Clean Green Transportation Machines

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FountainBlue’s July 2 Clean Energy Entrepreneurs’ Forum was on the topic of Clean Green Transportation Machines and featured:

• Facilitator Lafe Vittitoe, Relationship Manager, Silicon Valley Bank
• Panelist Ann Chan, Director, California Programs, Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP)
• Panelist Brad Mattson, Partner, Vantage Point Venture Partners
• Panelist John Suh, General Motors
• Panelist Elise Zoli, Partner and Clean Tech Chair, Goodwin Procter LLP

Our presenting entrepreneurs were:
• Panelist Neil Maguire, VP of Business Development, Imara
• Panelist Fraser Smith, CEO, ElectraDrive
• Panelist John Zajac, CEO, Zajac Motors
• Forrest North, Mission Motors
• Lee Colin, Green Vehicles

Below are notes from the conversation.
Our panelists agreed that the transportation industry is at a crossroads, and policy, technology, business and other innovations are necessary to revitalize the industry. Success is dependent on focusing on the needs of the customer – from the economic need for cost-effective products and services, to the social need for eco-friendly products and services, to the individual needs for comfort, safety, convenience and speed. But success is also focused on a successful collaboration between various stakeholders, (including policy-makers, entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, investors, providers, and others) who can work together to ensure the efficient delivery of products and services which would best suit the needs of the customers.

Transportation is such a broad category, with many opportunities for innovation – from software to fuels to hardware to infrastructure. Although there are many opportunities with such a broad category, entrepreneurs should consider barriers to innovation in any of these categories including:
• The large auto dealers are embracing new technologies and solutions, but manufacturing, distribution, sales and marketing channels pose challenges to adoption of these technologies.
• Infrastructure challenges from roads to mass-transit to fuel storage and distribution, to compatibility of fuels, parts, etc., make it more difficult to forge changes in the industry.
• Policy-makers may not be informed about the technology adoption challenges, or why it’s so important to help the large players in the transportation industry to adopt new technologies. This and other factors make it difficult for policy-makers to adopt policies that help the industry adopt changes which are an integral part of revamping the industry.
• Decision-makers in the automobile industry are trained and rewarded to be risk-adverse. Transformative cultural change needs to happen in these organizations in order to embrace the opportunities that change can provide.
• International companies are proving more nimble at adopting and leveraging new technologies, and competing with existing American products and services. There are even examples of how American innovation has been adopted by international organizations.
• The lack of a gas tax deters consumers from proactively electing more gas-efficient options.
• Development, testing, manufacturing, distribution, and other challenges are making it difficult for entrepreneurs to provide cost-effective products and services that compete well with existing offerings.
• Many transportation solutions require a huge financial investment, and investors who are leaning toward capital-efficient solutions are reticent to invest. However, with the federal stimulus package, dollars are still available, but entrepreneurs who are seeking those dollars need a new strategy to secure the funding, and policy-makers need to better explain the process for securing funding.

The panelists advised entrepreneurs to be nimble and innovative, while also focusing on strategic partnerships and investments, and finding a way to partner with corporate entities who may be resistant to the newest innovations. They also advised entrepreneurs to focus on modular solutions which would be compatible with the existing infrastructure, yet flexible enough to evolve with the infrastructure, while also ensuring that solutions address the larger objectives of climate change challenges and foreign oil dependency.

The panelists agreed that it will also take innovative approaches for the development, testing, manufacturing, and distribution of products and services, and entrepreneurs must partner with other stakeholders to realize real change in these areas. The odds and the challenges ARE overwhelming, with everyone having only ONE piece of the puzzle. But a positive attitude and a resilient disposition from all stakeholders are essential components for success.

Each panelist provided a different perspective about why all stakeholders should be heard during this crossroads in the industry. Working together, we can help policy-makers provide limits and constraints, and reconsider the allocation of subsidies, while also jumpstarting R&D efforts that would forge technological innovations benefiting customers worldwide. And working together, making small, incremental clean/green purchasing decisions every day (rather than focusing on one sexy killer app/solution, a panacea), and helping others make similar choices, entrepreneurs can lead the transportation industry out of this economic funk and into a new era of innovation for clean green transportation machines.

Resource:
Entrepreneurs and other clean energy stakeholders should consider leveraging the nonprofit think-tank Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP) as a resource for providing policy recommendations to California climate policy decision makers. While CCAP is not an advocacy or lobbying organization, it does provide independent policy research and analysis (including economic and technical analyses) as well as stakeholder dialogue facilitation (to develop consensus type policy platforms with broad-based political support) in support of early stage clean tech companies and other stakeholders.

California’s progressive stance in the policy arena provides leadership for the rest of country – particularly with respect to fostering technological innovation, but there is always room for more innovative and better policies, and CCAP may be able to explore conduits for ensuring that the viewpoints and concerns of emerging companies are adequately communicated to state policy makers. For more information, visit http://www.ccap.org.

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