Green Light Distrikt is about entrepreneurship focused on the cleantech sector. GLD U provides cleantech courses . Edited by Chris Williams with frequent guest posts from friends, experts and industry insiders from clusters across the globe. Our goal is to provide a place where cleantech entrepreneurs in various clusters across the globe can learn from one another. Green Light Distrikt is creating the "Hitchikers Guide to Clentech" to provide a resource for cleantech entrepreneurs. Read more
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January 12th, 2013
A Simple Idea for Greentown EnergyBar Events in 2013 – Let’s Find Customers That Have Huge Budgets and Can Pay Us Lots of MoneyBOSTON -
I’m back in Boston and loving it. Boston is smaller than NYC for sure, but this helps the city. The collaboration that I’ve seen in Boston is easier, more fruitful, and happens very frequently. The same buzz words are thrown around in both places, which is very annoying, but I don’t hold it against anyone. Here are my thoughts on how to get past buzz words and start generating revenue.
Please excuse any and all typos, I’m brainstorming here, and if I waited for everything to be perfect, I’d never write anything
I’m looking forward to get back into hosting events, when Green Light District started we hosted ~12 CEOs to discuss real problems and opportunities that they were seeing. We went from the Green Roundtable on Chauncy Street (which doesn’t exist anymore) to Venture Cafe for the first Energy Bar, and then Energy Bar was moved into Greentown Labs right around when I went to Europe. Jason and the Greentown teamed turned EnergyBar into an event that is 10x better that I ever made, so I’m glad to rejoin the group and push things to the next level.
I want to push things to the next level with two themes in mind. One, stop the use of buzzwords. “customer devleopment” what exactly do you mean by that? “Value proposition” how about….how do you make more money than you spend. “Penetrate the market”, let’s call that making sales. Let’s stop trying to show how we went to super expensive collegues, we all know all the buzzwords, let’s stop talking in code and get sh%t done. Second rule, cut the genrealizations and let’s start talking with real customers that will pay us money. I’ll discuss a little more what I mean about real customers below.
You see, I get very annoyed going to the same events over and over again, hearing the same investors say the same things. Here’s what I’m always thinking “are you my customer?”, or, “are you the customer of anyone in this room?”. It’s safe that say that most of the time, investors aren’t customers. What does this mean? For most companies they’re not the bottleneck to growth. That’s not entirely true in all instances, but it is from a sales perspective. Unless I’m selling something to an investor, or I have reason to believe that they came from an operating role in a specific industry (that I already know is my customer, or I’m guessing might be my customer if I’m still working on figuring out who my customers are) and they still have close connections with said industry, their advice isn’t very valuable. The above two examples don’t happen much, due to the background of most investors.
Let’s get back to talking about speaking to real customers, and how this translates into events.
First, we should remember that cleanteach can generally be split up into three phase of a business which can apply across many different technologies and verticals (crap, buzzword! by verticals, I mean different industries).
Here they are.
- R+D of new technologies
- Commercializations of new technologies
- Deployment of existing technologies (no technology risk)
Now, let’s discuss in specific terms what these concepts means, what the business tend to need in each phase, examples of companies, and for the sake of this post, how events could be structured to help them.
1. R+D of new technologies
- Typically involves research at a university or within a large corporation
- Can be basic research, or advanced into a specific subject that might yield a technology specific breakthrough
- They need talent in the form of researchers, money, and a lot of time, because no one knows when the next breakthrough will happen.
- Hard for 2 hour event so help this crew.
Commercialization of new technologies
- These are companies that have a technology that has been proven to be effective in lab or in a pilot site, and now they are looking to sell the product or technology to more customers.
- Most commonly these are B2B companies, but they can also be B2c.
- Also, they don’t need to be creating a technology, they could be repackaging existing technologies and positioning them for a different market and/or application.
- Example of B2B companies would be:
- 1) New Way to Make Fresh Water
- 2) New LED Technology
- 3) A new type of solar PV and solar thermal module
- 4) A new way to control steam radiators.
- 5) Squirrel guards for solar PV installations
- 6) New ways for supermarkets to compost their organic waste
- 7) New ways for restaurants to harvest their grease
- New ways for cities to deal with trash collection
- You get the idea, what is most important for these companies is GETTING SALES. If the problem that they are solving is large enough, and their customers have large enough budget, they will pay for R+D through purchasing the product/service with a downpayments. This happened with BigBelly Solar (#8) and Feed Resource Recovery (#6). SALES are critical because they provide 1) cash and 2) credibility at the same time. As opposed to investment, which only provides cash, i.e. is not as valuable.
- Thus, how can we create events where CUSTOMERS can be found?
- What are the best customers?
- Here’s a group of customers I would love to talk with, so I’m guessing other will feel the same: They’re a business. They have an existing, large budget, they have a regular schedule for allocating said budget (so you can actually plan around it). They have huge problems that they’re looking to solve, and a specific person that spends said budget.
- How then could we structure an event to help this? An event for this could be structure easily. Get 3 to 4 panelists, each in control of a budget of at least $1,000,000 that deals with an energy/cleantech related issue. The business itself should be worth more about $20,000,000 and have been around for more then 10 years. We don’t want to be selling to other new business (sometime’s called “startups”). Make sure that the person is currently looking for solutions.
- Setting expectations in the event. Once the speakers have been found, the key will be setting the expectations of both the speakers and the attendees. The speakers need to be primed to come prepared to talk in specifics about their business, where they spend their money, and what they would be willing to pay for. As a moderator, this would mainly be my job. They key is to push them to say something specific to “I would pay $100,000 to fix this problem.” Because we’re trying to develop new technologies, it would be best to find customers that have tried to do research, but have not been able to find anything. The expectations also need to be set for the attendees. We’re not asking the attendees to sit and listen for fun, we want them to figure out how to sell to the panelists.
- Another point about this exercise, is that we can create an event series for different industries, because each type of industry will have similar yet different problems. For example, super-markets, fast food restaurants, universities, etc.
- Deployment of existing technologies means that there is no technology risk at all, in that all of the risks are known and can be reasonably quantified. The challenge in this environment is also sales and project finance.
- The most common examples of deployment of existing technologies is energy effieicny upgrades, solar pv installations, wind installations.
- The challenge to this businesses are complex but come down to 1) finding customers 2) streamlining operations profitably and 3) finding project finance investors. With each of those subject there are obviously more issues around how long sales cycles are after a customer purchases, good vs bad investors, etc.
- The other issue around finding customers mainly goes into the problem of 1) is the customer aware that they have a problem and 2) do they percieve it as a large problem. If neither are true, sales become difficult. In some case, the answer might be yes to both, but they are unaware of any solutions and don’t know where to start looking for solutions. This challenge becomes a match making dilema.
- On the project finance side, the challenge is also that of 1) finding the right project, both in size and investment criteria and 2) finding investors that are willing to invest small sums of money. Small meanings, less than hundreds of millions of dollars. For typically project finance, let’s say a $2 billion dollar building with a develop that has 40 years of experience, the process and risks are known.
- The problem with funding project finance for projects that might valued at $500,000 is that the developer might only be 6 years old, the technology has only be “risk-less” for 3 years. This compounded the impact of having a small project because it means there is less capital for due diligence.
- The impact of small projects and a new industry compounds the problem for another two reasons. First, a pipeline may or may not existing. A $500,000 project is fine with a large investor, if there are 1,000 more of them that fit the same profile. If they are materially different, due diligence must be done.
- The other issue that has a strong impact on small projects is transaction costs. $50,000 in legal fees is not much for a 10MW solar farm, it’s a lot for a 200kW project. The investment is being run driven through tax credits, the mechanism that is driving renewable energy deployment. The reason that this is a problem is that the trasnaction costs (the legal and acounting costs) are high. Cash, cash equity, debt, tax equity all need to be raised, legal structures need to be created with specific operating arrangements for partnership flips, lease pass throughs, O+M contracts established, the whole nine years.
- The challenge for new companies looking to delpoy technologies, finding legendary project investors. These are project investors that get it. They have passive income (they can use the passive losses generated by the tax credits) but they also understand the renewable energy market place. Again, this is a match making excercise.
- How could this be helped with an event? Similar to running an event for deploying new technology, the challenge we’re facing here is largely matching making. How do we find customers that are actively looking to invest a lot of cash in renewable energy and energy efficiency project?
- Setting expectations. The key to have a useful event, once we’ve found panelists, is to have them go into the specifics of their research process and tell them what they’re 1) afraid of and 2) what is the criteria of projects that will go through.
October 19th, 2012BOSTON -
Next week, I’ll be hosting an event in Boston for homeowners interested in renewable energy. There’s a lot of confusion around which technology is the best, the most efficient, and what exactly the incentives and financials actually look like. Needless to say, the answers to all those questions are “it depends”.
The event is specifically for homeowners. We’re have a few great event partners and contractor who will be there to answer any questions. It’s happening on Thursday afternoon in Cambridge.
Here are more details:
The goal of the workshop is to clearly and blunty address many of the questions that homeowners have about investing in renewable energy in Massachusetts.
The workshop is for property owners that are looking to invest in renewable energy and get basic questions answered.
The workshop will be capped at 20 people.
Focus will be on three technologies
- Solar PV
- Solar Thermal
- Ground Source Heat Pumps
- How each technology works
- What are the best properties and homes for each technology. How do you know if your home works?
- What are the risks for each technology and how are they eliminated
- Top 5 questions to ask any contractor that is doing work
- Detailed construction timelines and project photos so you can see how each technology is actually installed
Finance and Government Incentives
- A Quick review of government incentives available
- Rebates vs tax credits vs production based incentives
- Buying solar cash vs debt vs 3rd party leases. What are the pros and cons of each
- Typicall returns for each technology based on the property
Questions and Answer: Bring them all!
About your Speaker
Chris Williams will be your host. He has designed and installed 300kW of solar PV and plenty of solar thermal and geothermal systems as well. He’s the Chairman of the Government Relations Committee at NEGPA, a consultant at Voltaic Solaire in NYC that recently completed the cities first 100% solar powered building, the Chief Marketing Officer at HeatSpring, a leading national renewable energy training company and frequently writes and has been quoted in Greentech Media, Renewable Energy World, Forbes, Climate Progress, Cleantechies, and Alternative Energy Stocks.
- Energy Sage
- Green Light Distrikt
- HeatSpring Magazine
- New England Renewable Energy Systems
- S+H Construction
- 360 Chestnut
August 12th, 2012NEW YORK -
My life is extremely random. Last year, I wrote about my interest in real estate, renewable energy and reducing a buildings utility costs by 75%, making it much more profitable. I’ve run the numbers and know it’s possible, it all really comes down to having the right client because the technology works.
Two months ago, I was walking by a weird looking in Brooklyn, see the above image. I noticed there was an array on the top of the roof, but that it wasn’t at the proper angle for a fixed tilt array in the latitude of NYC (it was around 20 degrees, a better angle is around 40 degrees). A hear a voice yell at me from across the street, “those are solar panels”. I looked down at him for a second, back up at the array and replied, “yes, I know. Why is the array so low?”. The man looked at me strangely, wondering why a young punk was questioning him about a system he likely designed and installed him on the street. He looked back up at the array and said “oh, height restrictions in NYC, the DOB won’t wouldn’t let us build any higher.” He came across the street, we talked for 30 minutes, and started working together.
The first thing I’m doing is creating a speaker series and monthly building door to show what’s possible in NYC with renewable energy and energy efficiency. The is two purposes of the event:
- I’ll be inviting speakers who are actively working on increasing the adoption of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and recycled materials in NYC. They will range from policy, to non-profits,
- The purpose of the building tour is very simple, to show that this technology works and frankly, it’s not hard. It you own a building in NYC, investing in using less energy is a riskless investment.
Again, you can RSVP here: http://thedeltatour.eventbrite.com/
Here’s the full desciption of the event:
Learn the ins and outs of integrating renewable energy in buildings in NYC. Join us on Sunday August 19th for at 1pm for a 1 hour tour of “The Delta” in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.
This is the 1st in what will become a free monthly speaker series in Brooklyn about green building, renewable energy, and energy efficiency in NYC. Each month, we’ll give a tour of the building and invite guests to speak about various topics related to green building.
This month we will be hosting
- Max Rubenstein from BIG!NYC who will be talking about using recycled building materials in NYC
- Max Joel from Solar One will discuss why solar power *hearts* NY and vice versa. Find out what it takes to get solar on your roof, what it does up there, and how government incentives for renewable energy work.
The Delta is 100% powered with solar and utilizes many renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies that significantly decrease it’s energy use by more then 75% compared with the average building. The building has extensive use of
- Solar PV
- Solar thermal
- Small wind
- Air-source heat pumps
- Recycled materials
- Super efficient building envelope
- Super efficient appliances.
The tour is free but has limited space, you MUST RSVP for the event. It’s open to the public and it is for NYC residentis that are interested in learning more and understanding what it possible in the city when it comes to energy efficiency and renewable energy.
We’ll tour the building, have a simple presnetation to illustrate how the technologies work and will have plenty of time to answer any and all of your questions. Please come with questions
What you’ll learn
- The challenges and possibilities of renewable energy and energy efficiency in New York City
- How The Delta produces so much renewable energy and uses such a small amount of energy
- How renewable energy technologies work, and how they integrate into existing building
- Which technology is most efficient and provides the best financial return
- How to utilize recycled matierls the most efficinctly in NYC
- How to manage the demolition process to send the least amount of garbage to the dump
- How NYC and NY state is supporting renewable energy technologies
About the Delta: The Delta is the 1st building in NYC to be 100% powered by solar. The Delta has been featured and numerous publications and you can read more about it here:
About your host: Chris Williams
Chris Williams will be your host. He has designed and installed 300kW of solar PV and plenty of solar thermal and geothermal systems as well. He’s a consultant at Voltaic Solaire, the Cheif Marketing Office at HeatSpring, a leading national renewable energy training company and frequently writes and has been quoted in Renewable Energy World, Forbes, Climate Progress, Cleantechies, and Alternative Energy Stocks.
About the Super Special Speaker: Max Rubinstein
Deconstruction Manager, Max Rubinstein, from Build It Green!NYC will be speaking about incorporating reuse and recycling in your next home renovation project. Deconstruction is the selective and careful dismantling of buildings to maximize re-use and recycling rates. Build It Green!NYC’s Deconstruction Team can professionally dismantle anything from a kitchen to a whole house, uninstalling the items carefully and removing the items as a tax deductible donation. Decon is also your best environmental, and often financial, alternative to the landfill!
About BIG!NYC: Build It Green!NYC, is New York City’s only non-profit retail outlet for salvaged and surplus building materials. Our warehouse has everything from panel doors to high end refrigerators and shutters to movie props. Our mission is to keep these materials out of the landfill, while offering deep discounts on their resale. We are sponsored by Community Environmental Center (CEC)www.cecenter.org. Founded in late 2004, our Astoria warehouse opened in February of 2005. Our second reuse center opened in November 2011 and is now open 7 days a week in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Learn more at www.bignyc.org.
Speaker Bio: Max spearheads the Deconstruction program at Build It Green!NYC. The recurring scene of perfectly good building materials crushed at the bottom of a dumpster led him to BIG!NYC, and he’s never looked back. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Max attended Bard College where he received a Bachelor of Arts in film. Since then he has really cultivated his skills as a precision craftsman, having worked as a fabricator, cabinetmaker and carpenter, all in NYC.About our Second Speaker: Max Joel, Solar One
Max Joel is the former Director of the Energy Connections Program at Solar One, a non-profit green energy, arts, and education center based in New York City. The Energy Connections Program develops education, outreach, and community partnership projects in an effort to make all New Yorkers part of our city’s ambitious efforts to combat climate change and develop a clean, green economy. Ongoing projects include Clean Energy Connections, a discussion series and networking hub for NYC’s emerging cleantech economy, and Whole Building Education, which trains the managers, staff, and residents of low-income housing in energy savings behaviors and management strategies. Max also served as a NYSERDA Energy $mart Communities Coordinator, helping building owners and businesses access incentives for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.Previously, Max was the Capital Projects Coordinator for the Queens Botanical Garden, where he facilitated the construction of New York City’s first public building to achieve LEED Platinum certification. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from Columbia University and a master’s degree in Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, where his thesis explored emerging and innovative strategies for financing green community development. Max is a 2008 Doris Duke Conservation Fellow and serves on the Advisory Board of the Jewish Greening Fellowship. He is currently consulting with Solar One and launching his own consulting practice specializing in renewable energy and community development.
November 21st, 2011London -
I want to give you all a brief update on the Green Light Distirkt over in the UK. Since the founding of GLD in London more than six months ago, things have been going from strength to strength. GLD UK has so far, hosted five fascinating Energy Bars, with speakers each bringing their own unique twist of insight.
May – The start!
May was our inaugural Energy Bar in London; the first small step in building up traction in the UK. Conveniently, Chris Williams happened to be travelling through Europe completing research for the development of the Hitchhikers Guide to Cleantech. During his stop off in London he dropped by to give a talk on the founding of GLD and his latest projects. The event was a fitting start for GLD UK to host our first Energy Bar with the GLD founder in town. + Continue Reading
October 25th, 2011BOSTON -
I find that great events have three things in common. First, a very specific topic for a specific group of professionals. Second, you walk away having learned something and had an expectation of what you were going to learn when you RSVP’d. General networking is great but by itself can be boring. Third, a great crowd. The learnings from the crowd can often be better then the ones gained from the speakers, but you still need both.
In November, I’m helping to organize two events that will be extremely useful for professionals and entrepreneurs interested in the cleantech space in the Boston area. Each event is targetting a different and growing part of the industry.
The first is the HeatSpring Renewable Energy Meetup. It’s specifically targeted at professionals who are marketing, selling, designing or installing geothermal heat pumps, solar pv, or solar thermal systems. We’ll be having 6 presenters that will share best practices they’ve learned in the industry.
RSVP Here: http://heatspringmeetup.eventb
Date/Location. Sea Dog Brew Pub. Woburn, MA. 6pm – 8pm. Nov 29th
Green Light Distrikt and Energy Bar are hosting the 4th Energy Bar. The theme is how to scale a venture after initial sales. High growth cleantech companies have specific challenges to overcome in building sales after initial sales. The presenters will discuss common obstacles and how to overcome them. Presenters will be @cleantechvc, Rob Day, and Mike Feinstein VP of Sales and Marketing at Digital Lumens.
Details here: http://energybarboston.eventbrite.com/
Date/Location. Greentown Labs, Boston, MA. 5:30pm-8:30pm Dec. 1