Cleantech innovators looking overseas

Cleantech's a hot sector for innovation - but it seems the UK isn't doing a great job of nurturing it...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

A new index of leading start-ups in the sector shows that UK entrepreneurs are coming up with some great ideas – but they’re not convinced that the Government is giving them the support they need to get their business off the ground. According to the study, which was produced by cleantech website Greenbang (with backing from the University of Bath and PR firm Hill & Knowlton), overseas rivals are catching up rapidly – and at this rate, there’s a good chance that some of our best innovators might be lost to foreign shores (and we don’t just mean the wave energy people).

For any entrepreneur, there’s a lot to like about cleantech. With so many trends in its favour – the search for alternative energy sources, the drive to reduce carbon emissions and fuel costs, the importance of energy security – the sector is bound to grow and grow in the coming years. One estimate suggests it could be worth more than $600bn by 2020, so there’s no doubting the scale of the opportunity. Naturally, this is attracting entrepreneurs keen to make their mark.

Success stories in the index include smart metering company ONZO (whose real-time energy usage displays have already been snapped up by Scottish and Southern Energy), domestic wind turbine business quietrevolution, and tidal energy experts Aquascientific. There’s no shortage of seed and venture capital flowing into the space, judging by these companies’ fundraising, but they find it harder to get the cash they need to get to the next level. And you can’t blame investors for being wary – even in a best case scenario, it will probably be a long time before they see a decent return.

The solution, these companies argue, is more Government support. Of course this is a sector that is heavily dependent on decisions in Whitehall (take the Kyoto treaty, for instance) – but these start-ups think they should be getting more of a leg-up. They want longer-term policies, to reduce political and financial uncertainty, and they want more incentives to encourage investors to back their projects. And if they don’t get it, they’ll take their business elsewhere. ‘There is a danger that some very smart technologies could move offshore to places like the US where investors are happier to take a risk,’ says Greenbang’s Dan Ilett.

We’ve heard this week that the Government wants to make renewables and cleantech the centre of Britain’s manufacturing renaissance – if this index is anything to go by, it clearly has a lot of work to do...

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