We’re ready for 2020 — Feeling optimistic, full of energy, and ready for innovation
2019 was a big year for cleantech. We welcomed new investors to the sector, supported the deployment of new technologies and business models, and witnessed a new generation stand up for the mission that we’ve prioritized and supported for 10 years. As we look ahead to a new decade, we are eager to see how the momentum generated in 2019 will carry over to the new year. Here are some of the themes and topics our team is most excited to watch in the new year.
Erik Birkerts, Chief Executive Officer
When Clean Energy Trust launched 10 years ago, we were driven, in part, by concern that the Mid-Continent region of the U.S. was punching below its weight in commercializing clean technologies. There weren’t many success stories to highlight or to serve as models for aspiring entrepreneurs. Fast forward to today, and we are witnessing extraordinary successes and accomplishments from companies in the region. In 2019, we witnessed Rivian raise over $1 billion in investment and scale its manufacturing in Normal, IL. Skokie’s LanzaTech completed its $72 million Series E round, buoyed by the success of enabling a Virgin Atlantic flight from Orlando to London fueled by recycled carbon. We saw two alternative protein companies launch out of Chicago and raise sizable rounds from leading venture capital funds: Sustainable Bioproducts and Emergy. We also witnessed great successes taking place elsewhere in the region. Clean Energy Trust’s portfolio company 75F, based in Burnsville, MN, raised $19 million in a financing round led by Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures. Missouri witnessed two energy storage companies gain momentum: ZAF Energy Systems in Joplin and Spear Power Systems in Kansas City. And Denver’s AMP Robotics raised $16 million for its innovative robotic recycling technology. These are select examples highlighting that we are now punching at our weight and I look forward to Clean Energy Trust helping the region punch above its weight soon!
Dr. Ben Gaddy, Chief Technology Officer, Director of Investments
2020 will be a landmark year in the climate battle. The momentum of venture capital funds focused on cleantech and environmental sustainability is just beginning to hit its stride. Several multi-million dollar funds have launched over the last 5 years — with even more in the works. We’re seeing the advent of unique funding models, like our own 501vc Seed Fund, to deploy non-traditional capital through venture philanthropy and donor-advised funds. Venture Capitalists and their backers are getting more and more rigorous about how they measure impact. It’s no longer good enough to talk about emissions reductions in general terms. Over the past year, we’ve been working with partners to build the CRANE tool to help companies, investors, and other funders quantify their environmental benefits.
Meanwhile, the growing attention to and interest in climate change has spread to a new generation of Millennials who after a decade working at big tech firms, banks, and consultancies are embarking on their next journey and want to make a meaningful difference. At all the top business schools across the country, the best and brightest students are taking courses in Impact Investing.
I look at these trends and I’m filled with optimism and energy that the most brilliant minds are working on this issue and that there is, slowly but surely, more capital to deploy. I predict that the next ten years will see new records for investment, company formation, and measurable impact.
Paul Seidler, Managing Director
The proliferation of startup support resources over the past decade is remarkable. What started out as a growing trend of general tech accelerators and incubators (e.g. Techstars, 1871) evolved in the past few years into a wave of sector-specific, highly specialized entrepreneurship programs, including Argonne’s Chain Reaction Innovations, mHub, IN2, Techstars Sustainability, and several other programs and resources focused on very specific verticals. Even corporates are getting in on the action with their own programming that embraces an “open innovation” strategy (e.g. Shell’s Game Changer and Exelon’s 2c2i). While I’m excited to see what other initiatives are launched in 2020 and beyond, I’m more excited to see what they yield. Clean Energy Trust and other early-stage investors are chomping at the bit for high-quality deal flow!
Ian Adams, Managing Director
The Oxford English Dictionary declared its 2019 Word of the Year to be “Climate Emergency.” I am interested to see whether concern over acute and frequent natural disasters translates into increased focus (and budget) for more resilient energy systems. Investments in distributed generation, microgrids, and more effective management of transmission and distribution infrastructure can increase resilience, but to-date this resilience has not been valued outside of certain critical infrastructure locations such as military bases and hospitals. Will new investment priorities from consumers and businesses make “Resilience” the 2020 Word of the Year?
Susie Spigelman, Director, Business Development and Partnerships
I’m excited for the 2020 launch of our new stakeholder platform: Clean Energy Trust’s Member Circle. The Member Circle transforms our traditional sponsorship model into a hands-on experience that provides supporters with fantastic opportunities for employee engagement and education at every level of their organizations. Some of the Member Circle features include on-site lunch and learns, emerging leaders networking breakfasts, executive demo days, and an array of ecosystem exposure opportunities. It will be great to see how our supporters engage with this new structure!
Dylan O’Reilly, Program Manager
Fortunately, we continue to see exciting technology this year. As electric vehicles and decarbonization increase in popularity, we are seeing fascinating innovations in the battery sector. Next year promises to be full of more passionate innovators working to solve some of our most daunting environmental problems. Can’t wait to see what comes next!
Estelle Seals, Director, Operations
The past decade has been absolutely amazing! Working with Clean Energy Trust for the last seven years, witnessing our growth and success have indeed left an impression on me and the clean energy industry. As we move forward into the next decade, I am most excited about expanding our role as an industry leader and the new partnerships and initiatives we will explore. It’s a great time for Clean Energy Trust!
Tony Zhu, Senior Analyst, Venture Development
I’m excited to witness a new decade of cleantech funding that breaks the mold of impact investing as concessionary on returns or otherwise inferior to other venture investment opportunities. Cleantech innovation is key to addressing our climate crisis, and the flow of dollars from capital providers to capital deployers in the venture world will inevitably reflect this value creation opportunity. As we welcome new investors and stakeholders into the cleantech sector, I’m looking forward to seeing a fundamental shift in capital allocation to cleantech innovation from other areas of investment, carbon-based or otherwise.
Amy Yanow Fairbanks — Communications & Content Manager
I look forward to witnessing and participating in the continued evolution of the general media discourse as it relates to climate change in the coming year. News about climate change is becoming more ubiquitous and focused on its current impact, creating an increased sense of urgency and motivation for the public to learn more and take action. I predict that there will be an increase in scientific writers and reporters in the new year. A variety of stories will reference climate change no matter the topic of focus be it education or finance as it permeates every aspect of our lives.
Thank you for reading our thoughts on 2020. What cleantech themes and topics are you most excited about? Comment below or tweet us at https://twitter.com/cleanenergytrst
Wishing you all a happy, healthy new year!