The three panel sessions assembled members of the infoDev Top 50 SMEs, private companies, and global policymakers for discussions around the following topics: Effective Innovation Ecosystems- the SMEs’ view; Export/Import- the reality behind technology transfer and adaptation; and The Policymaker’s View- what can be done to stimulate clean tech innovation. By approaching Climate Tech from these three different viewpoints, audience members were able to compare progress and approaches to Climate Tech across countries and stakeholder groups.
Session 1: Effective Innovation Ecosystems- The SMEs’ View
Panel Participants: SolConEnergy, Republic of Georgia; Istanbul Technological R&D Center Ltd., Turkey; Ecofiltro S.A., Guatemala; Ecobabitonga Technologia Ltda., Brazil; Chahtech S.A., Tunisia; Artin Dynamics, India; and Algae Liquor, Argentina
While each entrepreneur has encountered country and technology specific growth barriers, several common themes can be identified in the type of challenges they experienced:
- Lack of Business Experience: In many cases, the panelists expressed a desire to work with partners with MBAs or individuals with more business marketing experience. On the whole, those with an academic or technical background felt they lacked some of the business know-how to tackle their markets.
- Government Support: Achieving a healthy balance between independence and government support had been problematic for most panelists. Whether the issue was not enough government support or too much political affiliation, the type of government support also raised issues. In one case, the entrepreneur had received government funding to develop his concept into an ultimately successful technology but the government ultimately did not purchase his product.
- Explaining the Universal Need for Climate Tech: Climate and clean technologies operate in an environment that everyone shares, whether individuals are environmentally conscientious or not. In many cases, readying local markets and helping potential clients to understand the importance of investing in clean technologies now for the future can be a significant issue.
- Funding: While funding entrepreneurs can be risky, the panelists offered insight into what smaller NGO’s and foundations should look for when selecting grantees. They suggested looking for SMEs that are comprised of a team with multiple skill areas. In their experience, the single engineer who lacks support is a riskier investment than an SME that includes a team that addresses engineering, manufacturing, and other vital business areas.
- Need Help with Sales: Incubation is a wonderful tool but no one can guarantee sales. Climate entrepreneurs need additional services and support that address this issue area.
Session 2:Export/Import- The Reality behind Technology Transfer and Adaptation
Panel Participants: EGG Energy, Tanzania; GreenStream Network, Finland; Hobuka, Rwanda; Vaisala, Finland; Nandan, India; and GreenPower, Finland
This panel was a combination of private Finnish companies and infoDev Top 50 entrepreneurs. While parts of the discussion linked to the first panel, several common hopes for the future emerged out of the panel session:
- Africa as a testing ground: Several of the panelists emphasized the important role of Africa in developing and testing climate technologies. African entrepreneurs are not solving uniquely African problems and the possibility to export from or at least cheaply test climate innovations in Africa has huge potential.
- Access to Finance: The panelists all agreed that valuable time is lost in identifying potential funding sources. In addition, lengthy application processes and the smaller scale of the businesses involved make attracting funding difficult. The panelists hoped that some sort of certification or partner affiliation might help remedy the situation.
- Increasing Public-Private Partnerships: The private companies on the panel expressed a desire for help in understanding the local market. It would be ideal if private companies could be given local market information so that these potential sources of funding can better understand the regional picture and more easily facilitate private-public partnerships.
Session 3: Policymakers’ View: What can be done to stimulate Clean Tech Innovation
Panel Participants: Alice Kaudia, Kenya; Jukka Uosukainen, United Nations and Finland; Ibrahima Wade, Senegal; Patrick Chabeda, Kenya; and Anja von der Ropp, World Intellectual Property Organization
This panel was composed of representatives of various governments and global organizations. Each panelist provided a different regional or subject matter perspective concerning the main issues that policymakers should take into account when analyzing and supporting clean technologies.
- Create enabling policy environments: Governments have to realize that clean technologies are not just a way to create jobs but also an environmentally responsible investment in the future of their countries. A favorable policy environment and clear departmental contacts are prerequisites for a successful clean tech industry.
- Think like a consumer: When evaluating ventures for funding, governments need to focus on the market feasibility of the product in terms of price and suitability to meet local needs. Without that sort of informed perspective, innovation becomes an engineering exercise without any influential end product.
- Intellectual property shouldn’t be a stumbling block: Current policy debates over clean tech have emphasized potential intellectual property concerns. While it is important to provide proper resources, like database records and mediation, the debate about intellectual property should not overshadow the importance of supporting clean tech innovation.
The sessions also included a brief presentation from infoDev on the future Climate Innovation Centers and other innovative work. For more information about infoDev’s Climate Technology Program, please see: www.infodev.org/climate.