Clean Energy Ethnocentrism? It’s no joke.

12 June 2013

by ECCI's Andrew Mitchell. 

Andrew Mitchell is blogging at http://energyinformatics.eu on his experiences as the only non US pitch judge of the US DoE National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition.

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An Australian activist, a Scottish banker and an American serial entrepreneur walk into a bar; and start-up a successful global clean energy venture. No joke. Danny Kennedy, former Greenpeace activist, and Founder & President ofSungevity, brought into focus a key insight from the second annual US Department of Energy National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition.

Image: Dr Ernest Moniz - 13th United States Secretary of Energy

I am back in Washington DC for a second year to participate in the 'Investor Connect' element of this prestigious competition, which was kicked off yesterday by US Secretary of Energy, Dr Ernest Moniz, with a rallying call for entrepreneurs to deliver on the dual challenges of a clean energy future and jobs, driving further economic recovery for the United States.

There was an impressive line-up of investors from Silicon Valley Bank, Siemens Venture Capital (Palo Alto), Garage Technology Ventures, Massachusetts Green Energy Fund and 3M. Other than standing out from the crowd by not having any money to invest, I was conspicuous as being the only pitch judge from outside the United States. So what help and advice could I offer, other than to bring a European perspective to the start-ups' plans?

Having heard pitches from both years of the competition, it has been a real surprise to find that pretty much all of the start-ups are entirely and exclusively focused on the US market. Even when I asked a company about its China strategy, the answer focused on defending intellectual property, rather than the tremendous market opportunity.

Granted, the US market(s) are enormous, diverse and big enough to enable a start-up to achieve a significant scale. But if President Obama wants the Startup America recovery strategy to work, these young companies need to think, from day one, about total international domination in their chosen market niches, with ambitions to build multiple billion-dollar businesses in home states with global revenues.

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Steve Blank and Ray Rothrock on a Google+ Hangout at the DoE event

On day one of the competition startup-guruSteve Blank, via a Google+ hangout with Venrock Partner Ray Rothrock, encouraged the start-ups to “get out of their offices” to meet customers, iterating and validating their (lean, even in cleantech) businesses along the way. I’d go a step further and encourage the start-ups to think beyond the shores of the United States: to think about Europe, China, India, South America and Russia as part of their long term plans for delivering a clean energy future - and the Startup America objectives. 

Back to Aussie-activist-cum-cleantech-entrepreneur Danny Kennedy, the founder of Sungevity, which is growing rapidly (280 employees) located in Oakland, CA, and expanding into Europe and Australia. Danny has a firm grasp of the climate change challenge, entrepreneurship, Startup America and globalisation; and was a great inspiration to the finalists in the US Department of Energy National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition. Those finalists are:

Wednesday afternoon, 12th June 2013, will see these finalists pitch in Washington DC. My next post will give a short overview on each company and will share the news on who will win the $200,000 clean energy prize.

Andrew Mitchell blogs at http://energyinformatics.eu.