My latest Clean Break column takes at look at C100 CleanTech, a group of ex-pat executives and investors based in Silicon Valley who are opening up their California network to the best and brightest Canadian clean technology entrepreneurs, at the same time giving them a chance to break out of their Canadian cocoon and get exposure to the larger world of opportunities around them.
Another year, another global ranking of the world’s most anticipated clean technology companies, and once again Canadian entrepreneurs in this field remain largely invisible to the outside world.
I’m referring to the release this week of the 2011 Global Cleantech 100, put out by research and investor organization the Cleantech Group.
Last year I lamented that only two Canadian companies made the list: Montreal-based Enerkem, which turns municipal solid waste into ethanol; and Vancouver-based Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies, which extracts phosphorous and other nutrients from municipal waste water and turns it into high-grade fertilizer.
Both are excellent companies that deserved the recognition, but they’re certainly not entirely representatives of the amazing clean technology innovations coming out of Canada — or even Toronto for that matter.
In this year’s U.S.-centric ranking, we didn’t fare much better. Ostara was back on the list. Enerkem got the boot.
Two new ventures were added: Another B.C.-based company, Nexterra, which turns wood waste into a type of fuel called “syngas”; and FilterBoxx Water and Environmental, a Calgary-based firm with a water and waste water treatment technology designed for use in remote locations with harsh climates.
Seems the only thing Canadians gets recognized for beyond our borders is our ability to treat waste or turn it into fuel or fertilizer. Not a bad thing, but we have so much more to offer.
Jonathan Quick, a self-described “proud Canadian” now working at Silicon Valley-based VantagePoint Capital Partners, one of the top clean tech-focused U.S. venture capital firms, says there’s huge opportunity for Canadian entrepreneurs to be recognized as world leaders in clean technology.
“We are an understated nation,” says Quick, who works closely with VantagePoint co-founder and chief executive Alan Salzman, also a Canadian. Both men grew up in Toronto.
“We have this heightened sense of fair play, and we’ve been afraid to pick winners,” Quick adds. “But this is a game, and other countries are picking winners. We need to do the same.”
VantagePoint is a member of C100, a not-for-profit group created two years ago by Chris Albinson and Anthony Lee, Canadian ex-pats working in Silicon Valley who, from a distance, thought technology entrepreneurs from Canada weren’t getting enough support at home or recognition abroad.
True to the name, the group’s aim was to create a network of 100 charter members who would agree to reach out to Canadian entrepreneurs, bring them down to California, offer mentorship and introduce them to potential partners as a way to accelerate their business development and growth.
The group now includes top executives from Apple, Cisco, eBay, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, reflecting its emphasis on Web 2.0 and information technology.
Clean technology, however, is a different beast with unique needs, so earlier this year Quick — representing VantagePoint — suggested that a splinter group be set up specifically to support the Canadian cleantech scene.
The result was the creation of C100 CleanTech, which has been operating since September and will have its formal launch in Toronto on Nov. 17.
Soon after, as part of a program called “48 hours in the Valley,” the group will select eight to 10 Canadian clean tech startups and invite them down “for two days of intense mentorship, partnership and networking events,” according to program director Atlee Clark.
Companies that can address a $1 billion or greater market, have the potential to be a $500 million business, and have a commercial product or service within 12 months can apply before Oct. 30 at www.theC100.org/cleantech.
“We really want to go out and find the best of the best, and help them take their business to the next level,” says Clark.
It’s still early days for the global clean tech sector, and there are few clearly defined leaders in the field. “Canada has just as much potential to be there,” says Quick. “There’s a real opportunity to build those billion-dollar companies.”
Perhaps it takes an ex-pat to see the opportunity so clearly.
Tyler Hamilton, author of Mad Like Tesla, writes weekly about green energy and clean technologies. Contact him at email@example.com