The Global Startup Ecosystem Report: Cleantech Edition

Collaborating to Accelerate Canadian Cleantech

This contributed article was prepared by Jeanette Jackson in a personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of Startup Genome.

Jeanette Jackson undefined

Jeanette is a CEO and entrepreneur with broad experience in technology, business development, marketing, and operations. Prior to joining Foresight, she was founding CEO of Light-Based Technologies, which she built into a thriving enterprise with venture capital support and a successful personal exit in 2011.

There’s an argument to be made that Canadians are particularly motivated to create, promote, and adopt climate solutions. Anyone who has experienced our country’s natural beauty can easily understand why we protect it so fiercely.

A clear goal was set in 2021, when the Government of Canada committed to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Combined with a number of extreme weather events and attention garnered by the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) the same year, there is renewed commitment to climate solutions among individuals, investors, the business community, academia, and government.

Canadian Cleantech is maturing at just the right time. More innovators are launching ventures with problem-driven Cleantech solutions. More Canadian ventures are scaling and connecting with global markets. More industry players are increasing transparency on innovation gaps to reach net-zero climate targets. And there was a distinct uptick in capital raised by Cleantech companies in the past year.

Foresight provides support for Cleantech ventures at every stage, from startup to scale-up. In addition to structured training programs and learning from peers in their cohort, ventures get coaching and connections from highly experienced Executives in Residence and mentors.

Beyond Acceleration

Building on success with acceleration programs, Foresight has introduced initiatives that expand the adoption of Cleantech to help reach critical net-zero targets.

  • Industry challenges
    Startups tell us they have difficulty connecting with industry to establish pilot programs; industry often can’t find the sustainability solutions they require. Our “reverse pitch” challenges feature corporate leaders outlining their needs to innovators. From mining to wind turbine blade recycling, we’ve facilitated valuable connections that are advancing cleantech.

  • Sector-specific initiatives
    Cleantech involves numerous sectors, often with distinct needs. By creating sector-specific initiatives such as waterNEXT and carbonNEXT, we bring together relevant stakeholders to advance solutions in their sector.

  • Events
    Foresight is a trusted partner to create and execute conferences, webinars, and meetings that encourage learning and connections. In 2021, we hosted 50 events, drawing more than 7,000 people from across Canada and globally.

  • Research
    Knowledge sharing is a critical element in accelerating Cleantech development and adoption. Foresight partners with leading academic institutions and industry organizations to create sector roadmaps, regional research, and international business development strategies. It’s all publicly available.

Canada’s Clusters

In a country as large and diverse as Canada, there are distinctive Cleantech hubs. This cluster-based approach to economic development builds on regional concentrations of related industries. Clusters have been shown to increase productivity, stimulate partnerships, and expand opportunities for entrepreneurial activity.

Ranked as #16 in this report’s global Cleantech ranking, Vancouver is well known in Canada for being a hub for Cleantech. From carbon capture and water solutions for mining, from hydrogen solutions to renewables, the region has a vibrant ecosystem.

Emerging ventures in British Columbia benefit from a range of support from Innovate BC, a Crown agency of the provincial government. Innovate BC delivers ​cost-effective, ​high-impact programs ​to address the biggest pain points of BC businesses. This means helping entrepreneurs access resources to help them start and scale their companies — and stay in BC.

​​Besides the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change is one of the most critical issues we face globally, according to Raghwa Gopal, President and CEO of Innovate BC.

“With the record heat last summer and the storms and flooding that continue to impact communities across British Columbia, we’ve seen first-hand the impact of climate change — which will only escalate if we don’t get the situation under control,” he says. “Innovate BC is committed to supporting innovators that are working on climate solutions through our various funding and mentorship programs.”

Through the BC Fast Program, Innovate BC provides grants to companies who already have a product and need funding to create a pilot demonstration of their technology. Innovate BC delivers this critical program in partnership with the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP).

This grant provided a valuable boost to Open Ocean Robotics, a venture that created the first solar-powered uncrewed surface vehicle for seafloor mapping. This technology is revolutionizing the way hydrographic data is collected in coastal areas and lakes through the use of a zero-emission autonomous vessel for work that is typically done using a crewed boat. The advantages include no GHG emissions, increased safety for crew, reduced cost, and faster results.

Innovate BC’s Ignite program is an R&D grant that is awarded to academic and industry partnerships to help them commercialize their innovative new technologies. This program provided valuable support to Terramera, a plant intelligence company that is making a safer generation of plant-based pesticides. Its breakthrough technology, which enables environmentally friendly pesticides to outperform their synthetic chemical counterparts, is a significant climate solution that could have global impact.

Calgary, recognized as an Cleantech ecosystem to watch in this report, is a vibrant green energy hub. Nearly three-quarters of Alberta Cleantech companies sell to the oil and gas industry, according to Alberta Cleantech Report 2021. It is a growing and optimistic sector: more than 80% of ventures surveyed stated they have a moderately or substantially better outlook for the coming year.

The Toronto-Waterloo Tech Corridor

Toronto-Waterloo in Ontario is an established tech startup ecosystem. Listed among the global top performers in Cleantech in this report, the Toronto-Waterloo region corridor is the largest tech cluster in North America outside of Silicon Valley. The region’s post-secondary institutions are a significant source of innovation. The University of Waterloo produces some of the world’s most talented engineering and computer science graduates.

Nearby, Innovation Guelph provides acceleration programs for high-potential emerging ventures. It also serves as the point of entry to a provincewide network of regional innovation centers. Not far down the highway, Toronto is a global finance and business hub. It’s also the base for the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), which leads the commercialization of climate solutions. CSI and Foresight are partners in Climate Ventures, which fast-tracks the success of early-stage innovators developing solutions to the climate crisis.

There’s a lot of brainpower, ingenuity, and potential packed into that Toronto-Waterloo corridor!

Committing to Collaboration

With so many players in the Cleantech space, it’s essential that we don’t try to tackle this massive challenge in isolation. Foresight is highly collaborative. We tear down silos and question the status quo. If a resource, partnership, or program doesn’t exist, we create it.

Foresight’s work is guided by the Helix-5 model of engagement. This is a framework for interactions among the following five groups: innovators, industry, investors, government, and academia. This also includes associations, service providers, municipal leaders and Indigenous leadership.

Collaboration is surprisingly simple when you approach it with an urgent goal and multiple partner groups in mind, along with a true belief in synergy. The commercialization and adoption of Cleantech in Canada is accelerating because of the willingness of partners to work together, share resources, and move forward with the same goal in mind: grow a thriving green economy.

And we’re only getting started. Cleantech innovation starts here!