How Do We Sustain Innovation In Cleantech?

While the food and VR simulation at FreeWire’s office launch reception on September 19th drew quite the crowd, one of the main highlights started before most guests arrived. In the late afternoon, a small group of investors joined the FreeWire team to listen to Danny Kennedy, Dawn Lippert and Arcady Sosinov discuss the current energy startup landscape. As some of the sharpest minds in the industry, Danny and Dawn brought unparalleled insight to the conversation, giving color to FreeWire’s place in the market, and what it means to support a small startup that is doing big things.

“There is a vast amount of risk in not investing in clean energy companies,” said Dawn, CEO of Elemental Excelerator (and the evening’s co-host). “Every time you are across the table from someone in this space, it’s a different conversation and a different sales pitch… people really understand the space.”

Danny, who is the managing director of CalCEF and a co-founder of the solar startup Sungevity, further elaborated on the value of risk in the clean energy industry. “Failure is part of the iteration cycle and innovation process, and necessary for the clean energy space,” he explained.

Arcady, who is in the weeds as the current CEO of a cleantech startup, had a slightly different perspective. He viewed risk in the space as a larger concern for the industry overall, using Alevo, a battery company with ground-breaking technology that recently filed for bankruptcy, as an example of how energy startups differ from other ventures in Silicon Valley. “[Alevo] was supposed to be changing the world. When they failed, it was a big deal to everyone. If the game on your phone fails, you don’t think twice about it but when companies like ours fail, that shows a serious issue in the market.”

So what are some of the positive developments in clean energy? The panelists pointed to international development and support from traditional energy companies as signs that the clean energy revolution is here to stay. As someone who does a significant amount of business in the Asia-Pacific region, Danny made it clear that he is more than impressed with the progress being made overseas. “[International] competitors are going to drive climate solutions faster better and harder than we are,” he said.

However, that’s not to say some of the more original players aren’t moving forward with innovation. Hawaiian Electric and BP were mentioned as traditional companies who are interacting with new technologies in exciting ways. “We have a new guard of people [from traditional energy companies] that no longer think the way you expect them to think,” Arcady explained.

by Jessica Leader

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