May 8, 2015

The network of clean energy organizations in the Northeast is already strong, and the community has grown even more through the support of the New England Clean Energy Council (NECEC), which hosted a very successful workshop at GE Global Research headquarters in New York last week. NECEC's Cleantech Navigate Northeast Summit brought together more than 100 leaders from the regional clean energy community to share insight on topics like working with investors, acquiring customers, and recruiting top talent. The event concluded with an excellent panel discussion on micro grids moderated by the CEO of Greentech Media, Scott Clavenna, and a keynote address during dinner from the Chief Marketing Officer at GE, Matt Guyette.

After introductions from Danielle Merfeld of GE Global Research and Janet Joseph of NYSERDA, the workshop moved into some facilitated networking, followed by group discussions of the three main topics for the day: working with investors, acquiring customers, and recruiting top talent. When it comes to funding opportunities, there was broad consensus from the group that better aligning expectations between company founders and investors would go a long way toward ensuring that the founders are matched with the correct type of funding for their company.

In proposing solutions for this funding challenge, the winning concept was called Entrepreneurial Harmony, or E Harmony, to highlight the similarities between securing funding and dating. The solution involves educational programs delivered through NECEC, such as funding evaluations tools, mock negotiations, and war stories, allowing NECEC to serve as an E Chaperone. This would allow company founders to gain a greater understanding of the type of company each investor is looking for and better align expectations to raise the chances of a successful match.

For acquiring customers, the group agreed that founders need to talk to more customers at an earlier stage in the company's development — and actually listen to the feedback they receive. Notably, in a survey of more than 150 clean energy entrepreneurs in the Northeast, the most prominent customer group mentioned was utilities (see word cloud below), implying that more opportunities to interact with this industry group would be valuable. Clean energy entrepreneurs identified utilities as a primary customer group.

Clean energy entrepreneurs identified utilities as a primary customer group.

The winning solution proposed for the customer acquisition challenge was called BABeL, which stands for Better Acquisition, Better Listening. This solution focuses on developing better active listening skills for company founders, through a boot camp training program, so that when entrepreneurs do have the opportunity to interact with customers, they gain valuable insight from the experience. This could help to prevent the issue of a company developing a solution that these customers don't actually need.

Finally, when it comes to acquiring talent, the clean energy industry overall could do a better job promoting the space to external groups, and individual companies could use more support understanding what their real staffing needs are at any given point in time. They could also use support actually executing the process of hiring, from posting the open positions on a variety of networks to selecting and interviewing qualified candidates.

The winning solution was called the Yenta Net and focuses on connecting top talent to exciting clean energy companies through working with the government to allow individuals finishing up at a large company to collect unemployment payments while working at an early stage startup. Another government-focused solution that this team proposed was allowing individuals who had a successful exit to get the capital gains tax back if they then go to work at another startup. Finally, headhunters who help find talent for startups would also get stock from a pool of top companies putting equity into a collective fund for this purpose.

Following the discussions of investors, customers, and talent, the meeting concluded with an excellent discussion of micro grids, moderated by Scott Clavenna of Greentech Media. The panel included Micah Kotch from NYSDERDA, Galen Nelson from MassCEC, Clark Bruno from Anbaric Transmission, and Ed White from National Grid. The primary focus of the discussion was how micro grids are a way to integrate distributed resources into the existing grid in a way that is needed and planned, supporting a more resilient and dynamic structure overall.

Finally, during dinner, the Chief Marketing Officer at GE, Matt Guyette, discussed the company's vision for the energy future. Attendees enjoyed delicious food, drinks, and networking during this concluding portion of the workshop, and we look forward to the next opportunity to get together with leaders not only from the Northeast but also around the country!