Michele AshbyLet’s be realistic. Your cleantech startup may not meet its funding goals in 2010. Does that mean you should go into hiding for the rest of the year? Absolutely not.

Investors and startups often talk about a place called the “valley of death.” On the near side of the valley of death is safety: Your company is small, but relatively stable. There is less risk, but your prospects for growth are much lower because you need funding to reach a critical mass and gain some momentum.

On the far side of the valley of death is also stability. This is the oasis that companies find after they’ve hit their funding goals, and can focus on the blocking-and-tackling execution of creating a successful business.

Located between these two stages of comfort, the valley of death is a limbo stage. You can’t stay on the safe side of the valley forever, and you’ll need to grow to survive. And to achieve this growth, you’ll need funding. And there’s the catch: You’ll be far less risky to investors once you’re on the other side of the valley and you’ve proven that your company is viable and profitable. The valley is one, big Catch-22: You need funding to grow, but you need to grow to get funding.

There are a lot of cleantech companies in the valley right now. For all the hoopla that the Tesla IPO created several weeks ago, funding for the non-superstars is still sluggish.

So if you don’t get funded in the second half of this year, what should you be doing? First, you should invest the rest of 2010 in relationships. When the money comes back, you’re going to want investors to know who you are, and what you do. Go to conferences. Network. Understand that it’s a long game.

Next, broaden your horizons. In my state, Colorado, we’ve had a number of government deals announced in the last several weeks. Promising startups such as ION Engineering and ADA Environmental Solutions received a combined $14 million for carbon capture technology. Just days before that, Abound Solar announced $400 million in loan guarantees from the federal government.

The valley of death is a dark, lonely place. But it can be crossed. Realize that it won’t happen all at once, and start planning your crossing today.

Michele Ashby is the CEO of MiNE LLC, which is hosting the Modern Energy Investor Forum (MEIF) from Sep. 22-25, 2010, in Denver, Colorado. The Modern Energy Investor Forum is the premier invitation-only conference for clean technology firms and investors. For more information or to register for the MEIF, please go to www.MiNELLC.com or call (303) 377-6463.