Clean tech accelerator Greenstart is adopting a slash-and-burn mentality.
The team has decided to ‘kill our accelerator program completely’ and become a venture firm with a built-in design studio. This significant pivot is in an effort to nurture the portfolio companies during their entire lifecycle, rather than just during the nascent stages, and provide more meaningful support.
“We’ve found that a three-month program simply isn’t enough. Our startups told us they wanted more- a lifetime partner who will roll up their sleeves and help push their business forward for years to come,” the company said in a statement.
Instead of the common three-months-of-guidance-to-demo-day model, Greenstart has created a ‘build-and-deliver’ design studio. The 10 person team will focus on user experience, building sustainable business models, and brand design.
“The breakout success of companies like Nest, AirBnB, Uber, and of course Apple, in increasingly being recognized as driven by their design,” Greenstart said. “Not skin-deep, visual design like a logo and website, but a deep systematic approach to user experience (UX) for their products and services. But the problem for startups is that this kind of design is expensive and hard to access.”
Strong design can make-or-break a company, but good designers are difficult to find, hard to nail down, and expensive. The five pillars of Greenstart’s approach are business design, design research, interaction design, graphic design, and storytelling. The lifetime commitment means that Greenstart goes “all-in” with its startups, funneling all its resources into a smaller pool of companies working to addressing climate change.
Greenstart officially opened its doors in San Francisco in 2011. It hosted clean tech startups that were ‘fast,’ meaning they could generate real revenue in a year and either reduce reliance on fossil fuels or improve existing clean technology. Greenstart currently has 13 portfolio companies including RidePal, a private commuter bus system; Root3, predictive analytics for on-site energy plant operations; and Watt, which visualizes and gamifies a company’s energy usage.
In the past few years, scores of accelerator and incubator programs have cropped up around the world and it seems like they are a dime a dozen. Some, like Greenstart, health IT accelerator Rock Health, and ed-tech accelerator K-12 are dedicated to a specific topic, while others focus on growing the startup ecosystem in a particular region. Others, like Y Combinator and 500 Startups, invest across the board and are primarily valuable for putting entrepreneurs in front of investors.
Clean tech is a difficult space. Venture capital funding for this sector is struggling and many investors shy away from these types of investments. However, with advances in hardware development, the success of companies like Nest, and the ever-present need for greener technologies, businesses, and lifestyles, Greenstart’s new approach could make clean tech startups into more desirable (and sexy) investment opportunities.