Very early in the morning on November 17, 2011, long before the sun came up, the president of smart grid company GridMobility and I drove from San Jose to SFO for a first flight back to Seattle. The prior two days, the CleanTech Open had held its national business competition.
The vehicle was thick with disappointment, because after advancing from nearly 300 entries to be among 120 regional semifinalists and then further advancing to be one of the 21 national finalists, GridMobility had won the Smart Grid category (and therefore in the top 5 nationally) but not the entire competition.
There were good reasons to be disappointed. The top prize was $250,000, which would have been handy for a start-up that has bootstrapped for over two years. (But last year had not indecent revenues from projects and pilots.) Without that funding, the entrepreneur would now take on some engineering consulting work. There was a feeling the presentation could have gone better. Subjectively, I agreed, but easy for me to say as I mentored and collaborated off-stage with the GridMobility team, including president Jim Holbery, VP operations Fred Barrett, and fellow mentors Dave Watts and Denis DuBois. Objectively, it was not helpful that in the midst of the filled ballroom, the order of the five final presentations was changed on the fly so GridMobility went first, the microphone then malfunctioned, the “times almost up” warning rang out several times halfway through the allotted time, and there was a judge on the some 20 person panel who at the onset of Q & A immediately took a distinctly partisan approach that resulted in the panel moderator shutting the judge down (that was not the end of the story, but it is for here).
But so go business competitions.
There were also good reasons NOT to be disappointed. Winning the Smart Grid category at the national level of the CleanTech Open rightfully caught the attention of the Washington cleantech community. (For another link, go to here). GridMobility is now gaining broader exposure and been identified as among the 12 Smart Grid startups to watch in 2012.
At the investment level, energy storage/smart grid was the top cleantech sector in Q3 2011 with the largest amount of capital invested, while energy efficiency was the most active sector in terms of number of deals. Large companies continue to show they will fill their product and service pipeline through acquisitions, such as Siemens’ acquisition of meter data management software company eMeter in December, and they will build vast global channels to market, such as the Global Intelligent Utility Network Coalition formed by IBM.
The smart integration of renewable energy into the grid is the subject of global attention from industry and government (see also here), and the move of Smart Grid services to the cloud is underway in earnest.
None of this is to say looking on the bright side was helpful during that very early morning drive, the air thick with disappointment. It most certainly was not. But after a time, the size and intensity of the opportunity shines through and dissipates the disappointment . . . until the next one arises and must be vanquished.