What Cleantech Companies Learned from All Those Graduation Speeches

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A famous, oft-repeated quote tells us to not just “see things as they are” but to “dream things that never were.” In fact, there’s probably a commencement speaker delivering some variation on that chestnut at this very moment.

If ever there was an industry that took this advice to heart, it would be cleantech.

When Burt Hamner, founder and CEO of Hydrovolts, decided that he would focus his technology development efforts on micro hydropower turbines that could run in irrigation canals and water aqueducts, he ran into several challenges. Most notably: there was no precedent—nobody had successfully done this before.

Meanwhile, when Marcus Hays, founder and CEO of Pi Mobility, decided to start an electric bike company, he was going up against an industry dominated by cheap bikes and a throwaway mentality. When he resolved to develop – and manufacture – a durable, well-engineered bike that could last dozens of years—rather than being tossed on the junk heap after a few years—he was creating a market that didn’t even exist yet.

In both cases, these companies were able to lean heavily on design technology to dream up an entirely new class of product.

Hydrovolts utilized digital modeling to create a turbine engineered for easy “drop-in” installation into constructed waterways — eliminating the need for dams or other permanent constructions. The turbine is held in place by mooring lines, while an output cable plugs directly into the power load onshore. The result? A turbine capable of generating clean, reliable power from a previously overlooked resource that happens to be located in millions of locations around the world.

For their part, Pi Mobility used design software to create a bike that is built around a solitary arch of recycled aluminum as its frame rather than a multitude of brittle plastic parts. In addition to lasting considerably longer than plastic, the aluminum tube safely houses the batteries and electronic components, allowing for easy upgrades as more efficient battery technologies become available. All of this future-proofing adds residual value to the PiCycle – a complete 180 from the “planned obsolescence” model followed by most other bike companies.

By using design technology to “dream things that never were”, these two cleantech companies are not just building better products—they’re building a better, more sustainable world.

The lesson for cleantech companies is clear: keep dreaming.

Article by Susan Gladwin who leads the Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program, which provides emerging clean tech companies powerful software and opportunities to help them develop solutions that address our most pressing environmental issues. In North America, Europe, Japan and Singapore, the Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program offers $150,000 of Autodesk software for $50 to qualified clean tech innovators.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

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