Hitch Hikers Guide to Cleantech

October 3rd, 2011

The Hitchikers Guide to Cleantech: A Global Resource for Cleantech Entrepreneurs

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At first, the Green Light Distrikt was just a place for me to jot down some thoughts that had been brewing for a while. Last year, it turned into a place to write about what was happening within the cleantech industry in a specific city as it pertained to young professionals, notice the different cities in the header. Now, the the Green Light Distrikt is making a third, and perhaps final, shift in focus. In the past two years, I’ve noticed that the articles I most enjoy writing and the ones that get the most comments are always about strategies and reflections on attempts to find opportunites to start successful companies within the cleantech industry. This is also the theme that has created many of the relationships between myself and individuals I have come into contact through writing. We know their’s a huge problem, it seems like a large and profitable opportunity, but it’s going to take a lot of trail and error (and sharing those learnings) to figure out the solution. There’s many people I have come to respect through my blog that I don’t think I would have otherwise come into contact with. I’d like to focus the Green Light Distrikt on connecting with more individuals that are working on solving and taking advantage of this problem.

To begin the third stage of Green Light Distrikt I’m going to launch Green Light Distrikt’s first project, “The Hitch Hikers Guide to Cleantech”. The story of the hitchhikers guide is below.

Story of “The Hitchhikers Guide to Cleantech”

In the first half of 2011 I decided to take a trip to Europe. I had never been there, and wanted to visit some friends and family. While I was there, I thought I would have some causual conversation with professionals working in the cleantech sector in the various cities I was going to visit. Why? The stereotype in the US is that Europe is lightyears ahead of us, so I wanted to do research for myself. I shared the types of questions I’d be asking and why I was curious.

At first, the “research” was simply out of personal interest. As an entrepreneur, I was looking for opportunities. I was going to be Copenhagen, London, Hamburg, Berlin, Munich and other parts of Europe anyway, why not see what was going on? I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and if  Europe is trully ahead, and if so how, and if the markets are very regional as they are in the US.

Time and time again, after I completed a conversation/interview the person whom I was speaking with would ask. “Wait, so what are you doing again?” I would tell them I’m travelling around and speaking with people as I go. I’d tell them that my goal was to understand what was driving each cluster from the perspective of an entrepreneur. I wanted to identify opportunities. After describing my reasons they would undounbtably say “that sounds very interesting. Please keep in touch, I’m interested to read about what’s happening in other regions.”

From Personal Interest to a Public Guide

After going through the above conversation many times, I realized there was more to what I was doing then just personal interest. Everyone is interested in hearing an “on the front lines” account of what is going on other clusters. Here are my guesses as to what’s driving interest.

  • The industry is growing quickly but is extremely regional. Thus, the industry is growing differently in different places for different reasons. The industry is still driven by policy. Thus, what is driving each industry is regional in nature (prices of fuel, building codes, local regulations) so what’s happening in cluster X may not apply to another cluster. Thus, people tend to not pay attention to other clusters because they’re so focused on their own cluster.
  • While the clusters are driven from regional conditions there is a lot of beneficial collaboration that could happen, and people see this. For example, leveraging different regions technical or policy strengths to quickly prototype while selling to regions that have customer demand.
  • The industry has developed in a culture of collaboration and cooperation while also sharing many ideals with the internet industry. This drives an interest in transparency but there is still not sufficient information.
  • There’s a lot of things to go under the radar of largely read news sources. Mainly because there are a few huge companies and tons of smaller ones. The smaller once go under the radar.
  • What’s being published tends to be news and not targeted structly to providing USEFUL information for entrepreneurs looking to create companies.

What is the purpose of the guide?

My personal goal when I was completing research was to answer the really simple questions that would allow me (or others) to get “plugged” into a region very quickly. By “plugged” in, I mean understanding the landscape of the cluster in order to find an opportunity to building a company or leverage a clusters strengths while building a company.

To put it another way, I wanted to solve the following experiment. “My name is Chris, I’m moving from Boston to lets say London, and I want to start a company in the cleantech industry, what do I need to understand about that region to get started?”

Thus, my focus was; knowing the policy that’s driving the space, the current companies, how the universities are playing a role, the sentiment of the local investment community and the resources available to entrepreneurs. And by quickly, I mean that I wanted to be able to get “plugged” into a region in under a month rather then the 3 to 6 months it would take a person who was completely new to a region. It’s a small amount of focused information but it’s incredibility useful if you’ve ever tried to tap into an industry within a region.

During my conversations, I spoke with people about a large number of things. For the hitchhikers guide here’s what I want to share. 

  • Technology: What technology sectors (solar, wind, biomass, smartgrid, etc) are growing the fastest in your region and why?
  • Policy:  What federal, state or local policy is driving cleantech growth in your region? What technology is the policy focused on?
  • Investment Sentiment: Is investment being put into R+D, commercizilation of companies, or project finance? What is the source of these funds? (Venture capital, private equity, public, corporate)
  • Company Landscape: 
  • University: How is the univeristiy system supporting and interacting with the industry? Please provide specific examples.
  • Resources: What reoureces are available that would help entrepreneurs looking into your region? For example, incubators, business plan competitions, etc