Greed Is Good, and Other Takeaways from Xconomy’s Cleantech Forum

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The electricity economy, that will be the big thing.”

“At the end of the day, it comes down to data, information, and knowledge,” Aggar said. “IT can help in that…Right now, IT is focused on reducing waste and driving up efficiency. But it’s not just about energy, it’s all other natural resources.”(My takeaway: software and smart-monitoring technologies will take us pretty far, but in terms of R&D, let’s think bigger.)

3. It’s not just about being capital-efficient.
Given the state of the financial markets, everyone wants fast, cheap solutions. But Rhoads said, “The nation and the planet have increasingly serious problems that we’re going to have to innovate out of… Many of the solutions society needs do lie in horrifically high capital. There is research that’s yet to be done, and innovation that has yet to be made.” She cited research at UW on “computationally intensive science and processing” that could give people real-time access to huge amounts of data. And 10 to 15 years down the road, she’s betting on “fuels entirely other than petroleum.” (My read: focusing on small startups and short-term exits is not going to get it done.)

4. Greed is good.
“I’d like to be in a world where the environment gets a little better every year,” said Berst, talking about his move into the energy sector. “Now I get a chance to act that out while being a little greedy.” Jaech cautioned, “Government research labs or universities, those types of institutions are great places for new technologies to emerge, and that could become big. But we have to stick to things we do particularly well. Frankly, Washington has not been an energy state. We have cheap hydro power, and that’s hard to scale. That’s a disadvantage. But we have a lot of software experts.” (My take: what will ultimately make a difference in cleantech are big, bold moves.)

5. Local VCs are not buying into cleantech yet.
While the panel did not talk about this directly, EnerG2’s Wheaton raised the point in his talk, and it’s clearly on the minds of entrepreneurs and researchers in the space. Maybe it’s a function of the investor community—almost everyone comes from software or wireless—or maybe it’s just because the cleantech sector is relatively young. But it seems to me if you have the resources and patience to make a big play, there are huge opportunities here.

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] Follow @gthuang

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  • Greg, sounds like a great discussion. So sorry I had to miss it because of my travel schedule. On your last point about local VCs not buying into cleantech yet, OVP is about to make our sixth cleantech investment, two of them spinouts from UW. It’s an incredibly exciting time for disruptive technology plays, applying IT, biotech and materials science technology to cleantech applications. Full speed ahead!

  • Thanks, Rick. I should have said MOST local VCs… OVP is an exception to the trend. Sorry we missed you at the event.