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Cleantech: A sector of unlimited promise

December 5, 2018

Written by Ziyad Rahme.

I was a panelist in a recent webinar hosted by EDC on the cleantech sector. You can watch it on-demand to learn about trends and funding opportunities from key industry partners, including: Jean-Philippe Linteau, Director of Cleantech, Infrastructure, and Life Sciences at the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS); Susan Rohac, Vice President of the Cleantech Practice at the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC);and Mark Senn, the Director of Cleantech at Export Development Canada (EDC). Check it out to see how we all work together and what types of funding and support is available for your company.

Growing opportunities for Canada’s cleantech sector

The global cleantech market is expanding rapidly. Valued at approximately $1 trillion and expected to reach $2.5 trillion by 2022, it represents a significant opportunity for Canadian companies. As the Canadian economy evolves, my colleagues and I at Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) are seeing firsthand that the traditional view of cleantech is expanding. While we continue to evaluate applications in traditional cleantech areas such as renewable energy, biofuels, bioproducts and water treatment, we are increasingly seeing companies across a broad spectrum of industries applying data-driven, sustainable solutions to create new business models.

Supporting businesses from startup to scale up

SDTC, Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), Export Development Canada (EDC), and the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) have a joint mandate to help Canadian cleantech companies succeed—here at home, and on the world stage. The Government of Canada has also created the Clean Growth Hub, a focal point for clean technology focused on supporting companies and projects, and coordinating programs.

Regardless of where your company is in the business development cycle—whether you’re testing an idea out of your garage or are looking to take your clean solution to an international market—one or more of these organizations is here to help. As a network with targeted expertise, we’ll work with Canada’s cleantech innovators—together—to make it easier for you to access funding, create a continuum of support, and accelerate your growth and expansion in the cleantech market.

The path to commercialization

Hundreds of companies across Canada have the skills and ability to develop cleantech solutions. But the path to commercialization for cleantech companies is more challenging than in other sectors. Navigating the rocky phase between research and development (R&D) and commercialization can be a huge challenge. Bottom line: it takes a lot longer, and requires significantly more capital, both to start up, and to scale up.

This is where SDTC comes in: we provide funding when it’s needed most, usually at a time in a company’s lifecycle when it is difficult to raise funds. Our mandate is to support small and medium size enterprises developing pre-commercial technologies that have the potential to deliver strong environmental and economic benefits to Canadians. We focus on start-ups and scale-ups. Many start-ups come to SDTC with a great new idea and are ready to demonstrate or validate their technology in the marketplace. We also fund firms that are scaling-up and need help to finish commercializing their product, or those that are looking at their next great idea.

We’ve invested over $1 billion since 2001 and are looking to invest more. Our application process is designed to ensure companies receive coaching and guidance to develop a competitive funding application and are set up for success.

Lessons learned from the trenches

During the webinar, I was asked to share some of my lessons learned from the 18 years I spent at Iogen, an advanced biofuels start-up that successfully scaled-up its technology.

First, and perhaps most importantly, surround yourself with great people and invest in them. A committed and talented team can take your original idea to places you never imagined. For your executive team, you need to carefully consider what you need and at what time. Perhaps you have the right team in place at the current time, but as you grow and scale, you will need new skills. Successful companies have management teams that evolve with the business.

Second, intellectual property (IP) is critical. In today’s economy, more and more enterprise value is derived from intangible assets—patents, know-how, trade secrets, etc. Therefore, it’s very important to develop a comprehensive IP strategy. Patents are certainly an important part of this, but IP also covers areas such as knowledge management, licensing, and protection of know-how. If you are just starting-up, no one will pay much attention to you. But as you become successful, the competition will take notice of your company and respond, so you need to be ready. Your ROI from investing in an IP strategy will be invaluable.

Third, take a long, hard look at understanding your risk profile, and develop strategies to manage it. Investors are going to pay close attention to how well you’ve identified your risks, and what processes you’ve put in place to mitigate them.

This brings me to my last piece of advice: the importance of partnerships. With the relentless pace of innovation these days, you simply can’t do it all. Partnerships will allow you to focus on your core competencies and supplement areas of weakness. A critical partnership can be the difference between success and failure. And here I’m speaking from direct experience, since it was a strategic partnership that Iogen forged with Brazil’s leading advanced biofuels producer that ultimately pushed the company over the top, and allowed Iogen to commercialize their technology.

Opportunity awaits

The best part of my job is having a front-row seat to the expansion of the cleantech industry and the transformative impact that is taking place right now. With the help of SDTC and our federal partners, business ideas are paired with the leadership, experience, and capital needed to help companies become successful in the cleantech marketplace, both at home and abroad.