It’s no secret that there’s a talent shortage in the greentech industry.
After all, the industry had remained small for years, supporting only a handful of successful entrepreneurs. Now that the market is booming and the venture capital is flowing, industry insiders say a lack of executives experienced in the industry is creating a bottleneck.
For proof, just take a look at job boards.
SustainableBusiness.com’s Green Dream Jobs listed 41 green-energy jobs posted just since the beginning of the month, for example. A search for “cleantech” on Vault’s job board yielded 47 posts, including several for positions at the C level. And recruiting company Delia Caraway this month launched a new job board, called Solar Jobs USA, to help fill solar positions.
“We’re seeing a lot of interest from academia and research labs, where researchers are coming up with all sorts of things, and what you don’t have is business people that you can pair up with these researchers and academics to build businesses,” said Hemant Taneja, a managing director at venture-capital firm General Catalyst Partners.
“Now there’s a crisis where we’ve got a bunch of work to do, and given the capital intensity in this sector, what’s missing today is serial entrepreneurs.”
A good number of seasoned entrepreneurs already have been crossing over into cleantech from other technology sectors, helping to fill that gap.
Among the dozens of examples, take Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems turned greentech venture capitalist, or Bob Metcalfe, the interim CEO of GreenFuel Technologies who also is one of the inventors of the Ethernet and founder of computer-networking company 3Com. And there’s former SAP executive Shai Agassi, who heads Project Better Place.
Now the New England Clean Energy Council hopes to help add about 25 names to that list annually. The council announced a new fellowship program Thursday aimed at transitioning experienced entrepreneurs from telecom, IT, life sciences and other areas into clean energy.
The program is part of Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi’s green jobs plan, announced last month.
The council said it hopes the three-month Clean Energy Fellowship Program will address what it calls the “simple but acute problem” of a lack of repeat entrepreneurs to help accelerate growth in the sector.
“We’re trying to match up innovation with experienced entrepreneurs and expand the number of companies that have a chance to be successful in this sector,” said Peter Rothstein, an executive in residence at Flagship Ventures and a co-chair of the New England Energy Council’s Innovation Task Force.
“Adding 25 experienced entrepreneurs per year has the potential to significantly impact the quality of the startups in the sector. This program has the ability to catalyze a really significant increase in the number of clean-energy startups that have the wherewithal to be successful.”
The idea for the training program took root after the entrepreneur shortage kept popping up in conversations whenever members of the New England Clean Energy Council got together, he said. Council members, including executives, entrepreneurs, investors, lawyers and accountants, would find themselves in detailed discussions about the problem. At the same time, “all of us knew a number of executives who were approaching us expressing interest in the sector,” Rothstein said.
They decided to find a way to connect the ideas that needed entrepreneurs and the executives who wanted to make a switch, and the idea for the program was born.
In four months, the council has raised $100,000 for a pilot program, which will train 10 to 12 entrepreneurs this summer, and has developed a curriculum with the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a long list of people from MIT, Harvard, Boston University and the University of Massachusetts, among others.
Experts from those organizations also have volunteered to teach some of the courses, which will include instruction about emerging innovations in solar, wind, energy efficiency, building technologies and biomass, as well as market dynamics in these areas, government policy that could impact businesses and cleantech finance.
The program is free to participants and will go half-time for three months, requiring “a serious commitment” in time and effort, Rothstein said.
If the pilot goes well, the council hopes to turn the fellowship into a regular twice-yearly program, which will cost about $500,000 per year.
Even though the council only put out the call for applications, which are due by May 1, on Thursday, more than 20 entrepreneurs already had expressed interest in advance, Rothstein said.
“The amount of inbound interest we’re getting from high-quality executives is phenomenal,” said Taneja, who also is a council co-chair. “We’re getting highly successful repeat entrepreneurs saying they would like to come.”