Politics & Society
Cleantech Entrepreneurship Education
Building a Transnational Initiative
Francesco Matteucci is an innovation manager with 20 years of experience spent as a researcher in materials science, as a Corporate R&D Manager within the field of technologies for renewable energy production and storage, and as an intermediary of knowledge trying to exploit the research results within the field of energy and environment. As R&D Corporate manager, he also cofounded and directed several start-ups and joint-labs managing public-private partnerships.
As climate change intensifies, there is an increasing need to bring to the market cleaner energy and climate technologies, so-called “cleantech”. This will have an impact not only on the environment but also on the economy and the whole of society. How this can unfold is the crucial question. Unfortunately, in today’s world where the only constant is change, the answer to this pressing issue is complex.
Currently, most early-stage cleantech needs to be rapidly deployed at a pilot scale before it can be upscaled. Financial investments must be accelerated, but enabling policies are needed for that, and they must be developed quickly and rapidly implemented.
At the same time, we need to increase students’ skills in translating invention to innovation and to step up training for scientific innovators and entrepreneurs. In the knowledge- based economy, entrepreneurs—the individuals able to see market opportunities and act accordingly—are the main actors in the innovation process. Training innovators means teaching both “hard” and “soft” skills. Innovation requires the ability to build a network, which requires entrepreneurs to become skilled in attracting knowledgeable people and other stakeholders. Building a community of innovation and a culture of risk are key to accelerating cleantech’s expansion.
Equally important to understand is that many future cleantech systems will be deep tech, scientific-driven innovation technologies.4 Deep tech originates from a scientific idea but must eventually be translated into a product or a service. Entrepreneurs, therefore, should be taught to properly use technological resources to accelerate “lab” to “fab”. Deep tech usually takes 10 to 15 years and millions of euros to transform into a revenue-producing venture. To effectively train innovators and maximize their chances of success, an ecosystem to provide and satisfy different needs of ventures, including financial support and up-to-date policy analyses, is required.
The transatlantic partners should prioritize such efforts to promote cleantech entrepreneurship by easing barriers to investment and promoting entrepreneurship education in Europe and the U.S.
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
The development of renewable energy sources is expected to continue its rapid growth over the coming years. This is driven in part by cost competitiveness in the effort to have renewables provide approximately 40% of global energy generation by 2030. All major economies are seeking to improve the competitiveness of their cleantech ventures. Public and private investments in such ventures and renewable power plants have increased drastically in the last 10 years, as many countries adopted a smart policy mix to enable the green transition.
As an example of public funding, the European Innovation Council (EIC) is investing approximately €1.5 billion per year in scientific innovation, from early-stage lab ideas to market- driven small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), of which approximately 25% are in cleantech. This is part of the European Commission Horizon Europe Framework program.
Skilled labor shortages are already plaguing the cleantech sector and require attention. Gaps are particularly evident in technical and STEM fields.
IT HAS BEEN ESTIMATED THAT:
A. to realize the employment potential of EU’s low-carbon transition, large-scale investments of around €12 billion between 2015 and 2030 are needed for retraining (reskilling and upskilling)
B. in the U.S., public and private investments promoted by the Inflation Reduction Act are expected to create more than 9 million cleantech jobs over the next decade, an average of nearly 1 million jobs each year
Many government agencies, such as the Danish and Swedish education and economic ministries, regard education and innovation as an important means of promoting a stronger entrepreneurial culture, preventing unemployment and developing more rewarding jobs. However, only a few countries, such as Norway and the United Kingdom, have established actual networks to exchange knowledge and experience for fostering education in entrepreneurship and cleantech.
WHERE SHOULD WE GO? Establishing transatlantic collaboration on entrepreneurship education in cleantech would help to overcome the shortage of skilled people in the sector and help the younger generation bolster their entrepreneurial mindset. The lack of such a mindset is more prominent in the EU than in the U.S. A proposal for further transatlantic collaboration could be added to the agenda of Working Group 2 on Climate and Tech of the EU-US Trade and Technology Council.
Building on existing programs makes sense. Knowledge- transfer could thrive, for example, in a forum such as Junior Achievement (JA) Worldwide, which is evaluating how to include entrepreneurship in cleantech training programs, or initiatives such as the Erasmus Mundus joint master’s degree. Another route would be to require such training programs in all PhD courses dealing with cleantech.
It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel. The dual knowledge teaching method combining academics with hands-on training should be used in cleantech education programs. The idea has already gained political ground. The Biden administration, for example, recently expressed interest in increasing the use of apprenticeships for building a clean energy future. This would accelerate the green transition by enabling shared experiences and best practices. It could also provide exposure in high schools, universities, and doctoral programs to entrepreneurial skills and the entrepreneurial mindset. It would serve as an alternative to the frequent focus on theory rather than practice. Finally, enabling researchers and aspiring innovators to better understand and gain direct experience with the complex process of taking innovation beyond invention is critical. Helping them develop this entrepreneurial mindset is in the “Next Generation Innovation Talents call” of the EIC’s Work Programme 2023.
To realize transatlantic collaboration on entrepreneurship education in cleantech, policymakers must engage with different stakeholders such as universities, SMEs, corporations and financial institutions. They will need to effectively demonstrate that collaboration would increase social and economic welfare, and accelerate the green transition. Policymakers must also stimulate building the foundation of a vibrant cleantech ecosystem. This is the pathway for the green transition. It is up to us to make it happen, and time is quickly running out.