Cleantech Clusters – Scaling Local Economic Development for Global Investment

The Case For Global Cleantech Clusters:

Presented by: The Global Cleantech Cluster Association (GCCA)

There has been an explosion of cleantech clusters around the world, promising to help accelerate financing, growth, job creation and the next generation of sustainable technologies. Contents of this article were recently published in Environmental Finance (March 2012).

Emergence of CleanTech Clusters

Four years after public stimulus funds aimed at greening the economy were committed, a new pattern of economic development, green job creation, green procurement and high growth ventures is emerging. During the last decade, the development of the clean technology sector was driven by private or strategic corporate investments in venture-grade companies, or by investment in projects underpinned by renewable energy targets and carbon markets.

We argue that the low-carbon economy has now gone mainstream. Local, regional and countrywide economic development groups, business organizations, corporate partners, investors and centers of R&D are coalescing in clusters aimed at accelerating the path to market for clean-tech innovations. From Europe to the Asia Pacific, via North America, dozens of clusters have been launched, often in conjunction with major clean-tech investment events.

Whether as incubators of clean-tech growth companies, or business services and partnerships for later stage innovators, these clusters represent and attract a portfolio of companies characteristic of their mandate (whether job promotion, green procurement, economic development, or achieving high-value exits for investors) and local business culture (see table). Clean-tech clusters are fast becoming the driving force behind the acceleration of developments and innovations in energy, water, waste, clean fuels, green materials and green buildings.

In 2010, the Global clean-tech Cluster Association (GCCA) was formed to facilitate global connections, develop a platform of exchange for best practices, and align emerging startups with corporate partners. By joining the GCCA, clean-tech clusters and their member companies increase their exposure for their region and companies worldwide, while also harnessing the knowledge, experience, and other benefits a worldwide association of clusters have to offer.

Until the advent of the GCCA, international collaboration was limited by a scarcity of resources and a lack of strategic alliances between clusters and cluster member companies. The GCCA is addressing this challenge by making communication and collaboration for local clusters and their companies, faster, more efficient, affordable and, most importantly, global.

CleanTech Clusters help clean-tech investors.

Like mutual funds, the portfolio of companies within each cluster represents a spectrum of deals that are currently investable, or that may be investable in future, whether seed and venture, debt, strategic, project or public finance. Growing interest in clean technology has drawn aggregate cluster company investments upwards of $200 million, with individual investments in the sub-50 million range. The following serve to illustrate the value of cluster companies to a wide range of investor types (table). Ice Energy, a grid storage company in the Colorado cluster received series C investment of $24 million from VC and PE investors, while CleanTECH San Diego’s EcoATM, an electronics recycling company received a private equity round of $14.4 million. Finnish CleanTech’s Chempolis, a biomaterials company, established a debt/project finance-funded joint venture valued at $40 million in China’s Henan Province to construct a biorefinery, producing 160,000 tons of non-wood papermaking fibers and biochemicals. Dublin’s cluster company Open Hydro, a manufacturer of marine turbines for tidal energy production, received a nearly $ 20M. strategic investment from DCNS. Lastly, Viridity Energy (CleanTech Alliance MidAtlantic), a smart grid demand response technology company for institutional customers, received a series C corporate VC round from General Electric. Indeed, the seven clusters which track investment in member companies estimate that close to $ 800 million was invested in 2010–11 as the result of cluster efforts, a figure which, if replicated across the GCCA cluster universe, would suggest an aggregate exceeding $3 billion.

During the last few years, the CleanTech group has reported on the increasing trend of corporate strategic and venture investments in clean-tech companies. Clusters are capitalizing on this trend, engaging companies like Veolia Environment, Siemens, IBM and Bosh and many others to accelerate the integration of cleantech innovators in new business practices. Particularly active in this space are swisscleantech, CleanTECH San Diego, the Finnish CleanTech Cluster, EcoTech Quebec, the Singapore Sustainability Alliance and An tSlí Ghlas.

The GCCA, in partnership with CleanTech Acceleration Partners, an investment strategy consultancy, piloted an investment grade stress test (equity capital investable, other form of capital, or non-investable at this time, needing restructuring) as a part of its annual Later Stage Award evaluation, based on the KeyStone Compact™ method. Developed at the Zell-Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Michigan, companies are screened in a two-stage process (see inset; numbers based on estimated nominations for the 2012 Later Stage Award). The first screen assesses the company’s positioning for value capture based on the industry value chain, and get to market strategy. The second screen quantifies the upside potential of investment given typical exits and investment rounds or capital required.

Of the 185 companies (see pie chart for distribution across CleanTech sectors) nominated by the 28 leading GCCA clusters in 2011, 30 were screened for investment grade. Based on investor IRR expectations, 45% of companies were deemed VC or PE grade, and 5% of the scale and potential to deliver project finance returns. All other companies were screened out as requiring a different form of investment capital.

The finalists in ten sector categories, ranging from solar and wind, to water, green buildings and new materials were selected by GCCA investor judges, with $3.5 billion of cleantech capital under management, for ‘best in class’ awards.

Best in Biofuels – Imperative Energy. (Cluster: An sTli Ghlas – The Green Way, Dublin, Ireland). With offices in Ireland and the UK, Imperative Energy Ltd (IEL) is a bioenergy project developer with 35 active installations. Partnering with best-in-class technology providers from across Europe, IEL is expanding rapidly in terms of turnover and profitability. Having completed one round of fundraising (€29m) in 2009, IEL is embarking on a further round of fundraising to accelerate growth in UK and Ireland and prepare for entry into the US market. See more at

Best of Energy Efficiency/Green Buildings – Albeo Technologies. (Cluster: Colorado Cleantech IA, Boulder, Colorado, US). Albeo Technologies is a leading manufacturer of white-LED lighting systems for general illumination. The company has grown 775% over three years. Albeo’s deployments include high-bay LED lighting for Apple’s iCloud data center and Caterpillar’s large engine manufacturing facility. To learn more go to

Best of New Materials – Beneq. (Vantaa, Finland (Cluster: Finnish Cleantech, Vantaa, Finland). Beneq is a supplier of equipment and coating technology. Beneq develops applications and equipment for cleantech and renewable energy fields, especially in glass, solar and emerging thin film markets. Coating applications include optics, barriers and passivation layers, as well as energy generation and conservation. Beneq also offers complete coating services. To learn more, go to

Best of Renewable Energy – Open Hydro. (Cluster: An sTli Ghlas – The Green Way; Dublin, Ireland). An Irish tidal energy technology company, OpenHydro’s business is the design and manufacture of marine turbines for generating renewable energy from tidal streams. The company’s vision is to deploy arrays of tidal turbines under the world’s oceans, silently and invisibly generating electricity at no cost to the environment. OpenHydro has a project portfolio spanning the USA, Canada, France, Scotland and the UK’s Channel Islands with utility partners including EDF, Nova Scotia Power and SSE Renewables. For further information please visit

Best of Solar -Solaris Synergy. (Cluster: Chicago Clean Energy; Chicago, Illinois USA). Solaris Synergy has developed a low-cost concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) system designed to float on water surfaces, utilizing inexpensive, easy-to-manufacture platforms, based on a unique, patent pending cooling technology. The two key objectives of developing this system were; a) Significant reduction of the installed cost of the system, and; b) The utilization of “industrial” water surfaces in order to reduce the use of land resources, while simultaneously preserving water quantity and quality. For further information please visit

Best of Storage/Smart Grid – PowerGenix. (Cluster: CleanTECH San Diego; San Diego, California, USA). PowerGenix is the leading developer of Nickel-Zinc (NiZn) batteries, which boast significant advantages over other advanced batteries in energy and power density, cost, safety, toxicity and recyclability. NiZn batteries are an ideal solution for applications that demand large amounts of power in a small, lightweight and safe package, especially micro-hybrid (start/stop) vehicles. For more information, please visit

Best of Transportation – SAM Group. (Cluster: swisscleantech; Zurich, Switzerland). The Swiss company developed, built and launched the electric vehicle Sam EV II. Over 120 vehicles at a net price of EUR 14’000 were sold in several European countries yet. As a forerunner, Sam has a long-term strategy in the field of lightweight, energy efficient and affordable electric vehicles. See more at

Best of Waste – Newalta. (Cluster: EcoTech Quebec; Brossard, Quebec, Canada). Newalta is Canada’s leading industrial waste management and environmental services company. The company pushes beyond conventional thinking about waste, to find solutions that transform waste into new products that will contribute to a customer’s bottom line and reduce their environmental footprint. Where product recovery isn’t possible, Newalta find ways to reduce the production of waste at the source. For further information, please see

Best of Water – Rentricity. (Cluster: NYC Acre; New York, New York USA). Rentricity recovers energy from excess water pressure in pipes to produce renewable electricity. Rentricity targets water, wastewater and industrial infrastructure to integrate its Flow-to-Wire configurations. Electricity produced can either be sold into the electric grid or used behind-the-meter. For further information, please see

Best of Wind – Moventas. (Cluster: Finnish Cleantech; Jyväskylä, Finland). Finnish Moventas is one of the largest manufacturers of wind turbine gears in the world. Moventas also provides extensive services for gear overhaul and maintenance. Moventas’ expertise is based on combining decades of experience with leading-edge technologies. The Moventas brand stands for reliability, responsiveness and assurance as a dependable partner. Further information at

GCCA Cluster Company Screening is Based on Business Fundamentals: KeyStone Compact™ and KeyStone Score™

Method Summary: The KeyStone Compact™ is a scalable analytical tool that integrates business fundamentals with tacit knowledge gained from successful serial entrepreneurs and investors. It’s value lies in the data-driven approach to progressively and rigorously assess the potential value capture and investability of new ventures and later stage companies. At its core, the assessment tools that make up the KeyStone Compact™ provide a quantitative stress test and repositioning methodology for new ventures, existing ventures seeking renewal or equity investment, or economic development sectors in need of company portfolio balancing. Iterating through the two assessment frameworks (Positioning for Value Capture, PVC and Profiting from Capabilities, PFC; see left and right diagram respectively) answers four key questions: (i) is the venture or the industry sector portfolio able to leverage its capabilities in a way that creates value?, (ii) is the venture or industry sector portfolio strategically positioned to be able to capture a portion of this created value?, (iii) is the venture or the sector portfolio attractive to outside investors?, and (iv) is this venture or sector portfolio strategically aligned with broader organizational goals such as economic development? The method has been applied to over 500 companies in CleanTech, space science, biotech, ICT, social ventures, biomedical devices and consumer products.

Based on PVC, all companies are subjected to bottom-up analysis in their value system (biofuels, solar, wind, etc…), and are assigned a preliminary KeyStone Score™ (1. No capturable value; 2. Niche business; 3. License opportunity; 4. Strategic partnership; 5. Strong new business potential), and only companies with scores 3-5 are carried forward to the PFC analysis. Again, either using screening level or in depth analysis, the PFC maps the company in the ‘upside potential’ to ‘time to scale’ space, resulting in four quadrants: social venture or hobby, not investable (requiring repositioning), bootstrappable or non-equity financing, and potential equity finance. Of importance in this map is the valuation-over-investment ratio, and the investment-over-time ratio, which determines capital required and time frames over which this investment is needed. This information is analyzed using a proprietary financial model to develop the scale and projections for value capture, and investment required. Research to date indicates that the KeyStone Score™ is strongly correlated to returns on invested capital, and future valuation of the company. Only companies in the top two quadrants are generally retained for full business design and assessment, though social ventures are considered as well. Companies in the lower two quadrants of either diagram can be repositioned and restructured (‘getting to plan B’), using bottom up data acquisition and analysis.

Method Application – Best of Renewable Energy Winner Open Hydro: Open Hydro designs and manufactures marine turbines to generate renewable energy from tidal streams. The company’s vision is to deploy farms of tidal turbines under the world’s oceans – silently and invisibly generating electricity at no cost to the environment. The electricity produced is renewable since it relies on tides that are created by the gravitational effect of the sun and moon. Through this innovative technology, Open Hydro extracts energy in an economically viable and environmentally sensitive manner. For brevity, the PVC assessment is illustrated here.

1. Value system in the industry

The marine energy industry is comprised of component suppliers, turbine manufacturers, systems integrators, developers, and operators (often utilities or independent power producers), as well as companies involved in R&D and feasibility/site assessment (see Figure). The company is positioned in the design and manufacturing segments of the value system.

2. Technology differentiation in value chain segment (patents, trademark, branding)

The functionality and survivability of equipment in an underwater environment demands simplicity and robustness. The Open-Center Turbine meets these demands, with its slow-moving rotor and lubricant-free operation minimizing risk to marine life. Open-Center Technology is unique and covered by a suite of worldwide patents.

3. Commoditization/competition in value chain segment (bargaining power for margins)

There is a wide range of underwater turbines in the marine energy space, ranging from tidal to current-based, with a wide differentiation in technological designs. These include a wide range of horizontal and vertical axis turbines (similar to wind turbines), as well as ‘point absorption technology (kinetic wave energy absorption)’. At this stage of marine energy development, there is still competition for standard designs, and no dominant business model has emerged. In the value chain, integrators and operators capture most of the value as they control the distribution point of electricity to the grid.

4. Product scalability – license/service/sales (market opportunity)

Either for sales of turbines or services, the global tidal range energy potential is estimated to be about 2.5-3 TW, about 1 TW being available at comparably shallow waters. Estimates of potential electricity generation vary between 200-400 TWh. This is a huge market, but market access depends on partnerships with site developers and utilities (Source: IEA-OES Annual Report, 2009).

5. Partnership needs for key complementary assets (commercialization path)

The need for complementary assets is substantial, even as a turbine manufacturer. For example, the turbines need to be deployed, integrated with the grid, and the electricity distributed via utilities or independent energy producers. The aggregate of these complementary assets is specialized, requiring license or partnership agreements, which impacts value capture.

6. Technology vs. operational risk (degree of validation in the market)

Open Hydro’s open turbine technology has gone through significant technology derisking, and has been deployed for pilot testing. Investments in the technology development and product deployment have focused on manufacturing, but given the partnership needs and impact on value capture, is considering forward integration towards becoming an independent power producer.

Conclusion. PVC KeyStone Score™: 4 (partnership; uncertain value capture-position for forward integration)

Clusters help portfolio companies.

No two clusters are the same, but all aim to help accelerate access to markets and provide networking, business services, and links to the R&D pipeline, corporate partnerships or investors. Aside from visibility and access to the investment community, it is the strength of global supply chain collaboration that sets the clusters apart.

For example, in 2011, the Finnish clean-tech cluster connected later-stage and corporate members with CleanTECH San Diego smart grid companies and investors, and is planning to repeat this with nascent clusters in China in 2012. The swisscleantech cluster was instrumental in setting up Cleantech Nord-Rhein WestPhalen in Leverkusen, Germany, a public-private partnership. Similar cross-border connections are being promoted by other clusters, either within Europe or North America, or with Pacific Rim clusters, exposing member companies to corporate partners, entrepreneurial startups and potential investors.

The GCCA further amplifies this exposure and global collaboration and scalability. For example, EcoTech Quebec, focused on green procurement for ecocities, brought together 17 clusters and their member companies in Montreal in conjunction with the EcoCities World Summit, with meetings hosted by the Quebec pension fund. An tSlí Ghlas – The Green Way in Dublin, Ireland, a collaborative cluster established by industry, academic institutions and public authorities, GCCA Later Stage Awards event in 2011 brought together cluster managers and member companies with the top cleantech and government players in Ireland.

Clusters spur economic development.

While most clean-tech clusters are primarily business-, investor- or research-driven, around one-third are funded by economic development organizations. Clearly, the objectives here are green jobs and strategic investment. An analysis by the Brookings Institution suggested that the clean economy employs some 2.7 million workers in the US. Many of these jobs can be found generated by urban clean-tech clusters.

The contributions to job creation vary widely, as do some of the underlying assumptions to quantify them. Regardless, credible sources indicate the economic impact of clusters. For example, the Washington Clean Technology Alliance is said to have spawned 83,000 jobs according to the Brookings report. The Colorado cluster generated about 3,000 jobs from 200 companies, while the Akron Global Business Accelerator enabled 131 jobs in association with its 52 companies. Similar stories abound in Europe. For example, the EcoWorld Styria cluster Austria has facilitated the growth of 150 clean-technology companies, providing 5,500 jobs in renewable energy and environmental technology sectors. The Finnish CleanTech Cluster attributed 500 jobs to its member companies, and Progetto Manifattura generated 100 jobs in its first year.

One of the key issues that the GCCA seeks to tease out is, what makes clusters successful? What are the practices that make clusters grow or founder? What are the lessons for the design of public policy instruments that drive success of clusters?

The role of the cluster is to bring together the research enterprise, corporate partners and investment capital, engage with public authorities to help develop legal frameworks (green procurement, subsidies and market incentives), and organize trade missions to ‘make local global’.

Since composition of clusters reflects the local business environment, and since different clusters may have different mandates, best practices are difficult to identify. The emergence of a variety of networking, incubation, business development and investment-dominated clusters, all of which are helping their members attract investment and create jobs, is indicative of a wide range of potentially successful, but perhaps not widely replicable models. Think of the largely unsuccessful replication elsewhere of Silicon Valley’s approach to innovation enterprise – the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

However, the public policy lessons to date include the need to promote richness in diversity, allowing local strengths to be leveraged, and to enable ‘coopetition’ instead of competition between clusters. To take clean-tech to the scale that continues to be attractive to investors and governments alike, global collaboration and sharing among clusters needs to be encouraged.

By setting up policies that enable public-private partnerships, mobilize financing through loans and private (including risk) capital, incentivize green procurement targets through market-based strategies, and are conducive to promoting foreign investment and technology sharing, clean-tech clusters will continue to develop and grow, allowing their member companies to capture value in the market.

Article by Shawn Lesser, Dr. Peter Adriaens, & Ben Taube.

Shawn Lesser is Co-founder & Managing Partner of Atlanta-based Watershed Capital Group – an investment bank assisting sustainable fund and companies raise capital, perform acquisitions, and in other strategic financial decisions. He is also a Co-founder of the GCCA Global Cleantech Cluster Association ”The Global Voice of Cleantech”. He writes for various cleantech publications and is known as the David Letterman of Cleantech for his “Top 10″ series. He is also author of The 2012 Cleantech Directory. He can be reached at

Dr. Peter Adriaens is Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy in the Ross School of Business, where he serves as Cleantech Director to the Wolverine Venture Fund of the University of Michigan. He is past-President of the Association of Environmental Science and Engineering Professors, and a member-by-eminence of the American Academy of Environmental Engineering. Following a 20-year career focused on validating laboratory-based bioremediation, environmental sensing and green building technologies in the field, his current work focuses on Cleantech innovation and entrepreneurship. He teaches courses on Business Models, Entrepreneurial Business Fundamentals, Cleantech Venture Assessment, and Sustainability Finance. He is co-developer of the KeyStone Compact™, a business analytical and strategic positioning tool that has been applied on more than 400 global early and later stage Cleantech companies in North America, Asia, and Europe. He founded Global Cleantech LLC, and is Director of Asian Operations at LimnoTech, an environmental services firm focused on energy-water nexus issues in the US and China. He is Director at Cleantech Acceleration Partners, a business services firm, and Head Judge of the Global Cleantech Custer Association (GCCA), focused on open innovation and economic development by screening, repositioning and connecting best in class Cleantech clusters and companies.

Ben Taube is the President of BLT Sustainable Energy, Inc. Ben has spent many years of his career working across the globe on behalf of many Cleantech companies. Ben Taube also serves as a Senior Vice President for Evaporcool LLC, partner of Consensus Energy, and the current Executive Director as well as a Senior Strategic Advisor of the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA) which is a nonprofit headquartered in Atlanta, GA. Prior to becoming the Executive Director of the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, Ben served as the Public Affairs Manager for the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute where he was responsible for planning, coordinating, and communicating GREENGUARD’s activities, capabilities, goals, and priorities to a variety of audiences. Ben also worked as the Director of Government Affairs for EcoSMART Technologies. Prior to EcoSMART, Ben served as the Environmental Manager for the City of Atlanta with the responsibilities of developing and enhancing environmental initiatives and policy. Ben was recently award the 2011 Atlanta Business Chronicle Environmental Emerging Leader Award. Mr. Taube has a Bachelors Degree from the University of Memphis and a Masters in Environmental Policy and Management from the University of Denver

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