5 Lessons Learned on Building Tomorrow’s Clean Technology Leaders

Lopburi solar plant in Thailand.
Lopburi solar plant in Thailand.

By Danny Kennedy

Asia is central to the global transition to cleaner energy. Change must happen on an unprecedented scale. We need solutions, and we need them fast.

As we stand on the brink of a global energy transition, we see clean energy finally gaining momentum, powered by innovations in renewables, energy efficiency, software, and finance. Clean energy startups are driving this revolution, developing the technologies, business models, projects, and services required to deploy climate change solutions at scale. To ensure the world’s new energy future, hundreds—even thousands—of these startups must succeed.

Asia is central to this transition to cleaner energy. Change must happen on an unprecedented scale. If it doesn’t, Asia will be consuming 54% more energy and emitting 20 billion tons of CO2 by 2035, or 46% of the planet’s total emissions. We need solutions, and we need them fast.

At the California Clean Energy Fund (CalCEF), we believe clean technology entrepreneurs and startups are a key answer to our energy future. However, there are very few of them, they can’t access risk capital, and they lack broader support. Accelerators and incubators are key to their success. They can turn high-potential ideas into investable businesses, preparing entrepreneurs to attract investors, partners, and customers. That’s why CalCEF partnered with ADB in June for the New Energy Nexus Accelerator Retreat, which brought together 28 leading clean technology accelerators and incubators. Collectively, these organizations have supported more than 1,000 successful startups and helped raise more than $2 billion in financing.

Over the course of a week we discussed how to work together to help the world’s cleantech startups scale up and succeed. To keep this process going, we launched the New Energy Nexus, which will continue to facilitate collaboration among accelerators, companies and investors to support clean, smart, and distributed energy startups worldwide. Here are 5 lessons learned from our talks for accelerators and startups:

  1. Choose wisely. The starting point for a successful cleantech accelerator is selecting the right startups. This is the most significant challenge, and requires sound strategy, planning, and outreach. Often entrepreneurs don’t come to you – you must go to them.
  2. Provide strong mentors. The best mentors for entrepreneurs are other entrepreneurs. Successful accelerators integrate peer-to-peer and alumni mentoring into their programs, and provide early stage entrepreneurs with one-on-one advice from experienced innovators or senior industry practitioners.
  3. Industry networks are essential. Accelerators should offer significant industry networks that can provide expertise, as well as introducing entrepreneurs to potential customers, partners, and investors.
  4. Provide basic business training. Entrepreneurs need practical business, financial, and management training relevant to their specific business needs. Accelerators must engage experienced practitioners who know what they are talking about to provide this training.
  5. Work together. If we are going to build tomorrow’s clean energy leaders, we need all the help we can get. Startups, accelerators, and investors in this critical space need to connect and collaborate.

Over the past decade, CalCEF has leveraged $1.5 billion in investment to support more than 100 clean energy enterprises. Energized by the scope and importance of the world’s clean energy challenges, we cheer initiatives like ABD’s Climate Change Strategic Framework for Action, which will help deliver $6 billion in climate investment by 2020 and assist developing nations in their efforts to cut emissions and curb the worst effects of climate change. Collaborative efforts like this or the New Energy Nexus spark discussions and new projects keep us moving toward a clean energy future. This is the exactly kind of innovative effort we need – in California, in Asia, and all over the world.