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European Business Angels Are Rediscovering Cleantech

Open Innovation Village at the Business Booster.

Private investors often lack knowledge about the latest trends in cleantech, says Candace Johnson, president of the European Business Angel Network (EBAN) in an interview with Energy Post. But they are catching up quickly. EBAN has started a partnership with sustainable energy accelerator InnoEnergy to learn more about what is happening in the cleantech sector. “Business angels have more patience than venture capitalists”, notes Johnson. “We could make a real impact here.”

In June of this year, InnoEnergy, Europe’s largest sustainable energy accelerator, and EBAN, the European trade association for Business Angels, Seed Funds and Early Stage Market Players, set up a partnership under the name of EBAN Energy. The goal: to give EBAN’s network of business angels (EBAN has 197 member organisations in 59 countries) and InnoEnergy’s 170+ pan-European sustainable energy start-ups a networking platform.

The partnership will provide InnoEnergy’s start-ups with direct access to funding, helping to reduce time to commercialization of their products. EBAN’s members invest some €6.1 billion a year in startup ventures.

But the investors also have a lot to gain by the partnership. The most important benefit to them, says their president, Candace Johnson, is not merely to be presented with investment opportunities, but to learn more about the trends in the energy sector as well as about the complex regulatory challenges involved.

Johnson is a famous innovation expert and serial entrepreneur in the telecoms and satellite sector. She is, among many other things, the co-initiator of SES/ASTRA and SES Global, the world’s pre-eminent satellite group, founding President of Europe Online Investments, the world’s first internet-based online service and satellite broadband network, and founder of Loral Cyberstar-Teleport Europe, Europe’s first independent private trans-border satellite communications network.

She is also President of Johnson Paradigm Ventures (JPV), a principal founding shareholder with AXA, Caisse des Depots, Bayerische Landesbank, and the SPEF, of Sophia Euro Lab, Europe’s first trans-border early-stage investment company based in Sophia Antipolis, a technology park near Nice, France. She has now turned her attention to the cleantech sector, because she is convinced this will become a huge market – and because climate change is one of the key challenges of our time. Through EBAN Energy she hopes to become more familiar with this promising market.

Johnson is a panelist at the Inno Energy Business Booster event on 25-26 October in Amsterdam, where she will take part in a discussion about financing new energy technologies. We caught up with her on the eve of that event.

What made you become interested in sustainable energy and cleantech?

“First, any involved citizen today has to be interested in cleantech. Climate change is one of the most important issues of our time. Second, private investors invest in what we call the addressable market. That has to be a large, scalable market in order to get a decent return on investment. It is very clear that all countries and citizens need to have new sustainable sources of energy and that a huge market is coming about. It is also clear that the incumbent energy companies today have a problem. They still depend on fossil fuels as a cash cow, but their organisations aren’t really geared to innovation.”

What can business angels bring to the cleantech sector?

“Business angels can be crucial for bringing cleantech innovations to the next level. Cleantech has a long investment cycle and business angels are very good at that game. Better usually than venture capitalists, who invest other people’s money and have to promise a certain return on investment within a limited time. Business angels, because they are investing their own money, can be more patient. They may also feel very strongly that investing in clean energy is good. They get personally involved.” 

What are the biggest challenges for business angels in the cleantech sector?

“I think it is the knowledge of the sector. Many business angels do not have that much knowledge about cleantech innovations. There are new technologies that are coming along that need an expert eye, because developments in this field go so fast. Unfortunately, in the past, a lot of private investors lost money when they invested in solar and wind. Today sustainable energy has become much more competitive and is linked to a host of other technologies, such as sensors, the internet of things, artificial intelligence techniques. Those are fabulous new opportunities to invest in. That’s why we private investors have to become more knowledgeable about energy trends.”

Meet with Candace Johnson, Maroš Šefčovič and Bertrand Piccard at InnoEnergy’s Business Booster event in Amsterdam – and save €350 when you register with Energy Post

At the InnoEnergy Business Booster 25-26 October in Amsterdam, dozens of energy startups from across Europe will showcase their innovations and make pitches to attract the interest of investors. An accompanying two-day conference will feature many prominent keynote speakers and panellists, including EBAN president Candace Johnson, EU Vice-President Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič and Bertrand Piccard of the Solar Impulse Foundation. Readers of Energy Post can join for half price saving €350. All you need to do is quote our unique code: Energypost_TBB when you register here. We will be there too so we hope to see you in Amsterdam soon!

What trends do you see emerging in cleantech in the next decade?

“I am not an expert in cleantech. I know more about satellites. But a number of trends are clear: big data, analytics, sensors, risk analyses, electrification of cars, airplanes, wind power, solar power, hydrogen. By the way, we will have our EBAN summit in Munich next week which will be all about the sustainable economy.”

Is a lack of knowledge restraining private investors from investing in new energy technologies?
“Not so much a lack of knowledge per sé. It is about knowing the trends. We need to have serious, experienced partners who know what the trends are. InnoEnergy has this deep experience and can identify the underlying trends. Business Angels invest in trends. This is why we are excited about EBAN Energy, so we can discover what cleantech sectors present the most interesting investment opportunities.”

How will EBAN Energy work?

“First of all, InnoEnergy has put together a group of very good entrepreneurs who are into sustainable energy, and we are interested in investing in those companies. Secondly, we want to encourage our members to invest in clean energy technologies, and we are doing so with the help of InnoEnergy, because they are experts on the trends. We will organize online seminars for our members, for example with the CEO of InnoEnergy, Diego Pavía, who knows a lot about sustainable energy trends.” 

What will EBAN bring to the table?

“Business angels bring experience, expertise, networks, and, oh yes, money. We are good at identifying entrepreneurs who will win. We are very good at assessing business models, and markets. We are also good at putting together financial vehicles, and at coaching startups to scale up.”

What is your key message for the attendants of The Business Booster?

“I think there is a huge market out there for private investors to invest in, and to get returns from. We have to inspire entrepreneurs to go into these markets. Cleantech is the right place to be for us. As business angels we could have a great impact here. I would like to add that we could use more buy-in from governments. They must go further than just introducing ambitious plans. They should give business orders to young entrepreneurs within six weeks, not six years, and actually pay them. Governments are the biggest consumers of energy, so what they do can make a great deal of difference.“

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