A Game of Two Hands

I had the pleasure of attending last week’s Rushlight Exhibition, Gala Dinner and Awards in Westminster’s Central meeting Hall in London.

The event represented an opportunity for many of the UK and Ireland’s clean-tech leading lights to profile their solutions to the industry and investors - and the variety, quality and level of innovation present was hugely encouraging.

Something that is becoming increasingly obvious to me is that most early stage clean-tech startups are forced to answer to two equally demanding masters.

On the one hand, they must find and convince those who potentially wish to develop or purchase their technology, whist on the other hand schmooze those investors whose injections of life-giving capital will sustain product and business development.

Therefore most early stage startups are forced to make a pretty difficult choice when it comes to allocating PR resource – because at the point when they are most strapped for cash they are forced to split resources to service two very different, but equally demanding audiences.

One of the most inspiring technologies at the exhibition was the Pavegen paving slab – an ingenious device for harvesting kinetic energy from the movement of pedestrians, and converting it into electricity.  Just amazing!

I asked Managing Director Laurence Kemball-Cook for his perspective on this juggling act: “It’s a tough balancing act, as everything needs to happen simultaneously, but if too much time and focus goes into the fundraising you are out of the loop with the technical development and testing.”

“And the most difficult thing as a start up is to be in a catch 22 situation every day. I have been in a position where I cannot move forward without funding but having a number of buyers ready for the product.”

Is their investment available? “It’s really tough out there, and increasingly it’s as much about building investor relationships as the quality of the product or service offered.  The days of investing in an entrepreneur with a good PowerPoint are over!  You really need a credible management team and a robust prototype/ production model to secure workable investment.

”Laurence ads: “But overall, the most important aspect remains technical development, as once production is in place other activities such as PR can have a direct benefit.

“We have been lucky to find both investors and clients, and Westfield Stratford City (our first corporate client) has recently confirmed an installation at the new retail site which is set to be the largest shopping centre in Europe, and we are working in partnership with them to help fulfil their environmental commitments.”

Laurence concludes: “It’s a great challenge, but when things go well with fundraising, PR and technical development, nothing beats that feeling - it feels like the most rewarding job in London!”

And I suppose that’s the reality. Yes, it is tough being a clentech start-up (or any start-up for that matter), but it’s the potential size of the cleantech market that is attracting such a disproportionately large number of innovative new products and companies, and as a result, investors.

The important thing is to recognise that PR has to play a role in the development of both sides of the business – and both will require time and resources.

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