Pano AI, Our Series A Investment in Climate Adaptation
There are moments in your life that split into a before and an after. For me, one of these moments was in October 2017, when I woke up just after 6 a.m. to messages from a friend in Germany asking if I was safe.
The air was thick and abrasive with smoke and an auburn haze extended over the entire Bay Area. It was the smoke trail of the Atlas and Tubbs fires, the scale of which had never been seen in Northern California.
October used to be the best part of living in Northern California. It was a time when the fog would lift for several weeks after June gloom, the layers and the fleece would come off, and we’d get what the rest of the country called summer.
But after 2017, those comfortably warm, early autumn days from my childhood ended. Climate change was here and unavoidable. The warnings about how we were poisoning the planet came true faster and more fiercely than I could have imagined.
Then came the apocalyptic Orange Day of late 2020 in the Bay Area, when multiple lightning ignitions surrounded the region in three simultaneous mega-fires consuming a football field of land a second.
Since then, a distinct unease had settled over the West Coast for several months a year. Known as the Santa Anas in Southern California or the Diablo Winds in Northern California, these seasonal dry, 50 mph winds rush over the Sierra Nevada range down toward the coast of California, turning tiny sparks into multi-hundred thousand-acre conflagrations. It is “the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse,” Joan Didion once wrote. “The winds show us how close to the edge we are.” British Columbia, Oregon, Eastern Washington, Montana, Colorado, and even this winter, New Mexico have seen their versions of the same story.
What do we do in the face of such monumental change? While the Biden administration remarkably pulled together an first-of-its-kind federal climate package in the Inflation Reduction Act, centuries of manmade carbon emissions have already set us on a trajectory where drier vegetation and more unpredictable weather patterns mean more megafires.
So we must adapt. We have no other choice.
I’ve been so heartened to see many talented technical and product leaders switch into climate work over the past year. While they can’t fully compensate for the government’s inaction, startups and the private sector can step up to fill critical missing pieces.
That’s what Sonia Kastner, a veteran hardware leader and executive, is doing with Pano AI. After crisscrossing both the private and public sector, scaling product lines at Google, and participating in multiple waves of climate tech and cleantech, she’s building a full-stack, hardware-software platform for managing climate adaptation and natural disasters. Pano’s entry point is through a wildfire detection system that they have installed camera systems across multiple continents. Fire departments as well as utilities like Portland General Electric are using their computer vision-enabled system to catch wildfire starts before they become mega-fires.
On high fire-risk days, when air humidity drops below 20 percent and winds are going at 40 to 50 miles per hour, the first 15 minutes after ignition can be the difference between a wildfire that engulfs entire communities or gets contained quickly.
Pano AI’s platform uses a mix of signals to interpret threats, from cameras to 911 calls to satellite imagery. Utilities across North America, Europe, Australia, and beyond are having to learn the lessons that California picked up in the last five years, and they’re having to level up quickly.
In the past two years alone, Pano AI has signed partners across five states in the US and two states in Australia (NSW and Queensland) and counts customers from Xcel Energy to Aspen’s Fire Protection District to the US Forest Service on its client list.
Given that incredible uptake in demand, Initialized is excited to lead a $20M round in the company, joining other firms, including Convective Capital, a fund solely dedicated to mitigating wildfires, Congruent Ventures, Quiet Capital, DCVC and January Ventures.
While I continue to meet entrepreneurs focused on solving the upstream problems of emissions reduction and carbon removal, the impacts from emissions humans have already released since the Industrial Age are baked in for decades and centuries forward. This means we’ll have to learn how to live with megafires in the years to come.
This is why technologies and systems for climate adaptation like Pano AI absolutely must be part of humanity’s collective toolkit.