A Visit to the Capitol Markets

4/1/09Follow @jmatheson

As I sit here in seat 8B on the 6:40am Delta Shuttle to DC, I am hoping the extraordinarily bumpy ride is not a harbinger of the prospects we face over the next two days as a large group of clean tech industry leaders converge on Washington as part of the DC Fly In organized by the New England Clean Energy Council.

Looking around the partially full plane, there are a number of familiar faces rallying to bring the message of New England’s cleantech leadership to the nation’s capitol—and to forward our collective vision for the best regulatory frameworks to accelerate the US cleantech industry and explore how to bring more federal funding home to MA and to each of our specific concerns.

This trip follows an event we held at Flagship Ventures last evening for our portfolio companies on exploring alternative sources of financing—including stimulus package funds, state and local grants, SBIR grants, and myriad other familiar and esoteric sources of capital that may be available depending on a company’s specific focus, stage, and creativeness. Thinking differently about obtaining financing is certainly in vogue right now, but we believe that given the disruption in the traditional capital markets (private and public), the uncertain future of capital flows, and the highly certain increased role of government in the commercial landscape that understanding, exploring, and leveraging these various avenues is mission critical.

Last night’s discussions included a variety of external panelists (lobbyists, grantors, tax experts, and state officials) and internal panelists (portfolio company leaders who have successfully and creatively obtained alternative sources of financing), along with nearly 50 of Flagship’s portfolio company representatives and Team. A few of the main takeaways for successfully pursuing new sources of funding were:

• Committing resources over a period of time (average minimum exertion was one person year to get real traction) is necessary

• Treating these various parties like a partner and understanding their needs (in many cases, jobs)

• Fomenting a relationship before you really need anything (Sales 101)

• Realizing that some of the outcomes of these efforts are binary and thus to go down the path with your eyes wide open

• Recognizing that startup executives do not have experience with these funding sources, so finding a guide (read lobbyist) is worth examining

• Networking: There are many folks in our portfolio and across the local Boston scene who have been down these paths and are open to sharing their learnings, so it is worth trying to network to get smarter, quickly.

• Think Broadly: Most of these funding sources go far beyond just the stimulus package, which is the most immediate and visible pool of money, but which will be temporary. Many of these programs have existed and will continue to exist long after the current deluge of federal funding.

The agenda for the next two days is jam packed with a variety of meetings across DC, including sessions with a variety of New England-based legislators and their staffs, time with Carol Browner (President Obama’s Assistant for Energy/Climate Change), and briefings from a swath of Department of Energy Program Managers. Also embedded in the agenda is time for the NECEC contingent to compare ideas and experiences, discuss and debate the path forward for New England and the US in cleantech leadership, and hopefully a drink or two.

Looks like we are descending. Hopefully the pilot does not think that hitting more bumps is a good April Fools Day prank. More from the Capitol later today…

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