Viewpoints

#ClimateTech—or the role of incubators and accelerators in delivering the Paris Agreement

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At the Technology Executive Committee (TEC) Thematic Dialogue on 14 March, experts from around the world gathered at the UN in Bonn to discuss how to drive forward climate action by accelerating support for entrepreneurs who develop innovative climate products and services. Andrea Karpati, Head of Policy, Climate-KIC, here argues that programmes which work in stages and provide clear roadmaps for start-ups are key in successfully bringing these technologies to market.

“Climate technology innovation is a foundation on which we can build solutions. Through innovation, we can reduce the cost of technologies, improve their performance, and build the global capacity and knowledge to bring new technologies from the research labs to the world,” said Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, last year.

At Climate-KIC, we believe start-up incubators and accelerators are ideal in facilitating this innovation and climate action.

At the TEC Thematic Dialogue, policy experts shared their insights with entrepreneurs whose businesses are in the start-up and early development stages, helping them develop their technologies to greater maturity. Open dialogue between these two groups induces a paradigm shift in how we do business and ultimately advances the transition to a zero-carbon economy and helps reach the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Climate-KIC’s own experience with implementing start-up support programmes since 2017—supporting over 1,000 start-ups from all parts of Europe—provides valuable insight into what makes a good accelerator or incubator.

In the process of turning innovative ideas to marketable products and services, incubators and accelerators aim to minimise the so-called valley of death by providing support, advice, training, and networks to the start-ups. This often happens in a process of stages (typically broken down to three to five parts) which not only provides a clear roadmap for the start-ups, but helps to monitor progress. Some programmes put more emphasis on early-stage support for ideation and idea development (see our Climate Launchpad or Greenhouse), while others focus strongly on the networking aspect and access to investors.

Incubators and accelerators around the world are part of their respective national innovation systems, which are defined by e.g. the regulations of doing business, policy incentives for innovation, the national education system, the state of R&D, and the presence of venture funds. This would imply the challenges start-ups face with regards to support can vary wildly from country to country. While to some extent there is truth to that, the TEC dialogue revealed that the most critical issues are rather similar everywhere.

The discussion highlighted that market validation of innovative products and services is a critical step, especially for climate solutions, where new approaches to product delivery and scaling are built on new types of behaviours or business models. Checking in early with the relevant market segments seems to be the best practice, considering not only the customer need for the solution provided, but specific industry regulations and the financial capability of the target market. Incubators and accelerators can help with this part of the process on a case-by-case basis with skills training and coaching in order to find the right business model for the given product.

In the context of the global goals, start-up support programs also need to consider how to move away from traditional approaches, and support ideas for social innovation, which can’t be expected to become profitable. Similarly, programmes must provide a just approach for selecting the ideas and the entrepreneurs to be supported, and ensure that solutions benefiting—and developed by—women and vulnerable communities are an integral part of the programme.

Women for Results: Narrated by Fiza Farhan from Momentum for Change on Vimeo.

Start-up support programmes often provide support in different ways: Skills training, coaching, workspaces, and access to networks and potential funders. Funding may come in different forms as well: Grants, loans, guarantees, and equity. With this diversity in mind, individual programmes define success differently too. Traditionally, start-up support aims to find the next unicorn, but it’s unrealistic to expect a single technology or even a single company to solve the climate problem. Thus, the goal of a programme supporting climate start-ups would be the marketability and scale of more products and services with positive impacts on climate. 

Climate-KIC’s success stories are available here.

More materials related to the event:

Wrong form ID