Rick Fox wants his concrete startup's carbon credits to subsidize down payments for homeowners

Image Credits: Ross Marlowe/TPG for TechCrunch

Three-time NBA champion Rick Fox has a plan to solve the housing crisis in the Bahamas and beyond.

Fox is co-founder of Partanna, a startup that makes carbon-negative concrete. Each block of his company’s concrete avoids and removes 14.3 kilograms of carbon from the atmosphere, generating carbon credits in the process. On average, those credits sell for $300 per metric ton, Fox told the audience at TechCrunch Disrupt 2023.

Plenty of companies sell carbon credits, but what makes Fox’s proposal intriguing is the fact that he’d be willing to roll those into a program to help lower the cost of acquiring a home made of Partanna’s concrete blocks.

“We can partner with those that might want to warehouse credits, finance us at the front end so that we can use those credits to support people in down payments,” Fox said. “We’ll eventually get to a place where we create our own financing mechanism for homeowners.”

The idea sprung from Fox’s experience following Hurricane Dorian, which devastated his home country of the Bahamas.

“They called it a once-in-100-year storm. It destroyed two of our islands. And at that point in time, I watched 30,000 citizens be displaced,” he said. To him, it was clear that the country needed a new model to rebuild.

“I come from a small island, developing nation where the global north is having a huge impact on the global south to meet development,” he said. “And that’s not to point fingers — it’s just the fact of what we deal with. Development is not going anywhere anytime soon. We’re not going to stop developing.” But, he added, that development needed to find its way to the Bahamas, too.

Working with partners and investors

Getting to the scale that makes meaningful development possible, though, requires investors, partners and customers. In climate tech especially, those partners might have deep connections with the oil and gas industry that’s responsible for much of the climate crisis.

One of Partanna’s first customers is Red Sea Global, a real estate developer wholly owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Saudi Arabia is not only one of the world’s largest oil producers, but it also has a spotty record on human rights.

Fox elaborated on why Partanna is focusing much of its efforts in the Middle East. “When you’re tackling this scale of a challenge, which is to change the way we build in the world for good, forever, then you go wherever it’s needed. And you try to make a difference in the areas that are building as much as [Saudi Arabia] is building. And so we’re there, being a positive impact on their development,” he said.

He also had some advice on how founders might handle such customers, investors or other partners.

For Fox, “the challenge of delivering a finished piece of work or a championship — pursuit of a championship goal — at the end of the day, you’re going to have personal beliefs and systems and the way you live your personal life outside of a task you may come together to accomplish and for me, personally, I do the job that needs to be done with the teammates I have where the common goal and the mission is greater than any of my own personal opinions.

“So to me, the planet and this mission of climate, attacking the way we build in the world, delinking development from construction and pollution, that's a mission that's greater than any of our personal thoughts and beliefs.”

He also said he thinks that climate change might be an avenue for bridging some of those cultural gaps. “Pulling it all together and finding a way to all work together hopefully then impacts the way you think, and the way you think may impact the way I think,” Fox said.