” of building sustainable cities. Velani said she saw how entrepreneurs often pitched public officials when it was too late, so their inventions wouldn’t be incorporated into urban-development plans.
“At Streetlife, we are focused on marrying the product-development process of that early-stage startup with the policy planning of cities,” Velani told Insider. The firm also has a storytelling platform, Parachute, to highlight climate solutions in cities and the people implementing them.
Velani also found time to cofound the networking group New York Climate Tech last year. The group organizes happy hours and a speaker series and has grown to about 4,000 people.
“I am the recipient of a lot of mentorship,” Velani said. “I want to do that for up-and-comers.”