The Global Startup Ecosystem Report: Cleantech Edition

Individuals Can’t Solve the Climate Crisis, But Clusters Can

This contributed article was prepared by Bianca Dragomir 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.

Bianca Dragomir undefined

The first woman to be awarded Cluster Manager of the Year by the European Commission, Bianca Dragomir was appointed as ambassador to all 2500+ clusters in Europe. Her work has taken her from the trenches of cluster management to advising the highest levels of European government on a €1 trillion funding opportunity for industries meeting the SDGs.

Climate change is exceedingly complex, affected both by factors in natural ecosystems — like glacial melt, ocean currents, and forest cover — and human ecosystems, like public policy and technological innovation. A problem this multi-dimensional and interdependent demands a response that’s equally multi-dimensional and interdependent. Systemic problems require systemic solutions.

There Are No Single-Point Solutions in Cleantech 

Unfortunately, traditional responses to climate change have too often been one-dimensional. Governments offer subsidies, scientists conduct studies in research centers, and VCs fund startups. These separate efforts towards Cleantech innovation, however bold and well intentioned, are siloed and inward looking, limiting their impact.  

For Cleantech innovation to make an impact, it must scale up. And in Cleantech, scaling up requires coordination. Startups need to connect with investors and with corporations who have the reach to multiply the impact of new technologies. They need governments to create policies that enable new solutions, invest in essential infrastructure, and support bottom-up innovation.  

Even a relatively straightforward technology like electric scooters must address issues of infrastructure, architecture, and human behavior to reach market. There are no single-point solutions in Cleantech. Making a dent requires multiple stakeholders, multiple funding streams, and sophisticated strategy.

Clusters Accelerate Impact

At AVAESEN, Spain’s leading Cleantech cluster in Valencia, we believe the best way to truly move the needle on the climate crisis is by creating clusters co-leading the change, driven by innovation and purpose. At AVAESEN we put startups at the core of Cleantech innovation, but also weave 300 public and private stakeholders — from government and academia to innovators and investors — into one vibrant ecosystem. The approach is outward-focused, interconnected, and diversified, uniting all players to co-create innovative ventures that can actually move us toward a net-zero economy.

Our results show that collaboration multiples impact. In 2020, we worked with three different ministries to shape policies that will create 3,500 green jobs and attract €5 billion in investments over the next five years. A few years ago, in partnership with two cities, investors, universities, and corporations, we launched the first climate accelerator in Spain, creating a ripple effect that’s seen the formula expand across 12 countries. We’ve grown more than 400 startups, which we then connected with cities, industries and investors. In the past two years, we have co-created sustainable energy plans for small and medium towns in the region and mobilized tenders of more than €168 million in new clean energy projects by linking municipalities, solution providers, venture capitalists, and business angels.

And AVAESEN is far from the only cluster catalyzing results. Some 3,000 other clusters across Europe, and 7,000 globally, are executing similar strategies in a variety of sub-sectors from plastics to automotive. Their multi-dimensional approach turns these Cleantech clusters into engines of growth. They create more jobs that pay higher-than-average salaries, and bring more innovation to market. Productivity in clusters is 25% higher than average. This translates not just to local economic gains but, most importantly, to accelerated progress toward a net-zero economy.

Individuals Won’t Save Us From the Climate Crisis

This progress is already impressive, but it is only the beginning. The need for Cleantech clusters is set to grow rapidly. The European Union has set a target to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. China is aiming for 2060, and India for 2070, to reach the same goal. In light of this commitment, the EU has allocated massive funds for climate change projects — a third of €1.8 trillion over the next seven years.

Meeting these ambitious targets is not just a matter of funding, will, and technological breakthroughs. It’s also a matter of execution capacity. To reach our goals, we will need speed, scale, and impact like never before. The only way to achieve it is to build clusters that are open, collaborative, globally interconnected, cross-sectoral, and mission-oriented.

We are all living through a turning point in human history. Whether we turn towards disaster or away from it, is under our control. We can innovate our way out of the climate crisis, but we can’t do it as individuals. Meeting this challenge requires the best in us. It requires us to elevate ourselves through meaningful collaboration. The only way we will rise to meet the biggest challenge of our time is if we do it together, making the most of our clusters and innovation ecosystems.