Fun Funding Facts For the Innovation Ecosystem

GreentownLabs PanelBy Amy Rasson, TechBridge Fellow

On July 10th Greentown Labs (sponsored by Mass CEC) hosted a Panel Discussion: Corporate Strategic Partners and Venture Capitals—How They Evaluate and Invest in Startups. This is the first of a 5-part series to educate the local startup community about opportunities and challenges involved in strategic partnerships. The panel to kick off the series included Ben Hemani, a venture capitalist at Braemer Energy Ventures; Daniel Hallah, a Partner at Rockport Capital Partners; JJ Laukaitis, the Senior Industrial Liaison Officer at MITs Industrial Liaison Program; Henrik Holland, the Venture Principal at Shell; Grant Allen, the Senior Vice President of ABB Technology Ventures; and Dorothee Martin, the Project Leader at External Venturing, Saint-Gobain.

They discussed topics from what they are looking for when investing to the best strategies for negotiating. Investment in the clean energy space has faced challenges as risk-averse investors want to see more robust demonstrations before investing, and startups generally cannot pursue such projects without funding. JJ Laukaits explained, from an investor’s standpoint, why they are more reluctant to invest in Cleantech unlike well-funded Pharma. For one, Pharma works to solves problems such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease. There will always be these types of health problems to tackle, but in clean energy it’s hard to be confident that a specific technology will be a relevant energy source in the future. Henrik Holland explained that for him the key question is, “Can I get someone in the company REALLY excited about this.” In more detail, he discussed how Shell Technology Ventures invests along two axes: increasing energy efficiency and future energy technologies. Dorothee Martin’s goal, when presented to by an entrepreneur, is to find the right business unit to partner. One piece of advice from the panel is to treat your meeting with VCs and strategics like a first date—don’t talk about politics or past relationships!

So, how can we increase the number of VCs and strategics investing in early-stage startups?

Here at Fraunhofer CSE we have developed the TechBridge program, a proven model that de-risks emerging technologies so startups can traverse the valley of death and become more attractive for private investors and strategics. Through Fraunhofer labs, TechBridge leverages existing resources and industry expertise at our world class applied R&D laboratories to perform prototyping, development, piloting, and scale-up work for startups within the various energy domains: sources/generation, efficiency, and storage and systems. By working with early-stage startups to perform targeted technical projects from an industry perspective, we advance new promising technologies towards the marketplace adoption while causing private investors and industry adopters to be “REALLY excited” about them.

Overall, great questions and a distinguished panel led to an informative discussion of corporate and conventional venture capital. Future panels will include topics such as Legal & IP considerations, The Pitch, Family Offices, and Partnerships with Municipalities.

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