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17 Key Issues for Clean Tech Startups

clean energy
clean energy

By Daniel Okay. Yost and Richard D. Harroch

Clean tech corporations search to leverage the facility of know-how to be able to profitably clear up the world’s power issues. These corporations can span quite a lot of sectors: photo voltaic, wind, ethanol, biomass, geothermal, water purification, electrical automobiles, power storage, software program, supplies, knowledge, and extra.

Clean tech corporations ought to be cognizant of points they’ll face when looking for capital and rising their enterprise, as numerous high-profile failures prior to now have made it tougher for new clear tech corporations to boost funding. Our objective on this article is to offer an summary of some methods clear tech corporations can maximize their probability of fundraising success.

We’ve structured the article into three principal classes:

I: Issues Essential to Buyers of Clean Tech Corporations
II: Forms of Financings Out there for Clean Tech Corporations
III: Regulatory Issues for Clean Tech Corporations

Issues Essential to Buyers of Clean Tech Corporations

1. How Capital Environment friendly Will Your Firm Be?

Buyers have been burned prior to now by these clear tech corporations that had giant capital wants and skilled substantial month-to-month burn charges. To succeed at present, clear tech startups sometimes want to point out that they are often capital environment friendly and never require big ongoing infusions of money to grow to be profitable. In some instances this implies beginning with an preliminary services or products whose income can sustainably fund different initiatives which are key to the company mission.

Buyers will need to perceive how troublesome will probably be to scale the corporate. If conventional enterprise capital funding is restricted (or not out there or desired), clear tech corporations ought to think about various types of capital, together with worthwhile early services or products, venture financing, strategic partnerships, Kickstarter-style or early reservation-based capital elevating, authorities loans or grants, and, the place relevant, tapping bond markets. A lot of these choices are mentioned in additional element under.

2. Buyers Will Be Keenly Desirous about Your Revenue Margins

Buyers can be involved about investing in corporations which have low revenue margins or are in a commodity enterprise topic to vital aggressive pricing challenges. Potential buyers might be notably targeted on whether or not your startup may have vital revenue margins.

three. Present You Can Handle the Anticipated Money Movement

Buyers will intently evaluation your monetary projections, in search of to evaluate the reasonableness of the numbers and the underlying assumptions. Money movement/month-to-month money burn might be a key metric reviewed.

Thankfully, there are non-dilutive sources of funding out there to artistic clear tech corporations looking for to handle their money movement. Pre-orders (taking cost for items which might be promised however not but prepared for supply) are usually authorized as long as you don’t interact in false promoting, and also you permit for a “no questions asked” refund coverage. Further non-dilutive funding can come from enthusiastic shoppers who’re prepared to offer cash prematurely by way of Kickstarter or different fundraising websites in trade for receiving an early model of the product.

Lastly, one of many advantages of fixing of the world’s power issues is that you could be be eligible for cash from teams like Cleantech Open or the XPRIZE Basis, or be the recipient of free entry to specialists and lab area by means of teams like Cyclotron Street or Greentown Labs.

four. Show You Have an Skilled Administration Staff

The mantra of most enterprise capital buyers is that the standard and expertise of the administration workforce is crucial attribute in figuring out whether or not or to not spend money on an organization. That is notably true within the clear tech business, the place regulatory, capital, and product points may be notably difficult.  Make certain that you might have a staff that’s skilled, devoted, and passionate concerning the objectives of the corporate. Be ready to spotlight specific experience within the staff that’s related to the startup’s enterprise mannequin.

5. Present Proof of Early Traction within the Market

An organization that has obtained early traction ultimately will probably be seen positively by buyers, and it will typically end in higher financing phrases for the corporate. Examples of early traction can embrace the next:

  • The creation of a beta or minimally viable product
  • Pilot clients, particularly high-profile clients
  • Strategic partnerships
  • Constructive press protection and different accolades
  • Buyer testimonials
  • Admission into aggressive packages reminiscent of Y-Combinator, Cleantech Open, Cyclectron Street, or different know-how accelerators or incubators

6. Make Positive You Perceive the Aggressive Panorama

The corporate’s rivals will all the time be a problem to buyers. You’ll need to be ready to reply the next questions:

  • Who’re your organization’s chief rivals?
  • What provides your organization a aggressive benefit?
  • What are the important thing differentiating options of your providing?

It’s essential to present a radical understanding of the present aggressive panorama and be ready to reply questions on your rivals. When you don’t absolutely perceive your rivals, the investor might conclude that you simply actually don’t perceive the market. The corporate’s rivals will typically be giant, well-capitalized corporations, so anticipate the inevitable query about how one can fairly compete with such corporations.

7. Is Your Mental Property Differentiated and Protectable?

Buyers can be notably keen on your underlying know-how (each present and that in improvement), together with:

  • The essential know-how spine
  • Key mental property rights the corporate has (together with patents, patents pending, copyrights, logos, commerce secrets and techniques, domains, and rights in knowledge together with how you plan to make use of buyer knowledge in a world the place clients might be more and more delicate to such use).
  • Why the know-how is or might be superior to aggressive choices
  • Why it is going to be troublesome for a competitor to duplicate the know-how
  • Is your organization depending on third-party IP or know-how that might be troublesome to acquire (or comes with vital strings hooked up)?

See 10 Mental Property Methods for Know-how Startups 

eight. Present That the Market Alternative Is Substantial

Buyers need to spend money on massive alternatives with giant addressable markets. Ensure you’ll be able to

  • Outline the preliminary market you’re in.
  • Set forth the greenback worth of the market measurement.
  • Present that your organization can be positioned to seize a big a part of the whole addressable market.
  • Contemplate different markets that your organization’s know-how can handle past your preliminary market.
  • Think about markets your know-how can “unlock” for strategic companions in different industries.

9. Tackle the Size of Your Gross sales Cycle

Buyers can be notably within the size of your gross sales cycle and are sometimes leery of corporations which have a really lengthy gross sales cycle for buyer adoption. You should present why your product will stand out within the market and might be a “must have” with clients. Whereas utility clients have a notoriously sluggish gross sales cycle, consumer- or business-facing corporations might have a leg up. Because the gross sales cycle can typically be equally time consuming for gross sales to small and medium-sized enterprises (which are likely to make smaller purchases) as it’s with giant enterprises (which are likely to make bigger purchases), corporations capable of land giant enterprise contracts might be better off.

10. Attempt to Characterize the Enterprise as One thing Different Than “Clean Tech”

Some buyers, having misplaced cash within the clear tech area, could also be leery of creating purely “clean tech” investments. Thankfully, many clear tech corporations can legitimately declare a number of further labels that could be interesting to a broader vary of buyers. These labels might be:

  • AI firm
  • Massive knowledge firm (initially or down the street)
  • Shopper product firm
  • Power know-how firm
  • Power innovation firm
  • IoT firm
  • Supplies firm
  • Mobility options or supply firm
  • Robotics firm
  • SaaS firm
  • Software program firm
  • Provide chain administration firm

Forms of Financings Obtainable for Clean Tech Corporations

11. Angel Financing for Clean Tech Startups

Angel buyers spend money on early stage or startup corporations in change for an fairness possession curiosity. Angel investing in startups has been accelerating, and high-profile success tales have spurred angel buyers to make a number of bets with the hopes of getting outsized returns. Listed here are some key issues to know about angel investing:

  • The standard angel funding is $25,000 to $200,000, however can go a lot greater.
  • Angel buyers notably care concerning the high quality of the administration workforce and the way huge the market alternative is.
  • Angel buyers need to perceive the large drawback you are trying to unravel.
  • Angel buyers run the gamut from family and friends to skilled angel buyers.
  • You will discover angel buyers by way of attorneys, different entrepreneurs, angel investor networks (corresponding to AngelList), enterprise capitalists, funding bankers, and crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
  • Angel buyers wish to see a clearly articulated elevator pitch for the enterprise, an government abstract or PowerPoint pitch deck, a prototype or mockup of the services or products, proof of early traction, and help as to why there might be a big demand for the services or products.
  • Don’t hassle asking angel buyers to signal a non-disclosure settlement; most gained’t do it and it’ll solely decelerate the method.
  • Entrepreneurs must be ready to point out monetary projections and the reasonableness of underlying assumptions.

There are a selection of excellent articles as regards to angel investing, together with:

12. Enterprise Capital Financings for Clean Tech Startups

After a spherical of angel financing, clear tech startups typically search enterprise capital financing. Enterprise capital companies present capital; strategic help; introductions to potential clients, companions, and staff; and far more. In change, enterprise buyers will sometimes get hold of a most popular fairness place within the firm, seats on the Board of Administrators, veto rights, anti-dilution rights, and a say in how the enterprise is to be run.

Listed here are some key issues to find out about enterprise capital financing:

  • Enterprise capitalists sometimes focus their funding efforts on particular business sectors, on levels of an organization’s life (early stage seed or Collection A rounds, or later stage corporations which have achieved significant revenues), and geography (e.g., San Francisco, Silicon Valley, or New York). Entrepreneurs must be aware of a agency’s focus earlier than approaching the agency.
  • Valuation of the corporate will doubtless be one of many fundamental points, and it’s negotiable; there’s not one “correct” valuation methodology or method to depend on.
  • If a enterprise capitalist is , it’ll submit a non-binding “term sheet,” which can set out the important thing phrases of its proposed funding. Skilled company counsel must be engaged to assist navigate and negotiate on the problems.
  • The quantity of management and Board seats might be essential for each the entrepreneurs and the enterprise capitalists.
  • The enterprise buyers will insist on anti-dilution safety and the correct to take part in future rounds of financing.
  • Entrepreneurs ought to anticipate that the enterprise buyers will carry out in depth due diligence earlier than consummating the funding (a enterprise financing course of might take 30-90 days to shut).
  • Enterprise buyers will need to make sure that the founders have incentives to remain and develop the corporate. If the founders’ inventory is just not already topic to a vesting schedule, the enterprise buyers will possible request that the founders’ shares develop into topic to vesting based mostly on continued employment (after which develop into “earned”).
  • After a financing is accomplished, enterprise buyers will typically maintain a minority curiosity within the firm. However they may sometimes insist on “protective provisions” (veto rights) on sure actions by the corporate that would adversely have an effect on their funding or their projected return.

There a lot of complete articles on the enterprise capital financing course of, together with:

13. Authorities Loans and Grants for Clean Tech Corporations

The federal Power Division helps a lot of grant, mortgage, and financing packages for startup power companies or for corporations with confirmed know-how that need assistance reaching business scale. These packages embrace:

Accelerators and incubators akin to Cleantech Open, Cyclotron Street, and Greentown Labs can help clear tech corporations in securing funding and grants.

Further assets for grants and funding embrace the Small Enterprise Administration (SBA), the grant program run by the U.S. Division of Agriculture, state packages (resembling funding alternatives from the California Power Fee and the Clean Power Fund on the Washington State Division of Commerce), and even financial institution funding (comparable to by way of the Clean Know-how Group at Wells Fargo).

14. Undertaking and Bond Financings for Clean Tech Corporations

Corporations with a wholesome stability sheet, commercially confirmed know-how, and expertise in creating renewable power or different infrastructure tasks could possibly benefit from undertaking financing on the undertaking (not company) degree. Venture financings are a type of restricted, non-recourse financing for giant tasks during which the venture lenders’ sole recourse is to the money flows generated by the venture itself. It often requires that a suite of challenge contracts, together with a agency off-take settlement with a excessive credit score counterparty, is in place. Over the previous decade, venture financings have been used extensively in photo voltaic tasks, and at the moment are getting used to finance giant battery power storage tasks.

State and native bond financing is more and more a strong software for clear power funding. Bond financings for infrastructure (roads, bridges, hospitals, and so on.) have numbered within the trillions of dollars over the previous 20 years. And now, bond financing has been more and more used for some clear tech tasks as nicely, even for tasks owned or operated by personal corporations. That is notably true for tasks that eliminate or recycle strong waste (together with family rubbish, meals waste, wooden waste, and plastics) or convert strong waste to power.

Tasks which have certified for tax-exempt bond financing embrace amenities which have processed strong waste to supply pipeline high quality fuel and biofuels, together with for aviation. Some states have very particular bond financing statutes that delineate a comparatively slender listing of relevant tasks and financeable attributes, corresponding to California’s Group Amenities Act and Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts laws.

15. A Nice Investor Pitch Deck Is Important for Presentation to Buyers

Startups incessantly put together a “pitch deck” to current their firm to potential buyers. The pitch deck sometimes consists of 15-20 slides in a PowerPoint presentation and is meant to showcase the corporate’s merchandise, know-how, and workforce to the buyers.

Elevating capital from buyers is troublesome and time consuming. Subsequently, it’s essential that a clear tech startup completely nails its investor pitch deck and articulates a compelling and fascinating story.

Too many startups make numerous avoidable errors when creating their investor pitch decks.

For a useful listing of do’s and don’ts to comply with when getting ready your pitch deck, in addition to a pattern pitch deck you possibly can customise, see Methods to Create a Nice Investor Pitch Deck for Startups In search of Financing.

Regulatory Issues for Clean Tech Corporations 

16. What Regulatory or Political Hurdles Will Have to Be Overcome?

Buyers can be fascinated about understanding what regulatory points and hurdles the corporate will face. Many tech corporations aren’t topic to vital regulation, however any operations involving using bodily supplies or merchandise (together with electrical energy) could also be topic to regulatory and allowing necessities. These necessities might restrict and improve the price of operations carried out by the startup, or they could have an effect on the market for the product. Are these hurdles manageable and solvable in an inexpensive time period? Will any permits or approvals be obtainable shortly and at an inexpensive worth, or are there vital allowing delay and price dangers? Permits and laws can considerably improve the price of operations.

One other instance of a regulatory challenge which will influence sure startups is electrical energy price design. For instance, price design can drastically have an effect on the enterprise mannequin for sure electrical car charging infrastructure, and it’s also central to creating power storage aggressive with different power infrastructure.

Regulatory and allowing points can come up on the native, state, and federal ranges relying on the know-how, and may take years to resolve if not addressed proactively. Buyers can be curious about seeing that regulatory counsel or specialists have each already recognized the potential points in addition to begun to deal with those that would have the longest lead occasions.

The modern political surroundings may even be related right here. Will the corporate have delicate know-how or knowledge points? Will the federal government’s power coverage be favorable or detrimental to the corporate? These elements might make permits and regulation harder or more easy, relying on the coverage orientation of a specific administration.

Regulatory environments additionally range from state to state, so the places of each operations in addition to markets for merchandise could also be important to enterprise planning. If an organization will produce vital jobs and tax revenues for any relevant governmental jurisdictions, that may be a helpful story to inform.

17. Be Engaged in Coverage Making to Form or Capitalize on Authorities Rulemaking

The power business is very regulated on the state and federal degree. Relying on the place your organization matches within the “energy ecosystem,” you could be extremely impacted by the actions of legislators or policymakers. For instance, power startups could also be materially impacted as jurisdictions undertake carbon taxes (immediately or by way of “cap and trade” or different mechanisms) or renewable portfolio requirements, time of use pricing, or favorable tax remedy for sure applied sciences. Applied sciences utilized by public utilities are topic to fee regulation and evaluate by state authorities such because the California Power Fee and California Public Utilities Fee.

Clean know-how corporations could possibly profit from packages designed to encourage clear know-how innovation, akin to ARPA-E on the federal degree and comparable state packages. An organization can keep abreast of developments (and study when and how you can successfully attain out to legislators or take part in rule-making processes) by being a member of business teams. These could possibly be business particular teams (e.g., American Wind Power Affiliation and Photo voltaic Electrical Industries Affiliation) or broader policy-oriented teams akin to Environmental Entrepreneurs or the Sierra Membership. You’ll be able to ensure that your competitors (and incumbent gamers) have a legislative or coverage technique—it is best to, too!


Clean tech corporations nonetheless have the chance to vary the world. Whereas troublesome, financing for such corporations is out there by means of a number of avenues. Whereas clear tech corporations that don’t adapt their enterprise fashions to altering circumstances are more likely to fail, these which are nimble and prepared to adapt have the potential to flourish.

Associated Articles:

Because of Bob Lawrence, Rohit Sachdev, and John Wang of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, and to Steve Westly,Ted Lamm, and Ethan Elkind for their useful suggestions on this text.

Copyright © by Richard D. Harroch. All Rights Reserved.

Concerning the Authors

Daniel Okay. Yost is co-chair of the Know-how Transactions apply at Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe in Silicon Valley and a previous co-chair of Orrick’s Know-how Corporations Group. He’s acknowledged for negotiating complicated business and know-how transactions and mental property counseling. Daniel has endorsed shoppers on business regulation, copyright, licensing, advertising, patent, privateness, strategic alliances, trademark and commerce secrets and techniques issues. Daniel has represented corporations in numerous industries, together with biotechnology, shopper electronics, power, leisure, hardware, Web, media, semiconductor, providers, software program, telecommunications, and wi-fi. His power shoppers embrace shoppers within the photo voltaic, ethanol, biomass, geothermal, and water purification sectors. He might be reached at

Richard D. Harroch is a Managing Director and International Head of M&A at VantagePoint Capital Companions, a big enterprise capital fund within the San Francisco space. His focus is on Web, digital media, and software program corporations, and he was the founding father of a number of Web corporations. His articles have appeared on-line in Forbes, Fortune, MSN, Yahoo, FoxBusiness, and Richard is the writer of a number of books on startups and entrepreneurship in addition to the co-author of Poker for Dummies and a Wall Road Journal-bestselling e-book on small enterprise. He’s the co-author of the lately revealed 1,500-page ebook by Bloomberg: Mergers and Acquisitions of Privately Held Corporations: Evaluation, Types and Agreements. He was additionally a company and M&A companion on the regulation agency of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, with expertise in startups, mergers and acquisitions, and enterprise capital. He has been concerned in over 200 M&A transactions and 250 startup financings. He might be reached via LinkedIn.