reporting all week on the Clean and Cool Mission from San Francisco...
Day 5 had a theme of learning from those who have done it. In the morning, we travelled out to meet Cleantech Open, an accelerator working across the globe but based in the Valley. They have worked with over 800 companies who have gone on the raise around $1bn between them and directly created 4000 jobs. Their strength is a network of volunteers providing coaching. The group were given an excellent insight into what investors were looking for and how to position their business.
We then moved to Silver Spring Networks – a company that moved fast from cleantech start-up (13 years ago) to major company today. We were given lessons they learned along the way including the need to retain focus in the business plan, to go for the simple technology solutions (rather than something elaborate) and to fire bad employees quickly.
During the afternoon the companies went off to various meetings so I was able to explore San Francisco some more and have my first experience of Über (very slick) and grab some crab chowder. Before our big evening reception. UKTI hosted a ‘farewell’ party and many of the individuals we had connected with through the week came along to continue conversations and make new links. It was great to see friendships forming and plans being made for follow ups. Many of the companies will be back in March for the Cleantech Group’s Forum.
The next morning we travelled to Berkeley Labs to hear about their research and reflect on what we’d seen over the previous six days. It was inspirational to be up in the hills at a facility that discovered so many chemical elements and generated 13 Nobel prize winners.
We debated the need to fund pure research (basic science) and our host referred to a 1980s UK report suggesting up to 3% of GDP should be invested in science which gives a 15 year payback to the economy at a 30% pa return. We heard about their most successful recent spin-out – a company developing an electrochromic window that could be tuned to screen out visible and/or infra-red light to control the need for heating in buildings. They raised $15m once they were able to scale the 1mm2 lab prototype to a 1cm2 version. In doing so they had to change the manufacturing process and the lead scientist had trouble accepting the accompanying performance drop. It was however only 3% but brought a 95% drop in cost. This was a salutary lesson is innovating pure research.
Heading back to the UK it was good to reflect on the Mission week and how much the companies have gained. It has been great to see them develop their pitches and bring in their personal story to make them more memorable and relatable. Roll on March!