It’s hard to miss the Cleantech boom happening right now across the State of Georgia.
The last 24 months have been a blur of headlines about the state’s push to bring in new EV companies and battery manufacturing plants necessary to fuel the shift to renewable energy. International companies like SK, Hyundai, and QCells set up shop in the state. On the startup front, local startups like covetool, Nexus Circular, and Urjanet caught national attention with impressive venture rounds or acquisition deals in the sustainability tech space.
To further grow the local Cleantech ecosystem, The Greenhouse Accelerator, public-private-academic partnership organization, announced last week the launch of its new Georgia Cleantech Innovation Hub. The Hub is coming out of the gate with an ambitious goal: Make Georgia a “preeminent cleantech innovation hub,” says the Hub’s Managing Director Andy Marshall.
Following the launch, we wanted to get a sense of why the Hub is getting off the ground and what success will look like in the coming months and years. Marshall have us the scoop with this in depth Q&A:
QUESTION: What was missing in the Georgia Cleantech ecosystem that made opening this Hub necessary?
ANSWER: First, an ecosystem needs to coalesce around a bold aspiration. We believe Georgia can be a preeminent cleantech innovation hub, all the pieces are here. We want to help set and spread that aspiration and build the community of believers and actors that will make it possible.
Second, ecosystems need a handful of “anchor tenants”, these could be universities, corporates, incubators, etc, that set the tone. On the cleantech manufacturing side, Georgia has a number of these SK, Hyundai, Rivian, QCells, to name just a few. We need to do the same on the innovation side and use their stories to inspire the next wave of innovators.
Third, ecosystems need a critical mass of start-ups and funding vehicles for these companies. While innovation happens across a wide group of players including research institutions, small and medium sized business, and corporates, start-ups and their funders play an outsized role in connecting these players and bringing a vibrancy to the ecosystem that is difficult to replicate without start-ups, angels, and VCs. That is not to say that the Georgia Cleantech Innovation Hub will only work on building a robust pipeline of start-ups, instead, this is how we will start and then expand out from there.
Lastly, as we get the first three pieces right, there will be a need to augment the cleantech innovation leaders and workforce, build the physical and virtual infrastructure to make it possible to keep and draw innovators to Georgia, and spread a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the ecosystem. We intend on being heavily involved in each of these three areas.
Q: What are your fundraising goals?
A: We are raising a small seed fund that will build our internal capacity. The group has been 100% volunteer to this point, so bringing on a few part and full time staff will help us to expand our reach. The initial raise is $350K of which nearly 1/3rd is committed. Beyond raising the funds, we are looking for like-minded leaders to support the cause and be involved in the organization as volunteers, mentors and advisors.
Q: How has the Greenhouse Accelerator evolved over the last 12 years? Are there any growth metrics you can share?
A: The Greenhouse Accelerator has always been about helping local startups and its evolution has been closely tied to its network of individual volunteers. When the organization was started, there were very few cleantech start-ups in Georgia and even fewer volunteers. As that group has grown, so too has the organization’s ability to expand the breadth of its services, which have included mentorship, advisory, and seed loans. The most recent evolution came with the desire of the organization to expand its reach and impact and move beyond the limitations of a purely volunteer organization. Over the past 24 months, the organization has sought to develop partnerships with other NGOs and local universities and to jointly seek grant funding to expand its programs.
We have not historically tracked success and growth metrics of the companies that we have served. For some rough numbers, we accept ~33% of the companies (21) that apply to the program, and of the companies that we accept >50% are still operating today. Some notables include, Emrgy, Ecovie and Grubbly Farms. Going forward our model will change a bit so these numbers may not be indicative of success/failure rates going forward.
Q: How have you seen the local Cleantech industry evolve over the last several years? Are there overlooked/missed opportunities that innovators should be aware of?
A: A couple key evolutions:
— Increased commitment: The massive investments to build a cleantech manufacturing hub in Georgia has demonstrated nationally the state’s intent to be a leader in the growth industries of the next 20+ years. Moreover, efforts like Drawdown Georgia and the Drawdown Georgia Business Compact have made visible public corporate targets and progress toward reductions in carbon intensity on a state-wide level. These commitments have created the demand in Georgia for the goods, services and solutions that cleantech innovators create.
— More tangible success stories: Companies like Sila Nanotechnologies (GT technology), Urjanet (acquired last year), Cloverly and Cove.Tool and others are becoming nationally recognizable, and there are others following in their footsteps. As Georgia becomes recognized as a place where cleantech companies can be born and succeed, I think we will see Georgia as a place where cleantech companies not only spring up, but also relocate to because of the talent and resources here.
As for overlooked opportunities, I think it is important to re-emphasize the work that Drawdown Georgia has done in tracking Georgia greenhouse gas emissions, but also in identifying the areas where there is an opportunity for market-ready technologies to be adopted to reduce carbon intensity. There are ample deployment opportunities for innovators in the state to advance their solutions while making a positive impact on the communities in which they live.