As with any successful business, a company usually offers a product or a service. At Cleantech Open, we offer a service -- a business accelerator, to help get your early stage company from Point A to Point B faster. To provide this service, we offer a series of business clinics, mentorship, and, for the best, some additional funding. But beyond that, Cleantech Open offers a community, lessons from others, a network of fellow entrepreneurs and other industry locals like executives and investors that you can get to know in the ecosystem of northeast clean energy startups. To learn more about the experience in the community, we interviewed one of our alumni-turned-mentor, Vikram Aggarwal, of EnergySage.
Vikram and EnergySage went through Cleantech Open Northeast in 2012, and he returned in 2015 and 2017 to mentor teams. As such, he has a unique perspective to offer both the teams he has mentored and to the Cleantech Open Northeast staff. “It’s really a testament to the quality of the program that even through the 5 years I have been involved, that it hasn’t changed that much,” Vikram remarked during our interview. “The quality of the cohort is strong, the folks involved as mentors and judges are strong. You really get good advice and experience from everyone involved.”
This sense of strong community was reiterated by Vikram time again, reinforcing core value that Cleantech Open Northeast seeks to provide to our Cohorts. The introduction of a Slack channel for team this year helped reinforce the sentiments expressed by Vikram. “Just remember that the ecosystem is there to help. help. Leverage your peers, you will learn more from them, don’t hesitate to reach out. Don’t hold back. Everyone is going through the same challenges as you.”
When asked whether he felt Cleantech Open helped him get to where EnergySage is now, Vikram replied with a chuckle. “I don’t want to know if we’d be where we are if we hadn’t participated,” a partial admittance to the fragile nature of early stage companies. “The best part of going through the program was the pitch deck and pitch practice and getting feedback. I came in with an MBA and executive experience and it was still helpful.” Touching again on the benefit of the community, he added “As an entrepreneur you can think you’re dumb, but when you have a peer group, like the CTONE cohort, you feel much better in your concerns and questions. The whole ecosystem has been extremely valuable because of the family.”
Fortunately for Vikram and Cleantech Open, EnergySage is doing well. Since graduating Cleantech Open, it has had 4 straight years of sustained 200-300% growth and has almost hit break-even. Continuing not without some pride in his voice, Vikram explained that EnergySage was the second most visited website in the solar industry and the leading online marketplace for solar, helping facilitate $1-1.5 billion in solar requests.
The last question we asked was about the solar industry itself, something the Vikram has extensive experience with. Part of the reason for Cleantech Open’s existence is the push for renewable energy and sustainable economies in the face of fossil fuels and climate change. The change from established dirty energies to newer renewables has been an uphill battle in all arenas, from solar to wind to hydro, but Vikram left us with some optimistic views. “When we got into the solar industry 10-12 years ago, 95/100 people you talked to were skeptical about solar, some variation of ‘my house doesn’t get enough sun, it’s not actually clean, I won’t break even fast enough.’ 5 years ago, that number went down to 80/100. Today, 50/100 people have the same skepticism. It’s a conversion rate, and it won’t happen overnight. But 10 years ago, only some people bought the first iPhone. Today, you are the enormous minority if you don’t. Change takes time, but it happens. Give it another few years, the number of skeptics will go down and reasons will go down too because of companies like EnergySage. The number of converts will go up.”
Thanks to companies like EnergySage, and the Cleantech Open community, we think so too.
By Ian Donnelly on in Northeast