Cleantech innovation has emerged as the hottest space to be in for entrepreneurs wanting to make a positive impact with their commercial venture. Entrepreneurs in the cleantech sector are providing creative solutions not just to everyday issues but also to the larger issue of directly addressing the threat of the climate crisis. As the world collectively grapples with the threat of the climate crisis, this focus allows innovators to have significant contributions to local, regional, and global issues.
While the term cleantech can be applied to a variety of new products and services, it can also be extended into areas of increased efficiency so as to make existing products or services even more “clean.” This means that nearly every type of entrepreneur in every industry can contribute to the sector, sometimes in ways not traditionally thought of as directly environmentally friendly.
As part of an on-going effort to address the climate emergency, GIST brought together a panel of cleantech experts to discuss the field, the issues, the solutions, and provide practical tips for innovators currently working in cleantech and those considering it as they formulate their startup’s solution.
Whether you are looking to solve water security issues in a town in Africa, or bring energy efficient cooking stoves to groups in India, or develop an app that connects cleantech supply chains, this episode of GIST TechConnect will help you understand the cleantech landscape and how to succeed in it as an entrepreneur.
Take a look at some of the highlights from this great discussion with Andrea Course of Shell, Elias Nicolas of Berytech, Katherin Lucey of Solar Sister, and Dipul Patel of Soluna and then watch the whole conversation for a deeper dive.
Understanding the Cleantech Investing Landscape
There's this big abyss between the vision of the innovators and the risk comfort of investors. We need investment at an early stage just to get the business model created.
If you are an entrepreneur, do your homework and find a firm that matches your startup.
It comes down to reaching out, networking, making your work visible so people can find it. There are a lot of potential partners and funders that are looking for exactly what you are doing. Make it easy for them to find you. Just be very clear about an investor's tolerance for risk.
Also, there are a bunch of government programs that are geared toward startups and those can be really helpful.
Steps Innovators Should Take to Ensure Success
It’s going to take decades sometimes to make these changes happen and we as entrepreneurs have to find a way weather the storm and not quit, find the little wins. We’ve been at this for 5 years and we’re just now getting some real investment. Don't quit.
I’ve seen great entrepreneurs who have had one or two companies that have failed but they learned so much that the third one was an incredible success. Don’t be afraid to fail. Be afraid of not getting up again quick enough and not learning.
We're seeing so much innovation around using clean energy technology for the kind of energy that can really drive incomes. Things like solar water pumps that a small one-acre farmer can use. Or designing some of the innovations and advances that we enjoy at high level investment, scaling that down so that same kind of technology can be used at the household level.
What is the Future of Cleantech?
Much more diverse and gender balanced workforce, contributions from all different countries and experiences and capabilities. By developing a workforce that is more inclusive is the only way to develop the innovations that are going to move us forward. It's in that diversity of thoughts and experiences that we find new ideas.
People see clean energy as the enemy but in 10 or 20 years I think they will see it very differently. They will see it as something that feeds their family.
I believe we need to change the culture and mindset about the oil and coal industry. I disagree that it's us versus them. The only way to solve the issue is to work together. Only together can we power progress to provide more and cleaner energy to the world.
I am seeing many technologies focusing more and more on models around circular economies. We are seeing more focus on new technologies introduced for waste treatment. For example e-waste which is very toxic. They are working on extracting the polymers to reuse and recycle it. It's becoming more affordable which translated to a more sustainable business model.
The NGOs and the social entrepreneurs are playing a big role in cleantech. It's not about making money or a having a scalable business. It's making the environment better for our children. I'm seeing a trend in our region where lots of social entrepreneur projects are focused on cleantech solutions and we're seeing the impact now. The only way to meet our shared goals is through cleantech innovation.
Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) is going to be one of the critical areas if we want to achieve the global climate and energy goals that we have. The International Energy Agency made clear that the net zero goals will be nearly impossible without CCUS because we need to drive down emissions which requires 7.6s gigatons of CO2 to be captured globally. That is 190 time more than we are doing today. Aviation, shipping, construction materials like cement. If I was a cleantech startup, anything that you can do to reduce the carbon footprint, we're looking for lots of tech that can help up on that.
Actionable Tips You Can Use Right Now
Stay motivated. Surround yourself with people who share your motivations. Always be the least clever guy in the room. Surround yourself with more experienced people and the right mentors. Learn from your failures. Stay clean!
It's tough out there being an entrepreneur anywhere in the world. It's hard to be a startup that's trying to disrupt everything and make it all new. Surround yourself with people who believe in you in both good times and hard ones.
Kill your ego. What you think you need might not be what the market needs. Remember the problem you are trying to solve, not the specific technology that you're trying to make. The world needs you right now, more than any other type of entrepreneur.
Watch the entire discussion for all the great tips, insights, and inspiration: