Sixteen ‘clean technology’ companies from the UK have taken part in the Clean and Cool Mission to San Francisco to promote their solutions. Three participants share their experiences.
Green Fuels Research
The technology: Building on more than 10 years’ experience in the biofuels sector, Green Fuels Research (GFR) has created a low-cost and energy-efficient bio-aviation fuel for use in jet engines. The patented fuel is developed from a simple process, enabling existing biodiesel producers to upgrade their production in order to produce bio-aviation fuel and enter this lucrative new market.
James Hygate, chief technology officer, writes:
It was a useful Clean and Cool Mission and the week was relentless. We often had back-to-back sessions, going from pitch practice to meetings with potential investors or experts in the area, such as Silicon Valley Bank.
We had a lot of interest, and it is a very different environment from Europe and the UK. The US has a developed industry, but they are still interested to hear what the European markets have to say. The companies and investors we met often knew what they wanted and got straight to the point – they were quite blunt in their approach. The biogas industry is established in the US and it is a case of up-scaling this to jet fuel in a way that produces revenue to existing plants.
The mission opened a lot of doors with potential investors – so much so that we are heading back to San Francisco this month for the CleanTech Forum and follow-up meetings with some of these new contacts.
The mission also highlighted the contrast between the UK and US markets. Across the pond, investors are interested in hearing where we think our company will be in the next few years and, realistically, how big our technology could be. They look at the big picture much more than in the UK. And the size of the companies on the mission did not seem to faze the people we met, whereas in the UK investors can be much more worried about this element.
The technology: When energy is produced through anaerobic digestion (AD), in addition to biogas, a waste liquid called digestate is produced. New technology from ADFerTech converts this liquid into a nutrient-rich, solid, low-cost fertiliser. The product can be stored and transported easily, and the bolt-on ADFerTech device potentially avoids expensive wastewater treatment required by the industry.
Quinton Fivelman, director, writes:
San Francisco and the Bay area is leading the way when it comes to fundraising activity for start-ups, not just in the US but worldwide. We travelled on the mission with the hope that we would meet some key people and companies in the clean technology sector. We wanted to see Silicon Valley first hand, to learn about the US cleantech market, and to meet influencers and companies already working there.
Without the support of the Clean and Cool Mission, Innovate UK and The Long Run Venture, we would not have been able to engage with so many potential investors. We might have been able to get the opportunities in the future, but the mission helped to open many doors for us since returning to the UK.
We were received well and people were keen to hear from us. In the past few years, Silicon Valley start-ups have consistently taken more than 40% of US venture capital deals and 50% of funding when compared with the other major US venture hubs, which include Massachusetts and New York.
San Francisco is known for innovation, but US companies are often looking further afield to widen their investment and technology portfolios, so we were received positively. The mission gave us a good insight and eye-opening introduction to the US cleantech scene. It gave us a true insider’s view of the landscape in the US and an idea of where the industry stands.
We know that AD is an expanding field in the US, with California leading the green revolution in this sector. From travelling on the mission, we now know that AD is a potential key area of development in helping to meet San Francisco’s goal of zero waste by 2020.
The technology: NGB has developed a highspeed, high-throughput AD technology to turn biodegradable waste into energy. The focus is on agriculture-based systems running on slurries and waste crops. The process is 10 times faster than normal AD, extracts 30% more energy from a specific feedstock and is small and modular. NGB has a core of engineers and scientists who have refined the technology and microbiology, and combined them with automation and manufacturing technology.
Howard Sutton, director, writes:
The Clean and Cool Mission involved a week of meetings, pitches, presentations and visits to key people in the cleantech field based in the San Francisco Bay area. Pitching ourselves to a range of investors, complementary companies and influential people in the area enabled NGB to refine the proposition and gain valuable contacts to help promote the business.
One of the meetings was with a number of expats who have been successful in the Bay area. They gave us an insider’s view of working there and flagged various issues which we might have overlooked. For instance, business culture is different in the US, and this can have a bigger impact than expected for start-ups looking to establish their companies in the US. The expats included Michael Birch, founder of Bebo, and Andy McLoughlan, co-founder of Huddle.
Our mission group was well received by the people and companies we met. I came away from it with lots to think about and a number of insights to mull over. It also highlighted the agritech area, which is becoming a hot topic over in San Francisco.
Overall, the mission provided us with a great insight into the challenges that UK start-ups can face when trying to establish themselves in the US. And it gave us an understanding of what is needed to set a business up in San Francisco. It was extremely useful for us to hear from those who have already done it, and to be able to learn from those who have established themselves in that market.
We came away from the mission having gained a number of great business insights which we hope to utilise in the coming months to help us develop our company.
Clean and Cool Mission
The Clean and Cool Mission 2015 took place in January. It was the fifth project of its kind, and involved a week-long visit to San Francisco. It was organised by Innovate UK, The Long Run Venture, UK Trade and Investment and CoSpA.
More than £500m in investment has been secured by the 64 companies involved in four previous missions.