Clean Tech Start-Ups — How Investors Can Help With Business Strategy


As someone that is passionately involved in getting clean tech businesses off the ground I can’t help thinking that some of the businesses in this space are missing a trick or five?

For the last few months I have been working with a renewable energy business that is crammed full of engineering and proven IP excellence, they have a strong business model, off-take agreements and contracts in place – an investors dream. But it is lacking one key ingredient – and that is business soul. The emphasis on the business is – due to the background of its people – driven on a project management and large corporate structures, they are keen to debate sign-on fees, investor restrictions, pension funds, multi-layered structures and confining operating procedures based on what they know.

Yet at the same time they are still a start-up and have a great opportunity to do things differently in how they build the business, operate and deliver excellence. The problem is, as I found out very quickly, that change scares the hell out of them due to the fact that they know no different. Now, what normally inspires me about what I do for a living is the freshness and enthusiasm of bright new businesses with strong ideals and thinking wanting to change the world. Sure a lot of what those businesses dream of is battered out of them in getting the company off the ground but they try not to be what they have left behind in terms of over-engineered process and tired and rusted thinking.

Back to my happy band of renewables, I invited them and their new investors to a workshop with a bunch of enlightened speakers that could show them the power of maybe and what if. The speakers came from businesses like thinkpublic who are a UK based design business working in the public sector that have developed a simple process called co-design where problem solving is overcome by bringing in all of the stakeholders (including customers) together to work things out – simple but very powerful.

I outlined the thinking of Conscious Capitalism that starts off by questioning the premise of why businesses start and end with a profit motive as opposed to building a great business, with strong ideals (including profit) built into the strategy as opposed to a bolt on sentence called a mission statement.

David Firth was there, he believes in ……

  1. that people matter, and are more than simply resources
  2. that work itself matters, and that we begin to demean its power in our lives and its contribution to our collective futures the moment we begin to see it primarily as an economic transaction
  3. that we are capable of co-creating extraordinary futures – and that phrase may simply be another expression for ‘the Organisation’ – but as human beings we sometimes get in our own way
  4. that traditional, popular, patriarchal ways of organising have not just outlived their usefulness, but have become a real example of how we unintentionally get in the way of our own best futures
  5. that improving relationships up and down the organisation is always going to be a weaker option than creating a space for powerful, peer-to-peer, Adult-Adult relationships to develop
  6. that following any instinct to minimise or sanitise anxiety in an individual or organisation (and common examples of this include appraisal systems, most training and your annual conference) is a result of not having understood 1. above.

…thanks David, I could not have put it better myself.

Within 2 hours my bunch of engineers had changed from shivering sceptics to wide eyed idealists that were already putting some of this thinking into practice of how they would run their business. The investor (who funded the day) was seen as someone that could help their business as opposed to an ends to a means.

The day was a long one and at the end – with a cold beer in hand – the brain was humming with a revised business strategy which evolved around creating a great business with collective responsibility, realistic and workable empowerment and a strong ethic that was bought into by most of the team – I say most as there is always going to be one that refuses to change… but I am still working on him.

[photo credit: Flickr]



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One comment on “Clean Tech Start-Ups — How Investors Can Help With Business Strategy

jonny

As someone that is passionately involved in getting clean tech businesses off the ground I can’t help thinking that some of the businesses in this space are missing a trick or five?

For the last few months I have been working with a renewable energy business that is crammed full of engineering and proven IP excellence, they have a strong business model, off-take agreements and contracts in place – an investors dream. But it is lacking one key ingredient – and that is business soul. The emphasis on the business is – due to the background of its people – driven on a project management and large corporate structures, they are keen to debate sign-on fees, investor restrictions, pension funds, multi-layered structures and confining operating procedures based on what they know.

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