Cleantech Open’s East Coast Academy Held at Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Posted by Ian Donnelly on

Category: Northeast

Boston, Massachusetts - July 6, 2017:

After the crowd grabbed coffee and found their tables with respective mentors, the National East Coast Academy was ready to begin. The room was filled with 48 startups from across the country with the majority from the Northeast but with representatives from the Southeast, Midwest, and Rocky Mountain and South Central branches of Cleantech Open.

As Kathryn Elmes, Director of Cleantech Open Northeast, took the stand, the crowd fell quiet to listen to her opening remarks. “Welcome to East Coast Academy and thank you all so much for being here!” After a few more minutes of introduction, Kathryn thanked  the many people who made the event possible, from sponsors and speakers to key Cleantech Open volunteers that included Tim Hoffman, Rob Parker, Alice Nichols, Nick Hill, and Paul Barrett. Shortly after, Kathryn turned over the floor to the first event of the day - Ted Yang’s 10 Tips for Entrepreneurs.

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Day One Keynote: Ted Yang, Investor and Capital Markets Executive, Innovation. Executed.

Photo by Bill McCormack.

“This title worked better when late night comedians did Top Ten lists” Ted joked as the talk got underway, “but here we are.” A vivacious and charismatic speaker, Ted donated quality advice to the assembled crowd, leaving with one piece of sage advice: “Why be an entrepreneur? Because you can’t sleep at night otherwise.” Any other reason, Ted advised, “could be satisfied in another, easier job. Do it because you need to.” 

From then on, the entire event over the two days was filled with inspiring and informational speakers and panels, dedicated to helping the Cleantech Open startups grow and develop into successful companies. The rest of the first day saw talks from Mitch Tyson about Customer Discovery, Tibor Toth about Finding Funds, and Suzanne Oakley regarding Financial Modeling. Beyond the solo session leaders, the startups also participated in the Customer Discovery Workshop following Mitch Tyson’s talk, as well as two panels covering funding and corporates.

The workshop was an opportunity for entrepreneurs to both incorporate some of the lessons they’d learned from Mitch and try them out in their pitches, although it also gave attendees a quick opportunity to stretch their legs and refill their now-empty coffees. As the workshop progressed, Alice Nichols, chair of the Mentor and Sustainability Committees shared some quick feedback with the Cleantech Open Northeast staff. “I think it’s going well so far! And being a mock customer is great, it’s so much fun to make stuff up!” 

After a lunch out on the beautifully sunny patio, everyone returned to the event room for a talk from Tibor Toth of MassCEC, followed by a panel discussion regarding funding. The panel members shared their experiences and opinions from investing, and after some guided questions from Tibor, they fielded questions from the audience. This model was repeated for the Corporate Partnerships panel, moderated by NECEC’s Alistair Pim. 

A lighthearted discussion, the corporate panel provided insight for the assembled entrepreneurs about how to engage and work with large companies. Representing primarily large energy companies, the panel kept the room engaged and interested, helped by quips like Peter Bastian’s “I don’t like the name but I do like the company!” After the hour was spent, entrepreneurs, mentors, and other attendees moved onto the patio for the second time that day, this time to enjoy the open bar and some warm summer networking. 

Featuring three panel discussions and three speakers, Day Two of the Academy put an emphasis on who you work with and what you do with them, closing off with lessons from alumni and seasoned mentors.

After a brief introduction from MassCEC’s Sarah Colao Wallach, the audience turned their attention to Susan Hunt Stevens of WeSpire as she explained her experience as a founder and CEO. “Be sure of who you work with,” she advised the crowd. “Some people will help you get from zero to the first million, and some people will get you from the first million to the fifth. But they are usually not the same people, so know when to shift.” This advice was echoed by Fred Adair during his talk on Building Your Team - be sure that the people you work with are on the same page as you, check in with them, and know the direction you are moving in together.

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Day Two Keynote: Susan Hunt Stevens, Founder & CEO, WeSpire.

Photo by Bill McCormack.

The panel discussion which followed passed on advice not about teams, but about the direction of the company itself - from the Legal and Sustainability viewpoints. The first, moderated by Greg Len of Pepper Hamilton, provided the gathered group perspective on the legal challenges of startups, particularly in the cleantech space. A standout moment from Raj Vallabh was the suggestion of further reading of Alice v. CLS Bank, a 2014 Supreme Court case regarding patent eligibility. Similarly, the Sustainability Panel provided perspective about the options for enhancing sustainable practices in your cleantech startup. Moderator Peter Rothstein, President of NECEC, and two panelists provided helpful food for thought as teams look forward to module two of their curriculum: Impact/ Sustainability.

With a slightly more ansey crowd now, Captains of Industry’s Ted Page took the podium, cast and all, to instruct on Telling Your Story. “First, and we’ve heard this already, know your audience, find your buckaroo” Ted began. “And start with something inarguable.” For his first of many examples, Ted showed a draft of climate change messaging for CEOs, then a slide of polling of the same CEOs, then finally the new messaging. “What changed?” Ted asked the captive audience. “It’s an opportunity now!” shouted one, followed by another “It makes a sport analogy, which you showed they relate to.” Lastly, it also started with the something inarguable: “Taking a stand made America great once before; climate change presents another opportunity to.” This was Ted’s thesis, that you must tailor your message to those who will respond, and change it if need be.

And with that, the floor was returned to Cleantech Open, albeit in the form of alumni and mentors. Sharing their experience, the crowd was imparted wisdom about what to do to fully flourish in CTO. “What was something you wished you’d done differently?” asked an audience member. “Actually doing the worksheets on time,” answered Dave Markley of SurgeHydro. “They are there for a reason - don’t slack on the work,” agreed Sean Becker of Sparkplug Power. After a little more back-and-forth, the audience was greeted with the last formal event of the day.

As Cleantech Open West Coast Representatives Ken Hayes and Erik Steeb both took the podium, along with NYC Metro Director Tim Hoffman, the room buzzed with all they had learned. The last speaking portion was devoted to a review by Tim of the two days. As his time wrapped up, the audience collectively relaxed, knowing they could now process the multitude of information they had just received.

As the two days finally came to a close, attendees, mentors, entrepreneurs, and volunteers alike shook hands and said their goodbyes, off the catch planes, trains, and cars back to their homes. Although the East Coast Academy was long, it was full of information that in the words of one startup, they “didn’t even know [they] needed.” With the end of the event, and the official start of the accelerator, the Cleantech Open community looks forward to a successful and productive 2017.

To see more photos from the event, check out our Facebook album: 2017 East Coast Academy.


  • By Ian Donnelly on in Northeast

Updated on July 7, 2017 11:17 AM