Green entrepreneurs: lessons on how to make money

Lessons on how green tech startups should seek venture capital funding and scale, from experts at the Green Entrepreneur Summit in New York City.

NEW YORK -- This afternoon, I dropped into the new Green Entrepreneur Summit NYC, a new, small conference dedicated to "scaling up without selling out."

Underway was a panel discussion on funding strategies for green startups. Behind the table was Green Apple Cleaners CEO David Kistner, Action Environmental Services CEO Ron Bergamini, ITAC program director Franklin Madison and Hudson Valley Center for Innovation mentor Martin Saposnick.

The discussion was moderated by BEST Coaches CEO Stefan Doering.

The panel discussion turned out to be a brief, concise lesson plan for a burgeoning company -- moral lessons, if you will.

Here are my notes from the talk:

On funding:

  • Be careful who you take money from. "Good" money comes from those who hold the same value system as your company; "bad" money comes with restrictions that prevent you from executing your plans.
  • Make sure you're at the right level when working with venture capital firms. Some firms only work with $5 million startups, some only work with $20 million startups, some only work at $100+ million startups.
  • You and your investors should have the same expectations. Sometimes there are limits, such as the physical limitations of your own technology.
  • Consider your investors' exit strategies. They'll want their money back at some point.
  • Know where you're at within the VC food chain -- where you fit, what the funding community can bear for your particular sector, etc.
  • Hot cleantech areas right now: all things smart grid, including storage and efficiency.
  • First-year startups should consider the EB-5 immigrant investor program, in which foreigners can invest in domestic companies that will create U.S. jobs.
  • First-year startups should look to partners to gain traction in a space.
  • Know that the CEO's role is 99 percent sales, even though you need the CEO to run the company, too. (Or, get a great sales person.)
  • Differentiate yourself. If you're in a crowded space, it's even more important. Why should an investor pick you over others?
  • Prove that you know what to do with the money once you get it.

On scale:

  • Never sell out. You need to have integrity to be in the greentech business.
  • You may not be able to scale enough to have everyone as a customer, but you can own the IP on the tech needed to do so and "vicariously" control the market that way.
  • Know your metrics. Know what you need to measure and do it.
  • Be "unscrupulously honest" with everyone, from shareholders to investors to employees. Lies come back to haunt you.
  • On selling out: This is a very passionate business, so stay true to what first got you into green business.

The conference was organized by Carbon Outreach.

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