Despite the popularity of the “go-green” movement—the emergence of recycling bins on college campuses and the pushes for electric cars and solar powered houses—the cleantech movement has had a slow rise in comparison to other tech sectors. The Greenhouse Accelerator, a program under the Green Chamber of The South, aims to remedy this issue. Now in its fourth year, the Greenhouse Accelerator provides educational, financial, and peer support to entrepreneurs hoping to grow within the cleantech sector. The accelerator is free of cost, with the only request of the program being for graduates to “pay it forward” in the future by helping other entrepreneurs in the green space.
We caught up with Greenhouse’s Program Director, Bernie Burgener, to learn more:
In the fall of 2010, as a program of the Green Chamber of the South.
The Greenhouse Accelerator is a non-profit organization and provides its help for free, working with cleantech entrepreneurs over a period of up to three years; it also provides interest-and-collateral-free seed loans. Its key objective is to help green entrepreneurs create sustainable local jobs and it measures its success along a triple bottom line: its impacts on revenues generated, on sustainable jobs created, and on the responsible use of natural resources. The Greenhouse is a community effort – the local community of successful entrepreneurs and senior executives who are willing to help a new startup succeed. While this help is provided for free, reciprocity is expected – the companies, once they have succeeded, will in turn help new startups and will support the accelerator financially.
You mentioned that the accelerator is based on a French model. What is it and how is it different then the US model?
A similar model of creating jobs (free mentoring support to entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs, over a longer period of time, with free loans and the expectation of reciprocity – but without the focus on cleantech) has been active in France since 1986. Still mainly supported by private sources, the organization creates some 7,000 jobs annually out of 43 chapters across the country and maintains a loan portfolio of about $50m. Most encouraging is the fact that over 80% of the participating startups are still in business five years after having entered the program. Its success has carried the ‘Réseau Entreprendre’ to half-a-dozen other nations in Europe and North Africa.
Why the focus on Clean Technology? Why base it in Atlanta?
A world in which sustainable operations are the norm for all businesses in the Southeast is the vision of the Green Chamber of the South. The chamber members have built and/or are managing businesses in the cleantech sector – they are ideally suited to share that knowhow with entrepreneurs starting their own business in that industry.
Metro Atlanta and the surrounding region have a history of losing cleantech startups to other regions in the United States. Multiple local entities, ranging from the Atlanta Mayor’s office to the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Atlanta Regional Commission, have documented the high potential for sustainable jobs and the value of creating such jobs in the region.
Is there funding included in the accelerator?
The Greenhouse offers interest-and-collateral-free seed loans to startup entrepreneurs, usually of three years duration and in amounts up to $50,000, based on funding needs of the entrepreneur and funding availability of the Greenhouse.
Looking for mentors or volunteers?
The Greenhouse is looking for individuals who share its vision and are interested in helping cleantech entrepreneurs succeed. Volunteering opportunities range from those that ask a few hours a year to more involved program support requiring a few hours a week. If you are interested, please contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you currently accepting applications for new companies?
The Greenhouse is always open for startups. It collects some basic information on the entrepreneur and the business through an application form (at www.greencs.org/greenhouse) -they are happy to talk with any entrepreneur who is seeking support to grow a cleantech business.
Check out the companies currently in the accelerator- Greenhouse – list of active participants, public 2014 Aug