"I think it's sometimes hard to be your authentic self, but it's harder to live in the boxes people put you in."

My favorite quote is: “The road to wisdom? - Well, it's plain and simple: Err and err and err again but less and less and less.” – Piet Hein The superpower I’d like to have is: Power to change the temperature like Iceman

Aaron Fitzgerald

On a mission to turn products into carbon sinks

THE CALL OF DUTY. For Aaron Fitzgerald, quitting his company simply isn't an option. His business, Mars Materials, has a clear goal: to permanently remove billions of tons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and decarbonize industry. Even during the most challenging moments of the company's growth, he remains committed to its mission with a direct and laser-like focus.

"There are moments when the going gets tough. The people you're closest to see the struggle you're going through, and sometimes they'll say it's okay to stop. I know it comes from a place of love, but it's bad advice for me because it doesn't align with what I want to achieve."

Aaron co-founded Mars Materials in 2019. The company marks his third startup in a distinguished and mission-motivated career that spans everything from politics to developing technologies that drive positive social and environmental change.

Aaron's attitude of personal responsibility and stewardship towards the planet resulted from several life-changing experiences. The first was in 2006 when, during his studies at Rhodes College, he helped with post-Hurricane Katrina rebuild efforts as part of an alternative spring break. It was his first time witnessing the devastation of climate change on people's lives – and how it disproportionately impacts marginalized people.

"A year after the disaster, folks in the Lower Ninth Ward, people of color who looked like me, people with low-income backgrounds, were still there with water in their house."

Another pivotal moment arrived in 2017 during a trip to Lake Tahoe. Having spent eight years in the professional workforce, including the US Senate, Aaron realized he had escaped the poverty he’d grown up in. Poverty for Aaron meant experiencing bouts of homelessness and receiving fragmented education ("I must have gone to 17 different grade schools"), he felt inspired and personally and mentally equipped to give back and affect positive change in the world.

"I was reading an article by Noah Deich, then the cofounder and head of the Center for Carbon Removal (now Carbon180)- a think tank. His thesis was that we have the technologies to help solve the climate crisis but don't have the commercialization expertise to scale them up. That insight was pretty interesting to me. I started to think about ways that I wanted to scale my impact on the climate crisis."

A BOLD ASSIGNMENT. After a brief spell at Kairos Aerospace helping commercialize technology that detects large methane gas leaks, Aaron founded Mars Materials. The company aims to reverse humanity's industrial waste carbon footprint and its harmful environmental effects by commercializing technologies that store carbon dioxide in everyday products. "Changing how humanity creates and uses these advanced materials can turn carbon-intensive materials into carbon sinks."

With directness and authenticity cornerstones of Aaron's approach to his work, he says gaining legitimacy as a queer black man in a space dominated by white men of an older generation has been challenging. "I often feel like I have to be the one building the bridge at the table because it's very easy to be dismissed or tokenized, and I don’t accept that. I've had to work hard on learning how to build trust with people early on."

Aaron refuses to let such challenges stand in the way of succeeding in his mission with Mars Materials. "I think it's sometimes hard to be your authentic self, but it's harder to live in the boxes people put you in. I lead with who I am upfront. It's less about people accepting me than my aim for Mars Materials. You're either supporting us or blocking us - and if you're blocking me, move aside, because no one can stop me from doing something to be a better steward for the environment.”

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Presented with Pride Here is the first collection of one hundred incredible and inspiring LGBTQIA+ venture-backed entrepreneurs featured in this year's Gaingels 100.