Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Green Tech 2.0 - a great learning.

The ancients, who wished to spread virtue throughout the world, began with their own States. To govern well their States, they gathered their families. Wishing to unite their families, they cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they rectified their hearts. To rectify their hearts, they sought to be sincere. To be sincere in their thoughts, they cured their imperfect knowledge through learning. Knowledge lay in the investigation of things.
The Great Learning, Confucius

I like to call myself a social entrepreneur, but I can also call myself the king of England and no one would care. The true power of a title vests in the things one can do – a king can rule his land without interference, a social entrepreneur must enterprise for social good. I am neither.

I’ve yet to find my profitable model to enterprise for the social good. I tried to launch a mobile app service and build a local food widget to help facilitate the healthy Indiana food market. With no funding, I got a major research institution to back some R&D work. At the end of the day, I realized academia is more concerned with “publish or perish” and “pedagogical concerns,” balancing profit and advancing a market ready product is not their number one priority. At the end of the day, I’m glad the institution can try out some new ideas and give some students a chance to dream; but now I am back to square one to figure out exactly where my venture will go.

I lay sleepless at nights wondering the next step, sometimes almost wanting to abandon the whole doing socially good things and just say f’em – let someone else worry about the welfare of the planet. I can stand to make some profit and I’m smart enough to know how. But where does that leave me? My children?

A professor once told me this would happen, that I would get frustrated beyond hope and contemplate abandoning ship. But she did say that the spirit of entrepreneurship is vested in failures – one has to confront failures, be not afraid of them no matter how frequent; and one must stand to fail in everything and finally succeed in only one thing.

Starting out as an entrepreneur, one can argue, is the best course for an attention deficit individual who has failed. Eventually, the attention deficit and massive amount of failures will lead stubborn to victory. Or at least I can hope. Of course success is measured not in the business or venture itself, but in what is accomplished. Has progress been made?

Brad Hines, a NASA engineer, started his first solar company in 2005. His venture crashed and burned. He's already started another, called Thermata with a whole new approach - rather than reinventing the solar panel themselves, he plans to use existing solar thermal technology to address specific business needs. Aside from changing strategy, he also noted some financial differences between the bubble days of green investing:

"It was a time when a naive new entrepreneur could have a good idea and get funded. In this market, just a good idea won't get you funded. You need a lot more . . . and in solar, the days of quantum changes in cost and performance are over . . . It isn't like microprocessors where you can keep doubling the speed."

In light of this new financial climate and Hines’ foresight in adopting strategies, many refer to the current venture arena “Green Tech 2.0.” The first wave venture capitalists threw billions of dollars at technologies hoping to disrupt the energy industry and stall climate change. Now, many argue, people who want to do social good and conduct their business well financially need a new playbook.

Some have called for innovation not just in technology, but in business strategies and commercialization. Some of the most successful startups in solar these days focuses on “solar leases” to help curve the cost of technology adaptation.

This made me think about my areas of specialties and shortfalls. I’m not a scientists or an engineer. I can’t code you a mobile app to save my life. Yet I insist on learning technology in its social applications and I am eager to learn how social applications can leverage existing laws and regulations to compete with the likes of the status quo and heavy investors like China. This is perhaps where my opportunity resides – not in innovating a new technology, but inventing a new way of applying existing technologies. With the onrush of Chinese subsidies into their solar sector, thin-film solar technology is outpaced by cheap solar cells made by China. My intuition is that we won’t be able to compete in manufacturing solar cells for the market place, but we can surly come up with inventive ways to popularize the technology and its application. Concept like “solar leases” and inventive financing models may just be what our housing market needs.

Long story short, I have failed, yes. I am not giving up. Going back to the drawing board is never fun, but the lessons are invaluable. Many sleepless nights ahead but it sure beats giving up. Life is about learning and doing good for the society.

古之欲明明德於天下者, 先治其國欲治其國者, 先齊其家欲齊其家者,  先修其身欲修其身者, 先正其心欲正其心者, 先誠其意欲誠其意者, 先致其知致知在格物 

Stay tuned.

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