In 1999, Lee Stein turned his entrepreneurial and business successes in the worlds of entertainment finance, Internet commerce, and real estate development, to what he describes as “the disturbing deterioration” of the environment.  

He found the profound distrust between environmental organizations and business entities to be a systemic hindrance to results-oriented cooperation. The environmentalists did not interact or trust anyone in business, and business did not interact or trust anyone with an environmental perspective.   

The legendary technologist Bob Epstein shared with Stein that “environmental practices had to be good for business or they were not good environmental practices and, likewise, that business practices had to be good for the environment in order to be good business practices.” Stein had based his corporate operating strategies on the concept of “inclusivity” and wanted to help forward a cooperative and inclusive strategy. 1999 was quite early to create a “Business Voice for the Environment,” and job creation tied to sustainability became an essential element to create successful, sustainable programs.

Lee created his personal definition of Sustainability:

"If it is not profitable, it is not sustainable."

/ 1999Co-Founded the Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) Southern California Chapter

The Environmental Entrepreneur Organization (E2) of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is a national community of professionals and business people who believe in protecting the environment while building economic prosperity. As the co-founding member of the Southern California chapter, Lee served as a champion on the economic side of good environmental policy by taking a reasoned, economically sound business approach to environmental issues. E2 grew from a few passionate visionary business leaders into a national organization affecting legislation at both national and individual State levels. E2 created a “Business Voice for the Environment.”

/ 2000Formed Virtual Group LLC

Virtual Group, LLC is an early stage private holding company that focuses on progressive environmental technologies, usually in the technology sector. Virtual Group’s area of specialization is in the private company sector, usually in the seed capital through series A preferred rounds of growth. 

Virtual Group prefers to consider technologies that are quite early and in areas that are not yet receiving significant attention. Some would consider the focus leading edge. Leading edge is sometimes considered “bleeding edge,” as early stage opportunities usually have obstacles to navigate that require unique, hands-on skills. Accordingly, one fundamental criteria that must be met before consideration of an investment is the willingness and desire of the founder/inventor to have Virtual Group take a very active role in providing management and active Board involvement during this early stage. 

/ 2002Helped Pass AB 1493 Legislation

E2 and Lee played an unusual (and critically influential) role in the passage of California’s landmark AB 1493 legislation, a law directly aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. This success became the initial legislative win of E2. Lee received a special thank you from Governor Gray Davis for his active role.

(Official page on Government of California Website)
(Lee’s Unusual Role in the Passage of California’s Landmark AB-1493 Bill)

/ 2005Joined California Secure Transportation Energy Partnership (CalSTEP)

In 2005, Lee was invited to serve with the vice chairman of the California Energy Commission in developing the California Secure Transportation Energy Plan. 

CalSTEP is a diverse partnership of industry, automotive, business, academic, policy, and nongovernmental professionals formed to come up with a comprehensive, pro-business action plan to increase energy efficiency and fuel choice in California, becoming a model state for transportation energy consumption by 2020. 

(California Action Plan Summary)

/ 2005Joined XPRIZE Foundation

XPRIZE is a non-profit organization that designs and hosts public competitions intended to encourage technological development to benefit humanity. Lee has served on the XPRIZE Foundation’s Board of Trustees, along with James Cameron, Larry Page, Arianna Huffington, Dean Kamen, and Ratan Tata, among others. 

(XPRIZE Board of Trustees)

/ 2006Passage of AB-32

The passage of AB-32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, marked a watershed moment in California’s history, and the history of environmental sustainability worldwide. At the bill signing, Lee was invited by Senator Nunez and Senator Pavley, the authors of AB-32, for the photo op. By implementing a legislative framework for a sharp reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, California, with bill AB-32, set the stage for its transition to a sustainable, low-carbon future. 

Watch Lee on Full Focus

/ 2006Formed Prize Capital LLC

Fascinated by the work of the XPRIZE Foundation, Lee set out to create an innovative (for-profit) venture designed to leverage the philanthropic XPRIZE model. Prize Capital’s mission is to implement innovative financing techniques to facilitate radical breakthroughs, particularly in the fields of energy and the environment. The innovative approach was remarkably unique, and the US Patent and Trademark Office granted Stein his fourth patent. Based on using prizes to generate innovation capital, the proprietary financing mechanism combined inducement prize competitions with companion investment funds to create a platform that mitigates early-stage investment risk to investors and facilitates the greater flow of capital to early-stage innovators. 

An investment model for the formation of capital and value creation

View Patent

/ 2007Scenario Planning Participant - Shell Oil

Lee had been an active participant with the Royal Dutch Shell Scenario Planning initiative dealing with future energy scenarios. The resulting report, entitled BluePrint and Scramble, highlighted the risks to sustainability if environmental responses were coordinated by industry or left to a free-for-al,l self-serving approach. 

(Shell’s Official Website)
(About Scenario Planning)
(“Scrambling for Blueprints”)

/ 2007-2011 (EST.)Global Environment Facility (GEF) of the World Bank

Through Prize Capital, Lee also served as a contractor to the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) of the World Bank. Lee participated as a presenter at the 2007 United Nations Framework on Climate Change Conference, Nusa Dua, in Bali, Indonesia (“UNFCC”), when The “Earth Fund” was formally launched at the (“COP 13”). Lee presented with GEF CEO Monique Barbut and the IFC Sustainability Chief. 

Watch the Video

/ 2007-2010Joined NRDC delegation as the request of Costa Rica President to create world’s first carbon neutral country

Costa Rica President and Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias invited the NRDC to design a program for Costa Rica to become Carbon Neutral by 2020. Stein was invited to be a delegation member. The Minister of Energy and the Environment, Roberto Dobles, and President Arias met with Stein frequently in multiple locations defining the goals. This led to 14 trips to Costa Rica over a period of 18 months. 

/ 2008Joined Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Lee served as a member of the Director’s Cabinet of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (“SIO”).

Founded in 1903, The Scripps Institution of Oceanography (sometimes referred to as SIO, Scripps Oceanography, or Scripps) in San Diego, California, is one of the oldest and largest centers for ocean and Earth science research, public service, undergraduate and graduate training in the world. Hundreds of ocean and Earth scientists conduct research with the aid of oceanographic research vessels and shore-based laboratories.

/ 2009Delegate to the UN FRAMEWORK Conference on Climate Change, Copenhagen (UNFCCC)

Lee served as a member of two separate delegations: The University of California Delegation as a member of The Directors Cabinet of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and as a member of The Natural Resources Defense Council Delegation.

During his tenure, Lee participated as a SIO Delegate to the 2010 United Nations Framework Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark (“COP 15”). This was a unique delegation as this was the first time the issue of Ocean Acidification was presented to an international body. Basically, the delegation presented multiple incursions on the oceans from runoff of agricultural chemicals on coastal areas to the more devastating issues of CO2 changing the PH acidity of our oceans. (H20 + NACL + CO2 = increased acidity).

/ 2011-2018Nature Magazine publishes novel research based on Stein involvement related to Honey Bee Colony Collapse disorder

Lee was exploring the sustainability issue of Honey Bee Colony Collapse disorder in order to make a presentation to design a prize to generate technology to address this sustainability risk factor facing humanity. The question Lee sought to address: What happens if the bees really die? What is Plan B? He envisioned the Plan Bee XPrize. 

Lee had met the esteemed mycologist Paul Stamets during In 2011 Stein was presenting medical technologies onstage at TEDMed during the very same segment that Stamets presented how mycological products supplemented cancer chemotherapy, in a study in which Stamets’ mother was a surviving participant. Their relationship flourished and Stamets offered a theory related to Colony Collapse and mycological solutions. 

Stein took the lead philanthropic role that enabled the Stamets theory to be studied, first on the bench at Washington State University and then in the field. The results were remarkably successful and were published in the esteemed journal Nature. 

Extracts of Polypore Mushroom Mycelia Reduce Viruses in Honey Bees*
View article on Nature’s website
*Stein is mentioned in the acknowledgements and frequently mentioned by Stamets in his lectures.

/ 2012Initiated the Stanford Woods Institute INOGO initiative

As a result of the Costa Rica efforts, Lee has been active in the protection of biodiversity in the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica, initiating the Osa & Golfito Initiative (INOGO) that facilitated the development of a strategy for sustainable human development and environmental stewardship in Costa Rica’s Osa and Golfito region. The goal is to generate a living process for sustainable development led by Costa Ricans, especially the people of Osa and Golfito.

/ 2015-2020The $20M NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE

In 2008, Lee’s Prize Capital initiated and spearheaded the process of creating a prize competition to address the issue of converting CO2 (a waste product) into productive assets. Lee led the charge to raise the Prize Purse and Prize operations budgets to launch of the NRG Cosia $20M Carbon XPRIZE. This became a high profile international competition that successfully enhanced the visibility of viable technologies that can cost-effectively utilize carbon emissions from industrial facilities to produce usable products. XPrize awarded $20 million in prize money. The effort also caused the creation of two $20M CO2 test centers: one in Wyoming, USA, and another in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 

Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA)

Lee was invited by Conoco-Phillips and Suncor to visit Fort McMurray and their respective operations in the Canadian Oil Sands. This trip was an essential element of the creation of the NRG Cosia Carbon XPRIZE. The concept of 8 oil majors joining together in an effort to share intellectual property and develop innovation was a remarkable challenge for companies that competed 365 days per year. The formation of Cosia was catalyzed by the funding of the Carbon XPRIZE. Visiting this oil producing region, seeing the operations through the eyes of the producers, and participating in the creation of this elusive goal had a material effect on Lee’s understanding of environmental challenges. COSIA is an alliance of Oil Sands Producers focused on accelerating improvement in environmental performance in Canada’s oil sands through collaborative action and innovation

(Cosia’s Official Website)

Prize Highlights


  • First product for carbon utilization to convert CO2 (waste emissions) to viable economic goods
  • 27 Technologies Emerged from 5 Continents
  • $20M Prize Purse
  • $78M Deployed

Post Prize Win:

  • 2 technologies that converted
  • CO2 into cementbased products

Post Prize Win:
The creation of two $20M industrial scale Carbon Research Facilities:

  • Wyoming Integrated Test Center, coal emissions
    • State of Wyoming construction of $20M Carbon Research Center that now has Department of Energy and other contracts for carbon research totaling in excess of $80M 
  • Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre (ACCTC), gas emissions

Public Lectures

/ 2003Keynote Speaker at Syngenta in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Also in 2003, Stein was the keynote speaker, as a California environmentalist and former CEO of a public company, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, at a worldwide executive meeting of Syngenta, a major producer of seeds, pesticides, and fertilizers. He spoke on California’s trend-setting environmental initiatives, the inevitable rise of biofuels, and the consequences to California’s crops and water supply. 

/ 2006Shell-sponsored Scenario Workshops

Stein was invited to participate in by-invitation-only Shell sponsored scenario workshops in San Francisco, Oxford, and London. Stein brought the Shell Scenario team to Costa Rica in 2007 to evaluate fuel and technology options. 

/ 2006Speaker at the Greening of America Conference

Lee spoke on “Is There Gold in Green?: Creating Clean Clusters” at the Greening of America Conference sponsored by the Industrial Environmental Association in San Diego.

/ 2007Presented Innovative Environmental Strategies at the UNFCCC in Bali

Retained by Global Environment Facility (GEF) of the World Bank through the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to prepare innovative environmental strategies, which were presented in 2009 at the UN conference on Climate Change in Bali. 

Watch the Video

/ 2008A Peace Treaty with Nature

DIFC Week, Dubai

Watch the Video

The European Commission’s BioMarine, France

Watch the Video

/ 2009Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society, France

Watch the Video

/ 2011Commencement Speech at UCSB Donald Bren School of Environmental Science & Management Graduation Ceremony

The preeminent Bren School for the Environment at the University of California Santa Barbara bestowed upon Lee the honor to be the Commencement speaker for its graduation ceremony in 2011. Bren offers a Master of Environmental Science and Management (MESM) degree, a two-year professional degree program focused on developing solutions to critical environmental problems while preparing students for careers in environmental science and management. 

UCSB’s Official Website

Watch the Video

Next Step Highlights

Inspired the launch of $100M Carbon Capture XPRIZE, sponsored by Elon Musk as a continuation of the Carbon Utilization Prize

Official Carbon Capture XPRIZE Website

For more information, please contact:

+1-888-LEE-STEIN (+1-888-533-7834)
+1-858-442-2300 (mobile)

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