To semi-quote Mark Twain, the reports of cleantech’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. The Cleantech Forum in San Francisco in mid-March—where six of our companies presented to the over 700 attendees—was very clear proof of this. They rocked it, and the response they received from investors and corporate partners was exciting.

Cleantech investing has had a bit of a rocky ride over the past few years. Venture capitalists started jumping on the cleantech bandwagon about a decade ago. It gave them a focus after the dotcom crash and made them feel like they were doing some good in the world. They were not educated on the sector, but saw it as the “next big thing” and wanted to get into the game. Unfortunately, some poor bets were made, money was lost and cleantech began to fall out of favour. (Solyndra, anyone?)

Motivated investors

There was none of that vibe in San Francisco this year. The enthusiasm for cleantech at the conference was palpable. The smoke has cleared and the real opportunities are becoming apparent. The tire kickers are gone and what is left is a big group of knowledgeable, motivated investors, including the venture arms of large corporations, such as BASF, BP, Shell, Total, Google, Veolia, Cenovus and General Electric, to name just a few.

The MaRS presence at the event was significant. Investors and corporates could really see the MaRS bench strength through their conversations with our companies, the MaRS cleantech practice, the MaRS Cleantech Fund and the MaRS-managed Investment Accelerator Fund.

Thanks go out to the federal government’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) for its financial support in getting us all down to San Francisco. It was invaluable!

Six MaRS companies wowed the Forum

The MaRS cleantech practice took an unprecedented six companies down to present at the forum:

The Canada Spotlight was sponsored by MaRS, the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment, the federal department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, the not-for-profit foundation Sustainable Development Technology Canada and the City of Vancouver.

It was standing room only for the MaRS event at 7:30 a.m. on the first day of the forum. A few attendees were moving a bit slowly after the opening gala the previous night, but they didn’t want to miss the MaRS companies. We have a reputation for bringing great investment opportunities to the event and we didn’t disappoint. All of our companies nailed it. To quote a venture capitalist who had told me the night before that he was having a hard time finding investable companies: “Now, those are companies I can invest in.”

I feel like a proud mama. The MaRS companies really stood out. They were well prepped (special kudos to Peter Evans and Rob Carter), had great stories to pitch and brought their A games. The ultimate success of the event will be measured over the coming months as relationships mature, partnerships are formed and funds are raised. I’m already looking forward to blogging about the great outcomes, achievements and results!

P.S. I didn’t get to drive a Tesla at this conference, but I did see Elon Musk getting into his!

Jane Kearns

Jane is a senior advisor with MaRS Cleantech. She is a recognized leader in sustainable innovation and has extensive experience growing companies at the intersection of business and sustainability. See more…