Jo Norris, Co-Founder and CEO of Carbon Reform

May 22, 2023

An Ongoing Series Highlighting Delaware Innovators

Jo Norris cares so deeply about climate change that she made the transition from budding painter to co-creator of Carbon Reform with Nick Martin – earning a spot on the Forbes 30 under 30 list along the way.

Founded in early 2020, Carbon Reform aims to democratize access to carbon capture under the mission of wanting clean air for people and the planet. The company is developing a modular carbon capture device that can be added to commercial buildings’ HVAC systems to improve indoor air quality and cut down on tons of carbon annually. The entire process will remove pathogens and particles from the air indoors and lead to savings because of the reduction in HVAC usage.

A self-described “climate scientist, materials engineer and artist who combines all three in the climate tech startup space,” Norris leads a team of engineers, all of whom are governed by the company’s three core principles: Climate, Health and Equity.

Norris did her Ph.D. research and coursework in materials science and engineering at the University of Delaware after earning bachelor’s degrees in sustainability studies and economics (with minors in geology and fine art) from Hofstra University and a master’s degree in climate and society from Columbia University,

Norris recently shared her views on innovation in Delaware – and the advice she’d give to hungry innovators – with Delaware Prosperity Partnership:

Why is Delaware a great state to be an innovator?

Delaware looks out for its people, learns from its past and has a vision for the future. While large companies and universities established a solid infrastructure and knowledge base, Delaware is so much more today than its previous “four Cs” (chemicals, cars, credit cards and chickens). Resources from the incumbent organizations and the government are poured into raising up innovators from all sectors and backgrounds across the state.

Delaware also recognizes how it differs from other states. Rather than trying to be the next New York or Silicon Valley, it leans into the small-but-mighty mindset of community over competition. Friendly competition is welcome, of course, with the EDGE Grant, Startup302 and other financial support for startups. But, ultimately, Delaware is a place where you can go from being a learner to being a leader with just the right resources and support to slingshot your career wherever you may want to take it.

Jo Norris talks with Noah Olson and Erica Crell of Delaware Prosperity Partnership during DPP’s 2022 anniversary and investor celebration.

Jo Norris talks with Noah Olson and Erica Crell of Delaware Prosperity Partnership during DPP’s 2022 anniversary and investor celebration.

What qualities should a successful innovator have?

I don’t think there is one way to define success, nor do I think there is a limit to the shape innovation can take. However, one common trait I have seen is creativity, combined with the desire or need to solve a problem. Not everyone has a choice – some people are naturally drawn to innovation as a career. But others need to be innovative to survive. If you’re driven, willing to make more mistakes than you can count, willing to ask for help and you can balance confidence and humility, then you might be a great innovator.

What advice would you give innovators just starting? How do you decide whether a new idea is worth pursuing (or should be set aside)?

One piece of advice I would give is that innovation does not necessarily equal invention. In fact, sometimes inventing something new is the wrong choice when something existing, with a few tweaks, would work better. Innovation is driven by human need, originating from our most beautiful developments and our most terrible mistakes. So, if you have an idea, try to follow it back to the source. Why did you think of it? What existing problem would it solve, or would it add something new to the world? Then, once you have a good handle on it, talk to multiple people about it. Certainly, people will tell you it’s a bad idea, and they might be right – but they also might just like hearing themselves talk. The best thing I’ve learned from this process is not to listen to the people who say, “no,” but listen to the people who say, “yes, but…” or “maybe, have you considered…” because they’ve actually taken the time to listen and reflect. Then, take their advice into consideration, iterate and repeat.

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