10 ways Global Cleantech Clusters are Accelerating the Cleantech Revolution

Shawn LesserSource: Shawn Lesser,  Cleantech Insights, 2010.

1. Cleantech clusters create jobs – A Cluster is a great mechanism to support cleantech businesses and stimulate business growth. For example ECO World Styria in Graz, Austria, a cluster of more than 150 cleantech companies, has created 5,000 new jobs in the last four years. The companies have generated a turnover of 2.8 billion Euros – approximately 8 percent of the region’s GDP. ECO World Styria focuses on innovative cleantech research projects, and help local companies access international markets.

2. Clusters accelerate growth – A primary purpose of a cleantech cluster is to act as an economic engine to aid the swift adoption of their technologies. For example, CleanTECH San Diego has garnered over $150 million in federal stimulus funds to install over 20 megawatts of solar power. They have also enabled the San Diego region’s 18 municipalities to carry out their cleantech agenda while generating business for California’s renowned Solar City.

3. Clusters spark the new innovative partnerships of tomorrow by connecting companies globally – Cleantech clusters have the ability to connect regional cleantech companies with the global marketplace. For example, the Finnish Cleantech Cluster has well established internationalization programs to help its member companies. The Finnish Environmental Cluster for China has connected over 100 companies with opportunities in the Chinese marketplace. Moreover, it has signed over $160 million of commercial contracts in two years. By connecting key cleantech players across sectors, clusters can initiate and facilitate new innovations through partnerships.

4. Clusters share ideas – Clusters enable efficiency and business excellence by providing transparency and a platform for members to exchange best practices. This is being done in organizations such as The Global Cleantech Cluster Association, the Skipso internet platform and the International Cleantech Network (ICN). The cluster model believes in collaboration and open innovation; a direct contrast to the secrecy that you might find in the Silicon Valley culture.

5. Clusters operate at the center of the cleantech eco system – The Colorado Cleantech Industry Association (CCIA) has just developed a Cleantech Action Plan for the state of Colorado. The program is designed to articulate the specific steps needed to accelerate the Colorado Cleantech cluster’s growth over the next three to five years. Given its central role in Colorado’s cleantech cluster, the CCIA was able to engage not only the cleantech companies themselves, but also economic development organizations, government agencies, the state’s research universities and federal labs, rural communities, utilities, the natural gas industry and the workforce in order to support their endeavours.

6. Clusters create investment opportunities for VC’s globally – Cleantech clusters are a great resource for prospecting promising technologies. A good example of this phenomenon is the Global Cleantech Cluster Association’s later stage best of class contest which will be launched in Lahti Finland and San Diego in November 2010. At this event, hidden gems of cleantech from around the world will be revealed to the investment community.

7. Clusters can represent cleantech in politics – Cleantech clusters, when acting together, carry more weight when trying to set the political agenda vs. independent action. For example one of Swisscleantech’s principal foci is to bundle the interests of its members and to represent them in politics nationally and internationally. Swisscleantech recently launched the Cleantech Strategy Switzerland effort, sparking a political discussion on 30 concrete measures in 10 cleantech-focus topics.

8. Clusters can support all types of cleantech stakeholders – For example The CleanTech Center in Syracuse, New York offers support to entrepreneurs and early stage companies through incubation, acceleration and retention. Collaborators include angel and venture investors, financial institutions and other lenders, colleges and universities, service providers, utilities, industry associations and government agencies. Together, they all provide technical and financial assistance to foster clean technology business development.

9. Cleantech clusters are a proven model – Peterborough EnviroCluster conducted a cluster mapping study in the East of England in 2001 and identified more than 4,500 jobs and more than 240 organizations involved in the environmental sector in the Greater Peterborough area with a collective turnover of £340 million ($545 million.) In the nine years since that study, the cluster has grown to 350 organizations employing 6,000 people. It is the largest known concentration of such companies and organizations in the UK and is also one of the oldest eco-innovation clusters.

10. “Alone you can go faster, but together we can go further” – Cleantech clusters are working aggressively to move the needle in the sector. Associations such as EcoClup and the Global Cleantech Cluster Association, are trying to make the biggest impact they can through events, networks, partnerships and coordination.

In summary, add up all of the benefits outlined above and it’s easy to see why the Cleantech clusters have been, and will continue to be,  a driving force in accelerating cleantech globally!

Shawn Lesser is the president and founder of Atlanta-based Sustainable World Capital, which is focused on fund-raising for private equity cleantech/sustainable funds, as well as private cleantech companies and M&A.  He is also a co- founder of the GCCA Global Cleantech Cluster Association, and can be reached at shawn.lesser@sworldcap.com