Over the past twelve months it has become quite in vogue, to the point of cliché, to discus the importance of partnerships to the development of the cleantech sector. What started out as a handful of initiatives by major equipment manufacturers, utilities, and service providers to better engage with early stage companies has now become a full fledged movement of cleantech partnership gospel.
If partnerships are indeed the new cleantech religion, we’re about to host the year’s biggest revival in San Francisco. Appropriately themed, The Power of Global Partnerships, our upcoming Cleantech Group Forum, March 26-28, will bring together corporate executives, investors, and entrepreneurs from around the world to discuss why the power of partnerships is not an empty pleasantry, but rather an indispensable guiding mantra for company’s both large and small.
If you have not yet registered or you are still a skeptical, non-believer who thinks that all of this talk of partnerships is nice and fuzzy, but doesn’t have real tactical bite, here are my top 5 reasons, why partnerships really, truly, sincerely-I-swear, matter to the growth of the cleantech sector.
1) Partnerships bring access to customer relationships: Most cleantech markets are brutally hard to enter. Unlike many consumer or even B2B markets where one can setup a website or a storefront and starting testing the waters with a product, cleantech requires a very different level of tenacity. End customers in businesses such as power, water, waste, and transportation are rarely inclined to work with brand new vendors when they can rely on trusted, global firms that have been around for 100+ years. Partnerships with these incumbent vendors can be an immediate entre for a startup into a large customer account that would have otherwise taken years to cultivate. Veolia’s successful Innovation Accelerator program (VIA) is a great example of how an established vendor can use its channel to benefit startups. Veolia’s VP of Strategic Intelligence and Innovation, Michel Movan, will be at the San Francisco Forum to discuss this program in depth as will executives from Honeywell, Siemens, and others who have both built a range of unique product partnerships.
2) Companies are going global earlier than ever in their lifecycle; partnerships are an important mechanism to sell across geographies: If there is a meme more prevalent in the cleantech sector than the discussion of partnerships, it is the ongoing conversation around the sector’s remarkably global nature. This too, while cliché, is entirely true. Startups in countries with either small (think Denmark or Israel) or ambivalent (think the United States) domestic markets need to quickly find international channels to market. Partnerships with multinational players that have the footprint and experience to take a company global can be absolutely invaluable. The Forum will feature entire delegations of companies from a diverse set of countries including Korea, the UK, Canada, Australia, and Ecuador – all in search of building international bridges. If you are thirsting for even more immediate gratification on this international theme, download our recently released 2012 Cleantech Global Innovation Index that ranks countries around the world as cleantech leaders and laggards.
3) Partnerships may lead to investments; corporate capital is filling an important gap: While cleantech venture investment continued to trend up in 2011, access to capital remains tight. LP investment into institutional cleantech funds has been declining making future risk capital markets even more unpredictable. Corporate investors have stepped into this emerging void to provide not only partnerships, but investment capital. By our count, nearly 20% of venture deals in 2011 involved some corporate participation – either via a direct corporate investment or through a structured corporate venture arm. Participating at this year’s San Francisco Forum will be senior executives from leading corporate venture firms such as GE Capital and ABB Ventures that will offer their perspectives on how corporations can bring both capital and strategic support.
4) Service providers need to innovate on thin margins and limited capital; partnerships allow them to do this off balance sheet: Electric utilities, municipal water operators, waste collection agencies, and others engaged in the provision of similar public services are generally not living on fat, happy margins with big budgets to spare for innovative R&D programs. These are regulated industries that have traditionally only invested in innovation when truly pressed to do so. The reality, however, is that these businesses will all undergo significant change in the next 10-20 years. Only those with the foresight to embrace the new technologies required in a resource-constrained future will thrive. These innovations will mostly come from outside these service providers not from within and partnerships will be critical to the development of the right products. We’ve lined up an all-star, global cast for the Forum of utility executives from PG&E, EDF, and SDG&E to address how engagement with early stage companies is critical to success.
5) There are few cleantech businesses that can operate in a vacuum; partnerships are unavoidable: The truth is that even if you don’t philosophically believe in the value of partnerships, if you’re running a cleantech business with any hope of succeeding, you will embrace the model out of necessity. With few exceptions, every cleantech sector relies on a complex value chain of vendors and service providers all working together. Understanding your ecosystem and how you relate to those upstream and downstream from your position is simply table stakes for participating in most cleantech markets. The Forum will tackle industries like solar where value has shifted rapidly due to changes in pricing and the emergence of new, innovative downstream players. Attendees will hear from SunRun, Stion, Suntech, and others about the challenges and opportunities of navigating partnerships amidst these volatile market dynamics.
There you have it. I hope that you now stand amongst the converted. If you haven’t yet registered, click here to register now, and join us in March at the Forum to dive deeper into the world of cleantech partnerships! I look forward to seeing you there!
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