In Cleantech, Who’s Looking for Money, Who’s Hiring, and What’s the Role of Government Financing? Find Out at Clean Energy Conference

11/2/10Follow @gthuang

It’s “Clean Energy Week” here in Massachusetts—that entails a bunch of events in and around Boston on the theme of alternative energy and cleantech. I’m particularly looking forward to the biggest one, the Sixth Conference on Clean Energy, which is happening tomorrow and Thursday at the Hynes Convention Center. The conference, co-produced by the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center (MTTC) and the Massachusetts Hydrogen Coalition, is expected to draw between 400 and 500 attendees, and more than 60 exhibiting companies and about 100 speakers.

Some highlights of the conference: There will be keynotes from Ian Bowles, Massachusetts’ secretary of energy and environmental affairs; Jim Gordon, the president of Cape Wind; and Stan Kowalski, chairman of FloDesign. Panel discussions over the two days will tackle important topics like renewable energy policy, venture capital and financing, and the future of cleantech sectors including energy storage, efficiency, smart grid, solar, wind, ocean energy, electric vehicles, and green computing.

The main goal of the conference is “really to showcase early-stage companies and help them get funding,” says Abi Barrow, the founding director of MTTC and an organizer of the event (see photo above).

Thirty-three companies looking for financing will give 10-minute pitches to an audience of investors and business leaders. The list of firms (the majority are from New England, with a few from Europe and Israel) includes Free Flow Power, OsComp Systems, Prism Solar Technologies, and World Energy Solutions.

The conference will also highlight bigger cleantech companies that are hiring in the region—always a hot topic. Among them is Boston-based EnerNOC (NASDAQ: ENOC), which I’m told is looking to hire more than 60 people in the coming year.

Barrow says her team has reviewed the companies that have pitched in the previous five years of the conference (about 100 of them), and found that they have since raised a total of $220 million in new venture and angel investment, $50 million in grant funding, and $10M in debt financing. (Some companies involved with the conference in the past few years include Qteros, FloDesign, and Novomer.)

As for top of mind issues in the industry, Barrow says, “The great unknown is what’s going to happen [in the elections] and how that’s going to impact the industry.” She mentions that the failure of Sen. John Kerry’s recent climate bill is “not good for the clean energy sector,” because “without a price on carbon, there’s no market pull.” On the plus side, she says, big tech companies like Google are all thinking about how to make their expanding facilities greener and more energy- and cost-efficient.

The closing panel at the conference, moderated by yours truly, will focus on the ins and outs of government financing for clean energy, and will feature Patrick Cloney of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, Ben Levitan of In-Q-Tel, Kelly Carnes of TechVision21, and Nick Masci of Dacon Corporation.

I plan to ask the panelists about a number of issues, including how their strategies can work in conjunction with federal funds and private venture sources to support new companies, ideas, and risk-taking (nuclear or geo-engineering, anyone?); what the promising and not-so-promising areas of cleantech investment are these days; and their financing advice for startups and entrepreneurs. Should be a fun discussion.

Let me know if you have questions for the panel, or suggestions for other themes to explore at the event—please leave a comment below or drop me a note. Hope to see you at the conference.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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