An interview with SPARK facilitator, Carol-Ann Brown
What are the barriers and gaps to financing the scale-up and growth of clean technologies? That question was top of mind for a group of investors, governments, accelerators, cleantech companies, and others during a February 2019 workshop hosted at Globe Capital 2019: Financing the 21st Century.
Designed and facilitated by The Delphi Group and GLOBE Series, and supported by Foresight and Energy Efficiency Alberta, the Scaling Cleantech 2.0 session at SPARK 2019: Carbon Positive on Wednesday, October 30 from 1 to 2:15 p.m. will build on the initial conversation at GLOBE Capital and the associated report, Flowing Investment to Scale Clean Technology. The SPARK session will build off the foundation of the GLOBE Capital workshop and work toward addressing some of the recommendations reflected in the report.
This Delphi-GLOBE-ERA partnership was developed to advance solutions that support greater investment in growing and scaling cleantech companies and technologies, and exporting these Canadian products and services.
We spoke with session facilitator Carol-Ann Brown, Vice President of Innovation and Cleantech with The Delphi Group and GLOBE Series, and recent Clean50 recipient, to learn more.
Where did the idea come from?
There have been many conversations about Canada pouring money into the early stages of technology innovation. We get them to pilot, to demonstrate, to really kick the tires. But there are not a lot of commercial companies out there financing the scale-up and growth of these innovations. After many of these conversations, we reached out to our connections in this space to try to fill that gap—or confirm if there even was a gap.
Why was hosting the workshop at GLOBE Capital the right fit?
Delphi works with all parts of the innovation ecosystem: people with solutions, people with access to capital, people with pain points, people with experience in the space and people without. At GLOBE Capital, we are able to bring all these people together through curated activities and be laser-focused on connecting the right people and taking the next steps. Like SPARK, we get a concentration of people who can more easily come together at our event than at a one-off meeting.
How important was it to document the session?
When the idea began to form, we wanted to make sure there was an official record, a compilation of what we heard. That was key to the process. We had over 30 people from government, venture capital growth funds, financial institutions, accelerators, you name it. We needed to document the takeaways from these experts to validate what we were doing. We also wanted to make sure there was a way to keep the conversation going.
Why is SPARK the right next step?
ERA was a sponsor for the GLOBE Capital workshop, and Elizabeth Shirt (Executive Director, Policy and Strategy, ERA) wanted to keep pushing ideas forward and convene the right players into action at the right level. We agreed pretty early on about the importance of linking both platforms—SPARK and GLOBE. SPARK will have more of an Alberta focus, but it complements what we kicked off at GLOBE. The Scaling Cleantech in Canada initiative is an ongoing conversation, and only by collectively committing to this long-term can we make a difference in the space.
What lessons were learned at Globe Capital?
One thing we found was that a lot of organizations with financing mechanisms and people with money to invest didn’t fully understand what others were doing. We realized we needed to build greater awareness of what kind of mechanisms exist so people can refer to each other. Secondly, in order to scale cleantech in Canada we need to increase access to these financing mechanisms. The public session at SPARK will be used to address these key next steps.
Building greater awareness about financing mechanisms is not the entire answer, as some companies and innovators may still not be eligible for them. What new financing vehicles are needed? How can we get other players involved? Can we get pension funds or large investors interested in the space? How do we help mitigate risk to get more participation?
How will workshop participants benefit?
Cleantech companies can benefit from learning more about options that will help them scale and grow once they get through their first pilot. They’ll learn about existing support, i.e., what financing accelerator programs and tax credits are available. Government will get a better understanding of other investors in that space. Cleantech buyers, the energy industry players, are all looking at and investing in developing and deploying clean technology. Their understanding of financing access is part of the puzzle. All the players in the value chain can work to better understand one another in order to scale and grow cleantech and reap the environmental and economic benefits of projects originally funded with public money.
What can people expect from this session?
It will be useful for people to get a concrete understanding of what has happened to date and what the next steps are. We’ll also facilitate a discussion with decision makers in the financing and accelerator community, who will talk about what they’re looking for before they finance someone or invite them into their growth program. The ultimate goal at SPARK is to advance the conversation about scaling cleantech in Canada even further.