A conversation with EPIC prize winner Greentown Labs:
OTT: Congratulations on receiving $50,000 as part of OTT’s EPIC prize! First, please tell us a little more about your company/who you are.
Greentown Labs Houston: Thank you! We are incredibly honored to receive this award. As the largest climatetech startup incubator in North America, Greentown Labs brings together startups, corporates, investors, policymakers, and many others with a focus on scaling climate solutions. Our startups are building breakthrough solutions in major decarbonization sectors of electricity, agriculture and water, transportation, buildings, and manufacturing, and in building the resilience of communities and infrastructure. Driven by the mission of providing ground-breaking startups the resources, knowledge, connections, and equipment they need to thrive, Greentown Labs offers lab space, shared office space, a machine shop, an electronics lab, software and business resources, a large network of corporate customers and investors, and more. With its headquarters in Somerville, Mass. and a recently-opened incubator in Houston, Texas, Greentown Labs is home to more than 180 startups and has supported more than 400 startups since the incubator’s founding in 2011. These startups have collectively raised more than $1.3 billion in funding and created more than 6,500 direct jobs that contribute to a thriving climatetech ecosystem working toward the common goal of solving our biggest energy and environmental challenges. Greentown’s many achievements include its broader public benefit with over $1.6 billion in economic impact for the region. You can read more about our 9 years of impact in our 2019 Greentown Labs Impact Report.
OTT: Will you give us a brief description of your winning program plan?
Greentown: Developed prior to Greentown Labs opening a new location in Houston, Texas, Greentown’s EPIC proposal was focused on building and assembling the local climatetech ecosystem in Houston, Texas. As the city’s first climatetech and climatetech-focused startup incubator, Greentown Houston will serve as an on-the-ground catalyst for the energy transition in Houston—aiming to bring together civic and business leaders, entrepreneurs, students and other stakeholders who have already begun the transition and raise awareness of the opportunity for those who have yet to engage. Greentown Houston also provides ground-breaking climatetech startups the resources, knowledge, connections, and equipment they need to thrive and commercialize their innovative technologies for the energy transition.
The EPIC Prize award supports our events and programming needs which includes hosting a series of entrepreneurial meetups and ecosystem networking opportunities, as well as the Grand Opening of Greentown Labs Houston. On April 22nd, Greentown celebrated the Grand Opening of Greentown Labs Houston (Greentown Houston), located in the innovation district of Houston, Texas. Furthermore, the EPIC grant enables the development of diversity, equity and inclusion programming for startups which we accomplish by engaging with advocates for traditionally underrepresented communities to identify opportunities for impact. Opening Greentown Labs’ second location in Houston—the energy capital of the world—is the best place to broaden our impact and help accelerate the energy transition through climatetech entrepreneurship, in partnership with the nation’s fourth largest city and the world-leading energy organizations headquartered there.
OTT: How has this program impacted your region/local community?
Greentown: Our model in Houston, TX, is built on nearly ten years of experience supporting climatetech entrepreneurs. From peer engagement and networking, to virtual training, to shared hardware equipment, to software tools to investor connections, we provide startups with the resources they need to build their teams and their companies successfully – and efficiently. With a headquarters in Somerville, Massachusetts, the Greentown community has experienced more than a $1.6 billion economic impact on the region over the past decade. With support from the EPIC Prize, Greentown will be able to apply this model and scale this impact to the Greater Houston region. Greentown Houston aims to build the innovation ecosystem needed to catalyze Houston’s industries of the future, support the growth of hundreds of climatetech startups in Houston, and scale innovation needed to lead the global energy transition. The Houston office will provide support for more than 50 early-stage startups that will employ up to 300 people, by providing office space, prototyping lab space, and a community for Houston area startups and partners working in the climatetech ecosystem. Already, Greentown Houston has brought on more than 30 inaugural startups and 28 corporate partners into its community. This exciting milestone furthers progress on the City of Houston’s goals to convene the climatetech innovation ecosystem and drive the global energy transition.
OTT: When it comes to lessons learned with building out your regional innovation ecosystem, what is one thing that has worked and one thing that has not?
Greentown: We have been so thrilled with all of the incredible traction and warm welcome we have experienced in Houston, Texas. When we went into this expansion, we were unsure of how the pandemic might impact our timeline and plans—particularly our expansion announcement and Grand Opening. However, we have learned that Houston is just as eager for Greentown Labs to be located in its City as we are to be expanding there. We were proud to complete our facility construction project, despite the pandemic and electricity crisis in Texas, on time for an Earth Day opening and on budget. We feel lucky at Greentown to be working with a broad range of public and private sector partners in climate action who see the opportunity that the energy transition represents. Through the incredible generosity of the Greater Houston Partnership, we were able to hold and livestream four different virtual press announcements that reached an even broader audience than we might have had had we held a solely in-person event.
One lesson we learned is that the rate of new startup formation and growth was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, along with entrepreneurs’ willingness and eagerness to transition back to an office space from a work-from-home model. These two factors may slow down our expected community formation. We are mitigating and reducing these risks by building relationships with startup accelerators, pitch competitions, and universities to create a strong pipeline.
OTT: What does it mean to be an accelerator/incubator during the coronavirus pandemic? What is one lesson learned from this virtual experience?
Greentown: To be an incubator during the pandemic means to be able to adapt to meet the unprecedented challenges facing climatetech startups and incubators. In 2020, Greentown had to learn how to run a virtual incubator, focusing specifically on converting our member resources to virtual and providing unique virtual programming for our members during this time. In the case of Greentown’s climatetech startups, we’ve seen investment and hiring of new employees has been delayed as startups seek to conserve cash for longer runways before new funding can be secured. Hard tech startups already face more challenges attracting venture capital than other startups, and thus Greentown Labs had to adapt its programming to not only be virtual but also address these new concerns. We doubled down on our startup support and have been working every day to offer new programs, advice, connections, and services for our startups as they navigate this challenging time.
OTT: How can we stay up to date on the latest news or events with your company?
Thank you Greentown Labs Houston for speaking with us! Congratulations!
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