7 Top Innovators, Inventors, & Entrepreneurs To Watch In Cleantech

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Here’s another story idea from the wonderful Climate Reality Project that I’m running with this week, as part of its Road to Paris campaign. But there’s a big caveat regarding the topic of this piece. Battery storage is one of the hottest segments of cleantech today, and there are hundreds of great people working on potential breakthroughs or important incremental improvements in this realm. Picking one or two of them seemed like it would be unfair (and practically impossible for me), so I decided to essentially ignore that sector of cleantech. If you want to learn about some of the big innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs in this space, I recommend checking out my piece on “42 battery storage companies to watch.” Explore any of those companies in much depth and you’ll find a wealth of wonderful cleantech leaders.

So, with that caveat out of the way, on to 7 cleantech innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs who I think you should know and keep an eye on.

Ian Wright
Ian Wright

Ian Wright

I’m not highlighting Ian simply because Chris and I recently got to interview him on Cleantech Talk. Ian deserves to be on this list. He was one of the key engineers who founded Tesla Motors. (Heard of that company?) But rather than stay there, he jumped ship in order to start his own electric truck company. If you think Tesla has great revenue-generation potential and will help a great deal to fight climate change and cut pollution, then you really need to learn more about Wrightspeed and how it compares. I’m sure Ian is not done innovating, inventing, and driving positive change, and he also hinted at some big developments coming out of Wrightspeed someday in the future (presumably soon). Keep an eye on Ian and the wonderful work he’s doing.

Dale Hill
Dale Hill

Ryan Popple, John Sleconich, & Dale Hill

Sticking with the theme of large electric vehicles, Proterra is a company to watch. And as soon as it hits the stock market, I intend to pour some money into it. The electric bus manufacturer is off to a pioneering start in this important market, and it’s a market I expect to explode in the coming decade.

ryan popple
Ryan Popple

Ryan Popple is Proterra’s CEO & President. Previously, he was a Partner at the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers and Senior Director of Finance at Tesla Motors in its “early days.” Needless to say, keep an eye on this boy.

John Sleconich doesn’t have a long history in the world of startups, but he’s in the space now as the Vice President of Engineering at Proterra, after a humble 25 years at “two of the world’s foremost aerospace companies.”

While not appearing on Proterra’s “leadership team” page, Dale Hill founded the company way back in 2004. Talk about vision! He also founded TransTeq, “a company that designed and manufactured the EcoMark Alternative Fueled Hybrid-Electric Vehicle for the Denver Regional Transportation District’s 16th St. Mall.” And he’s described as a career entrepreneur and is an engineer by education. I wonder what he’s dreaming up right now….


Wang Chuanfu & Warren Buffett

Wang Chuanfu

You can’t talk about electric buses without talking about Wang Chuanfu. Holding the title of richest Chinese citizen for a time, Wang came from a farming family to build the cleantech behemoth known as BYD. As much as Proterra would like it to be otherwise, BYD has dominated the nascent electric bus market. It has had successful pilots in Europe, North America, the Middle East, South America, and Asia; and it continues to roll out record-breaking electric buses.

Reportedly, BYD’s electric buses compete with conventional diesel buses on cost. Furthermore, it benefits from being based in the world’s largest economy, and one where the government is heavily prioritizing electric vehicles. BYD has sold thousands of electric buses to Chinese cities, and it also dominates China’s fast-growing electric car market (also see here and here).

BYD didn’t start in electric vehicles — it started in the rechargeable battery market (think mobile phone batteries) thanks to Wang Chuanfu’s useful battery inventions. It expanded into autos, before deciding to quickly transition (a transition still in progress) to 100% electric vehicles. It is also in the stationary energy storage, solar, and energy efficiency markets. BYD is a top cleantech company to watch, imho, and Wang Chuanfu is the brilliant man behind it all (who apparently convinced Warren Buffett to become BYD’s top investor). By the way, BYD and ABB intend to together become the world’s #1 battery supplier — seemingly in a tight race with Tesla + Panasonic.

Sunil Paul Sidecar
Sunil Paul

Sunil Paul & Jahan Khanna

I’ve seen the name a number of times, but Sunil Paul’s cleantech leadership really came to my attention within the past week (see this panel discussion). Sunil patented the idea of ordering a car on your phone back in 2002, seven years before Uber was founded. Starting Sidecar in 2012 with Jahan Khanna, Sunil has led the startup into the delivery space as well as its CEO. Prior to Sidecar, Sunil was involved in carsharing and a few Internet-based startups. Sunil also coined the term “cleanweb.” As a “veteran entrepreneur” with an engineering degree, Sunil is someone I think we should all be watching.

Jahan Khanna
Jahan Khanna

Jahan Khanna is sidecar’s CTO and other cofounder. “As a University of Michigan Student, Jahan was lead programmer on the ‘Magic Bus Project’, a transit application that told passengers how long they’d wait for the next bus,” the Sidecar website states. “This school project became Shepherd Intelligent Systems, a transportation software company for public transit, taxi, limo, school and shuttle bus fleets that was later adopted by universities nationwide.” The Magic Bus Project + Sidecar = not a bad career start, wouldn’t you say?

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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