Northwest Energy Angels Executive Director Margo Shiroyama on Her First Six Months, and the Future of the NW Cleantech Scene
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which technologies. This included a number of field trips with NWEA members—to Puget Sound Energy’s Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, GCL Solar, Infinal Technologies, and Battelle and Washington State University’s Bioproducts, Sciences, and Engineering Laboratory (“Bessel”).
“I took probably the first six months just to better understand the organization, what they were looking to do, and what were the skill sets that I could bring from my past experiences working with associations to strengthen the program—how could we increase attendance at our meetings, or active participation by our members?” she says. “Like anything else, it’s an investment of dollars and time, and we want to make sure that the members, as well as the companies, are benefiting from that. These visits were key—I really wanted to connect with the different research organizations, and we hadn’t done that in the past.”
The goal is to grow the scope of the organization, while keeping the size small, manageable, and more relationship-based. While she encourages local angels interested in getting involved in the cleantech space to join their ranks, Shiroyama isn’t planning for the organization to grow larger than 80 members.
“We still want to have that ability to never get beyond a point where we can’t have a relationship, because that’s at the heart of it,” she says. “That kind of relationship that I can build is different than some of the other organizations—even the Northwest Entrepreneurs Network is [such] a pretty large organization that it’s hard to connect with everyone all the time.”
As she looks toward the future, Shiroyama wants to position the Northwest Energy Angels as a resource—not just for existing cleantech companies, but for research organizations and other local technology organizations. “I want to establish relationships so that the research institutions—and certainly the tech transfer groups within them, and the different researchers—understand that we’re there as a resource as companies in the cleantech are looking for funding, or are starting to move down the commercialization path,” she says.
In order to do this, Shiroyama says she plans to continue the member field trips she led over the last few months. She also expects to bring on new member programs and workshops that will expand the group’s collective knowledgebase. The industry is so diverse, she says, that the organization has an opportunity to capitalize on the respective expertise of each of its members, creating a collaborative database of cleantech, startup, and investing knowledge that the group can tap when looking over potential opportunities. She calls this collaborative knowledge “group think.”
“The metric for success is actual investment, and making that connection, or providing value. It’s not going to always be cash that transfers hands, it’s going to be opportunities that are passed on, and that could be just as valuable—connections that they might now otherwise have,” she says.
Rather than forging ahead as a singular organization, Shiroyama also plans to work with neighboring associations, and has already talked with the Tom Ranken at the Cleantech Alliance about how the two groups can collaborate.
“One of the things that I learned working at the WSA, or working at trade associations, is that you can’t do it all—it really is a collaboration that is going to build a successful industry. We’re all interdependent—we all depend on each other to provide a service that will bring about a stronger industry, by virtue of all the different roles we play. That’s no different here at the NW Energy Angels,” she says.