2 JULY 2020
Turning individuals into entrepreneurs: unleashing talent to lead the energy transition
Learn more about the work going on behind the scenes of the Cleantech20 program with our Program Manager, Adam Skan
The first Cleantech20 cohort
Gathering 20 talented individuals to crack some of the challenges holding back the clean energy transition

It's not often that you get to sit down with a collection of fresh faces with such a diverse range of special talents, but one common goal. Most of the Marvel franchise has passed me by but there's definitely an Avengers Assemble reference to be made here, or is it DC Comics?

In May, we trialled a new format. Pulling elements from our Women in Clean Energy Fellowship, we assembled 20 talented individuals to try and crack some of the challenges holding back the clean energy transition. Engineers, journalists, policy advisors, lawyers, researchers, marketing consultants, investment analysts, Captain America.

Not all had prior energy sector knowledge, some had prior startup experience. The result? A plethora of new ideas and ongoing collaborations between people with complementary skills that would otherwise not have happened.

Have all 20 immediately quit their jobs in pursuit of their soon-to-be unicorn idea? Let's not get carried away (though you'd be surprised how much progress some have made). The Cleantech20 Program is designed to give people the tools and know-how they'll need to come up with a killer cleantech startup idea. Reusable methods and frameworks which, importantly, are taught in the context of the energy sector.

But why do we even need startups?
"the world needs to invest upwards of $US1 trillion on the energy transition annually for the next 25 years"
When we hosted Danny Kennedy, Managing Director of the California Clean Energy Fund, at an event in 2019, he estimated that "the world needs to invest upwards of $US1 trillion on the energy transition annually for the next 25 years", going on to break that down into 10,000 $US100 million companies, special-purpose entities and other vehicles being created each and every year. Fast-moving, innovative startups are one of the vehicles that can make good use of these trillions to drive us forward. More recently, Goldman Sachs estimated that renewable energy represents a $US16 trillion investment opportunity over the next decade. Whatever you think of Tesla's current market cap, $US16 trillion over a decade is the equivalent of 8 eventually-Tesla-sized startups being founded annually. Fortunately, the world isn't short of money. We just need more to bet on.

At EnergyLab we work with all sorts of startups. Startups with lots of code, startups with no code. Startups with expensive physical assets, startups with just a laptop. Startups focussed on bioenergy, electric vehicles, hydrogen, smart buildings, it goes on. But by far one of the biggest focus areas is keeping the electricity grid balanced with an increasing penetration of renewable energy sources.

The way we generate and consume electricity has remained largely unchanged since the Wright Brothers first invented a flying machine capable of travelling a distance of 37 meters. Just like back then, when lots of people flick on their lights, someone chucks some more coal in a furnace. It was working quite well for us, until we realised that actually it wasn't, in quite a big way. But this decade the status quo is being flipped on its head, because most renewables have this irritating habit of producing energy intermittently. If you've ever tried chucking some coal on a solar panel hoping it'll produce more electricity, then you'll know what I mean.
Dan and Chris, EnergyLab alumni and Founders of Amber Electric
Smart technology is a formidable counteragent to this intermittence, meaning we can approach the seesaw from the other end and better match our energy demand to the variable supply. This is one of the ways Amber Electric, an alumni of the EnergyLab Acceleration Program, unlocks value for their customers. They pass on the live wholesale electricity price directly to their customers, which rewards them directly for using a greater proportion of their electricity when the sun is shining, the wind is blowing and energy is cheap. In fact, most of the time, the wholesale energy price is much lower than the flat rate charged by a traditional energy retailer.

As you can imagine, Amber's proposition is supercharged when paired with accurate pricing predictions.
"…this is a great problem to solve, because it unlocks so much value potential that's already primed"
When we ran the Cleantech20 Program for the first time in May, one participant, Mitch O'Neill, was working on an idea that provides more accurate and accessible wholesale pricing predictions.

Mitch was previously Head of Strategy at Reposit Power (and also an ex-professional poker player, which is odd because he smiles a lot for someone supposedly adept at hiding a good hand).
Mitch O'Neil EnergyLab Cleantech20 Program Alumni
Cleantech20 Alumni,
Mitch O'Neill
Here's Mitch to explain a little more:

"Back in the olden days, companies had to build and maintain their internal tools and systems. CRMs, mail delivery services, billing systems. This work, often repeated in each company, required large amounts of engineering resources, led to sub par tools, and was costly. Then came along companies that would do this once, do it well, and be able to offer these products extremely cost effectively. Hubspot, Mailchimp, Stripe, Shopify, all created to take care of specific complexity so owners and employees could get on with running their businesses. It's still the olden days of energy, with companies forced to build these energy specific systems and tools themselves. In addition, the energy industry is getting more sophisticated and more distributed, while at the same time there has been increasing growth in non-engineering roles that need to know about the energy market. I'm building the tools to lower the barriers of starting, running and working at an energy company. A secret weapon to take on the incumbents. Tools that are powerful yet approachable so even outside expertise can enter the industry and get up to speed quickly. Accurate market price predictions are the first cab off the rank, allowing people to know when things are going to happen, and what it means for them, rather than having to react to events as they unfold."

This is a great problem to solve, because it unlocks so much value potential that's already primed. The idea is a result of Mitch's high level of technical knowledge, and his ability to write software means there's good founder-problem fit. But not all great ideas hinge upon a technical breakthrough. In fact, I'd go as far as saying my favourite startup ideas are business model innovations. True, they're often enabled by technology, but it's of the off-the-shelf variety. There's something both elegant and genius about this type of startup that I'm drawn to. This kind of innovation doesn't require a PhD in rocket surgery, either. Perhaps the value it creates for the customer is a cheaper product, one that has more features, or perhaps it's simply a better experience. A phenomenal brand experience need not be an afterthought, it can be the value proposition itself. Look no further than UPowr. They've reimagined the process of having rooftop solar installed by amalgamating the various moving parts into one online platform and reaching people via their energy retailer.

For this reason the Cleantech20 Program is open to people from all professions. If you've got a skill you can leverage, the right spirit and some hustle, we want to hear from you.

So what does the program involve?

Well, we'll fill in any knowledge gaps about the energy sector and map out the startup journey. We'll show you how to come up with ideas, how to validate and test those ideas and we'll even highlight some ripe opportunities that we've come across whilst working with hundreds of clean energy startups over the last few years.

The program is delivered live via Zoom. We use breakout groups to create a collaborative environment, intertwined with content delivery, to guide the cohort through the process of landing on an idea they can go and test out. It was the collaboration aspect that surprised me most about the pilot intake of the program. Perhaps cynically, I must admit I expected that the necessity to run the program via Zoom would quell any meaningful cohesion within the group. But in practice, the reality was rather reassuring. In fact, we had participants who'd never met before, team up and apply to our Pre-Acceleration Program together to develop an idea they came up with as a pair.

The second intake of the Cleantech20 Program kicks off once again in August.
Join us to gather the tools and know-how you'll need to generate a killer cleantech startup idea!

Applications close 5th July.

If you would like to connect with Adam to learn more, email [email protected].
About Adam:

Adam Skan is the Events & Programs Manager behind the Cleantech20 Program. Adam joined EnergyLab in 2019 and has spent most of that time co-ordinating our national program of events across 10 cities. He's a mechanical engineering honours graduate who found the world of nuclear energy all too slow-paced and thus spent much of the last 5 years in sales and marketing roles for the likes of Red Bull and Tesla. That is, apart from that one time he founded his own startup but for some reason chose to enter into a declining market which was already saturated with competitors (don't be like Adam).
Outside of work Adam is currently incubating a newfound cycling obsession in his quest to become the ultimate 28-year-old cliché.

EnergyLab Events & Programs Manager, Adam Skan