Resource Spotlight: Cleantech Open

Jan 8, 2017

Resource Spotlight: Cleantech Open

Jan 8, 2017

This week we spoke to Kathryn Elmes, Director of Cleantech Open Northeast, a business accelerator which finds, funds, and fosters entrepreneurs addressing urgent energy, environmental, and economic challenges.

GH: What is CleanTech Open?

The Cleantech Open is the world’s largest cleantech business accelerator. We find, fund, and foster entrepreneurs addressing urgent energy, environmental, and economic challenges. The Cleantech Open Northeast accelerator program supports companies in the Northeast region, from Maine through Pennsylvania. Cleantech Open Northeast is based in Boston and is supported by NECEC, the leading business, policy and innovation organization in the Northeast that helps clean energy companies start, scale, and succeed.

GH: How can Boston startups best benefit from what you do?

Cleantech Open Northeast exists to help entrepreneurs as they work to bring their ideas to life. We provide curriculum, guidance, and connections while encouraging companies to tackle entrepreneurial challenges efficiently and effectively. Each startup that is accepted into our program is carefully matched to four mentors (two generalists, one specialist, and one sustainability mentor) who are there to help guide and support the startups as they progress throughout our program and beyond. Startups in an earlier stage can benefit from our Team Development Program (TDP), which is a more lean experience of our program.

GH: What have you learned from Boston area startups?

The importance of communication and collaboration can not be understated. Startups with solid, well-rounded teams who are open to collaboration rather than segmented work exhibit strong internal support structures and are well-equipped to increase the speed at which they evaluate and iterate.

GH: What are some of the best resources the Boston ecosystem has to offer in your opinion?

The people. When I started with Cleantech Open I made a point to reach out to startups, mentors, volunteers, and sponsors for feedback. The response was overwhelming – almost everyone alluded to the strength of our events, noting how much they enjoyed the energy in the room, the conversations, and the company. This is something that I have to attribute to the people in the innovation ecosystem in Boston. The people create the community, they foster the buzz, and they provide the momentum that drives innovation and entrepreneurship, particularly in the cleantech industry, forward.

GH: What is the Boston ecosystem lacking from your perspective?

A perpetual challenge is finding early adopters, first customers, testbeds, or pilot demonstration sites. This is a need that we are working to address at Cleantech Open Northeast and with our colleagues at NECEC. We are all too aware of the unique challenges that cleantech companies face in these arenas, particularly those working at larger (i.e. utility) scales. Fortunately this problem can be solved with increased regular communication and collaboration (see, I do learn from startups, see Q4), particularly between ecosystem partners, municipalities, utilities, and growth companies.

GH: What’s the best/worst piece of advice you were given along the way?

I always go back to what my mom told me when I was applying to colleges: everything happens for a reason. I don’t mean this in a “fate” sense, but rather, that everything that happens along the way, good or bad, is an opportunity. It may be an opportunity to make new connections, to forge ahead, to persevere. Or, it may be an opportunity to move on, to learn, to reassess, to pivot. I believe that finding the reason or finding the opportunity in any scenario allows for continual progress, momentum, and optimism.

GH: What was the best thing that happened to you last year?

Cleantech Open Northeast received a record number of 107 applications in 2016. We also piloted two new curriculum initiatives – a social impact clinic and a set of sustainability worksheets. These initiatives speak to our broader mission of fostering companies that can positively impact the environment and society. We look forward to refining and expanding these new programs in 2017.

GH: What does the future hold for Cleantech Open?

The future is bright for cleantech, giving me confidence that the future will be equally as bright for Cleantech Open as we strive to support cleantech startups and the commercialization of disruptive and impactful technologies. Now, more than ever, it is critical that the community of cleantech innovators and entrepreneurs remain steadfast and committed to the development and success of new initiatives. Expanding our social impact programming will be a strong focus in the future.

GH: What does the future hold for the Boston innovation economy?

We find ourselves at a time ripe for innovation and progress in the cleantech sector. Now, more than ever, our innovation community has the opportunity to demonstrate that cleantech can and will thrive, even when facing hurdles. We have, as an industry, developed an inspiring level of capacity. The fundamental economics of renewable energy have driven its rise in the last half-decade and that can’t be stopped. Additionally, clean energy and cleantech jobs are expanding, and here in the Northeast public and private sector officials recognize the value clean energy brings to both our environment and our economy. State support here is highly encouraging, and new partnerships are being forged every day, all set to the backdrop of technological innovation and advancement. Boston is a powerhouse for innovation and entrepreneurship and has become a hotbed for the resources necessary to support and grow the innovation economy, but there are significant opportunities to expand that power outside the city lines and show the rest of the Northeast (and the world) how to cultivate a robust clean energy and cleantech ecosystem. Given Boston’s support system, I imagine that scale up and interconnectivity are on the horizon. Massachusetts and the broader Northeast have a wealth of resources from human capital to manufacturing. As entrepreneurship and innovation expand, so too will the needs associated with business development and commercialization, needs that can be met by surrounding areas. Cleantech Open Northeast and our partners, particularly at NECEC, are working to strengthen relationships and build networks between these resources so as to ease connections and processes for startups in Boston and the Northeast.

Learn more about Cleat Tech Open at

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