Interview with The Climate Collective’s Pratap Raju about India’s Cleantech Startups

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I had the opportunity to meet with Pratap Raju, Founding Partner at the Climate Collective, two years ago at the 2018 ClimateLaunchpad Global Grand Final in Edinburgh. That was the first year India was a participating country in the global competition, and it was a great success.

During the first year of participation, there were 45 Indian national level contestants, and 4 teams that attended the Global Grand Final in Scotland. And it was JSP, a team from Chennai, India, that won Second Prize in the Finals that year.

I reached out to Pratap recently to learn more about what’s happening on the ground with the Indian ClimateLaunchpad program, how the teams are adapting to a virtual event this year, and to learn more about how his work with the Climate Collective has progressed since we last had a conversation. Below is the edited version of our email conversation.

Pratap Raju

CleanTechnica is a paid media partner with ClimateLaunchpad for the fourth year running. See more about the upcoming Global Grand Final, and see our previous coverage of ‘the world’s green business competition’ over the past four years.

Andrea Bertoli (AB): Can you tell me more about your role in this year’s competition?

Pratap Raju (PR): This is my third year running the ClimateLaunchpad program in India. After a great start, the program grew strongly in 2019. Over a dozen teams attended the Global Grand Finals, and three India teams won and thus joined the Climate-KIC Accelerator. In 2020, more than 100 cleantech startups have joined the India program. I think this is a very good sign during COVID as partial lockdowns are still prevalent across much of India.

My team is also running the ClimateLaunchpad programs in Sri Lanka and Maldives for the second year in a row. We’ve expanded further, and are also hosting teams from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the first time. This is very exciting, as we get to learn more about the cleantech startup ecosystem in that region.

As one of the Global Trainers for ClimateLaunchpad, I work in various countries. I work in India, and I have trained the startups at the bootcamps in Sri Lanka and Maldives, along with hosting my first trainings in the Middle East (UAE and Israel) and Central Asia (Uzbekistan) this year.

AB: I know in 2018 there were Indian regional finals due to such high enrollment from states across the country. Participation has grown a lot over the past years, so I’m curious how the competition is shaping up as we get closer to the finals on 30 September, 2020.

PR: Yes, it has grown a lot! We started with 45 teams in 2018, and the India program grew strongly to 183 cleantech startups admitted (out of 600+ applications) in 2019. This year, partly due to COVID and other reasons, the numbers are down from 2019, but we still have over 100 cleantech startups that have been selected to join in India. And while the overall numbers are down, the goods news is that the applications came from a much wider set of regions of India that typically do not offer much startup support, especially in cleantech.

While Bangalore, Mumbai, and Delhi are often considered the tech centers in India, we saw startups join from across East India (Bihar, Orissa), Northeast (Assam, Arunachal), and large parts of central India (Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh). [Editor’s Note: Here’s a map of India states should they not be familiar to you.]

AB: What has happened in the Indian startup scene since we last spoke? What trends are you seeking across sectors and across the startup culture generally?

PR: A broader theme that I’ve seen is an increase in B2B startups, which stems from industry getting more involved in leveraging innovation to solve problems or compete for new customers. This is reflected in cleantech startups, which was hardly present a few years ago, but now seem to be present in a significant number of startup programs. And interestingly, although cleantech angel investors initially paused when COVID and lockdowns hit India, cleantech startup investment has started again, indicating that many stakeholders are considering the current COVID and economic disruptions to be of a short-term nature.

AB: How are your teams working with the new all-digital programming?

PR: From the beginning, we knew that a truly powerful and inclusive startup ecosystem in India would need to be designed to reach out across the breadth of India to realize its full potential. As a result, outside the bootcamps and the Global Grand Final event, the rest of the program was already digital.

Therefore, going fully online for 2020 has not proven to be difficult for either the startups or the team leads. The all-digital bootcamps proceeded smoothly and we saw strong levels of engagement, which was helped by the excellent program design from the ClimateLaunchpad team.

Perhaps more importantly, the all-digital Finals (at both at the National level, South Asia level, and Global Grand Final) has increased participation from countries like India where funding is not always available for all the teams.

AB: What else would you like to share with our readers?

PR: As we have pivoted to an all-digital program this year, we have designed a totally new event – Climate Startup Week – to coincide with the end of the ClimateLaunchpad program in South Asia. During a one-week period we will be hosting National Finals for India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, and Bhutan on the 8-9 September, and South Asia Finals on 12 September, where the top 10 teams will go onto the Global Grand Finals on 30 September.

To make this competition more valuable to the startups, we have a series of training sessions on 10-11 September for cleantech startups on climate impact assessment, voluntary carbon markets, communications for sustainability, and more.

With over 120+ cleantech startups from South Asia pitching during our Climate Startup Week, we have also added other events to support the ecosystem, such as our first Climate Startup Jobs Fair, the launch of our Climate Startup School, showcases for women in cleantech, and roundtables on how startups can play key roles in the fight against Climate Change and the transition to a Circular Economy. Those interested can read more about Climate Startup Week here.

AB: Can you please also share a bit about the Climate Collective and how it interfaces with the ClimateLaunchpad programs and others?

PR: The Climate Collective is looking to build a regional climate startup ecosystem in South Asia that is holistic, integrated, and now virtual. We’re building around an integrated set of early-stage cleantech accelerators – Climate Ready, ClimateLaunchpad (ClimateKIC), and Climate Runway. We are looking at building programs and platforms around education for climate entrepreneurs (for example, launching Climate Startup School next month), developing our first venture fund, develop research and tools for stakeholders (we have an upcoming impact certification product for startups), and building more and more community programs such as our Climate Talks webinar series and events such as Climate Startup Week.

To build this ambitious plan for South Asia, we have been able to partner with ClimateLaunchpad, bringing their wealth of experience and platform to our region. As well, we have partnered with New Energy Nexus (formerly CalCEF) to set up New Energy Nexus India support clean energy startups in the region, and have run our first plastic waste design sprint with The Incubation Network. In the future, we hope to be able to leverage more and more partners globally to come to India and South Asia and support the cleantech startups space with us.

Thanks, Pratap, for taking the time to chat with us and sharing your vision for a more connected, collaborative, climate-focused business ecosystem in South Asia and beyond. See you at the Global Grand Finals in a few weeks!

This article was supported by ClimateLaunchpad. Images from ClimateLaunchpad and used with permission.

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