The Cleantech Open has announced that it will expand into six countries: Armenia, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Africa, and Turkey. It intends to support innovation in energy efficiency, renewable energy, waste to energy, and water efficiency in those six nations. The Global Environment Facility (GEF), and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) are partnering with them on the accelerators.
Energy, environmental, and economic challenges in each of the six countries will be addressed by small and medium-sized ventures supported by the accelerators. While this may seem like a huge goal, the Cleantech Open is the largest clean tech accelerator in the world. Hundreds of startups have participated in the Cleantech Open, raising about $900 million in the process.
“Right now, entrepreneurs around the world are developing ingenious solutions to major challenges in the generation, distribution and storage of energy, air and water pollution, waste management, new forms of transport, and sustainable construction techniques,” explained Rex Northen, executive director of the Cleantech Open.
In each of the six new host countries there will be a national competition to identify new entrepreneurs with the most potential. The best cleantech entrepreneurs from those countries will travel to Silicon Valley in November 2014 to meet with potential investors.
Conservation is of critical importance for halting destruction of habitat and reducing climate change emissions, but innovation is also needed to create new, cleaner sources of energy and transportation such as electric vehicles. Frequently, these kind of projects are labelled as “green,” but reducing air pollution is also good for human health, not just better for environment.
Innovation also contributes tremendously to national economies. “Today, leadership in advanced energy technology is a national imperative. Global energy demand will grow by nearly 50 percent over the next 25 years, presenting a multi-trillion-dollar market opportunity. In the next decade alone, the global market for clean power assets could total $2.3 trillion,” Pew Environment writes.
Developing better energy technology is purposeful, because it improves society. Solving societal problems is often a primary motivation for inventors and entrepreneurs. In fact, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a Harvard Business School professor studies companies that focus on human values as much as profits and has found they have a proven potential to achieve greatness. “Rather than viewing organizational processes as ways of extracting more economic value, great companies create frameworks that use societal value and human values as decision-making criteria,” Harvard Business Review writes.
“They believe that corporations have a purpose and meet stakeholders’ needs in many ways: by producing goods and services that improve the lives of users; by providing jobs and enhancing workers’ quality of life; by developing a strong network of suppliers and business partners; and by ensuring financial viability, which provides resources for improvements, innovations, and returns to investors.”
Cleantech companies can make achievements for human society, the planet and for financial gain. Additionally, entrepreneurs and inventors can inspire their contemporaries to embrace change. It is especially when societies face adversity that our human ingenuity is called forth. Incubators can help spark ideas simply by existing because they provide gathering places for people that are enthused and want to go beyond the everyday norms. They also provide logistical support and sometimes even seed funding.
There is an assumption that federal governments and large corporations can be an effective source of innovation because they have greater amounts of money to invest in research and development. However, these kinds of huge organizations can also be burdened by cultures of bureaucracy that are risk averse and punitive. Psychologist Keith Sawyer from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has said that it is bureaucracy that is a true barrier to innovation.
In most companies, bureaucracy prevents innovation from emerging. At Semco, the solution was to get rid of the bureaucracy.
Semco improvises its way and intentionally avoids long-term planning, never looking ahead more than six months. In 2003, the company threw a party to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the last time that CEO Ricardo Semler made a decision. By 2003, Semco’s annual revenue had risen from $4 million to $212 million.” (Keith Sawyer, Group Genius, p.154 Basic Books; 2.3.2008 edition.)
Incubators and accelerators have the advantage of encouraging individuals to expand upon their sense of social purpose and passion, without burdening them with bureaucracy. In this case, cleantech is something that improves society, so one could argue that cleantech acceleration or incubation is a form of social innovation.
Marc Gottschalk is one of Cleantech Open’s co-founders. He has been the chief business development officer and general counsel for Proterra Inc, and he has a law degree from UC-Hastings. Rebecca Hwang is another co-founder. She also started YouNoodle.com and is an advisor at Stanford University.
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