Fueled-Up for Success

Lydia Li ’13, a Forbes 30 Under 30 changemaker for energy, specializes in environmental impact investing

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The first person Lydia (Yancan) Li ’13 told—upon learning she’d made the Forbes Under 30 list—was, of course, her mom. They’re close and talk daily. But Li also reached out to someone she hadn’t seen in a while: her former CMC faculty mentor Marc Massoud.

“Not showing off. Just wanted to make you proud,” Li, 29, wrote in email, with a link to her Forbes listing.

“I’m so proud of you!” he replied.

It was Massoud, the Robert A. Day Distinguished Professor of Accounting, who first nudged Li toward a career in investment.

Smart nudge, as it turns out.

An investment professional with Generate Capital, Li made the 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the “energy” category—one of 20 spotlighted industries.

The Forbes editors credit her with making headway in the pernicious “valley of death problem,” which deters traditional investors from funding emerging technologies. Li bridged the chasm by immersing herself in renewable energy research. Her technical and financial analyses made it possible for Generate Capital to underwrite more than $200 million in power, transport and waste sector investments, including several first-of-its-kind hydrogen infrastructure and fuel cell projects.

Li was nominated for the Forbes recognition by her boss, Generate Capital CEO Scott Jacobs, and by Jason Jay, who heads the MIT Sloan School of Management’s sustainability initiative. She earned her MBA there in 2019, with a perfect 5.0 GPA.

There was nothing serendipitous about Li’s rise in “environmental impact investing”—a specialty that didn’t even exist a decade ago.

At MIT, she took courses in renewable energy alongside her Sloan School curriculum. She collaborated with faculty scientists on academic research. Her MBA completed, Li didn’t let up on her studies. She told her new bosses at Generate Capital that on top of her normal associate’s workload, she intended to build expertise in hydrogen technology, which, she predicted, would be the next big thing.

Skeptical at first, the firm’s leadership was impressed when several green hydrogen companies went public and stock prices soared. Generate Capital was inundated with opportunities, and Li was the rare investment professional equipped to assess them.

Born in Beijing, Li had graduated from high school in Vancouver. The family emigrated to Canada when Li was a teenager.

While visiting relatives in Los Angeles one summer, Li toured the Claremont colleges and realized she’d found her dream school.

“CMC was just a great fit for me,” she recalls. “It’s exactly where I wanted to be, what I wanted to do, filled with the people I wanted to meet .”

She credits CMC’s culture and resources with making her “more intentional” in planning her future.

Many of her CMC friends have stayed close, and Li keeps up with favorite professors Jennifer Taw and Minxin Pei.

And of course, there’s Marc Massoud.

“Lydia means so much to me. She’s smart, warm, personable, and she will not accept anything less than perfection,” he says, brimming with tangible pride.

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