Business India ×
 Climate Change

Published on: Feb. 14, 2020, 11:03 p.m.
Spotting early-stage innovation is not enough
  • What it takes to succeed. Source: Pxhere

By Pratap Raju. The author is Partner, Climate Studio and Partner, Climate Collective

Solving climate change requires a multifaceted approach that tackles the immense political and social issues impeding the necessary transformation to sustainability. Although business needs to do its share, the real “heavy lift” is getting our societies to accept the need to balance the interests of our generation with future generations, the interests of humans with all other species on the planet. Besides requiring a true political realignment behind sustainability, such a transformation will require us as well to look deeply at issues such as modern consumerism, even at some of the incentive structures built into our capitalist foundations.

Let’s be honest. This is hard stuff!

One way to ease the transformation to sustainability, besides the work of tireless social leaders, non-profits, and activities, is through innovation. That is, by designing new products and solutions that embed greater alignment to sustainability (e.g., less water, reuse of waste, etc) and developing effective strategies for customer adoption, innovators can give businesses and consumers new ways to support the environment while satisfying internal and personal needs not through donations (CSR, charity) but through market transactions. A true win-win for the customer and the environment!

Although corporates and governments will necessarily play a big role in supporting such innovation, entrepreneurs, and also intrapreneurs, will play a significant role here, having perhaps greater ability to think outside the box, take greater risks, and at least as a group, launch many more ideas. We at the Climate Collective have set out to build these local ecosystems necessary to support the emergence of thousands, even tens of thousands of such entrepreneurs.

For the past three years, we have traversed the length and breadth of the subcontinent and beyond. Starting in India in 2017, we launched our first climate and cleantech accelerator, Climate Launchpad in Maharashtra, and quickly four more in South India along with Sri Lanka, supporting 53 climate start-ups. Being part of the global ClimateLaunchpad programme, a jury selected the top four from India, and one from Sri Lanka, to go to Scotland to compete in the Grand Finale of Climate Launchpad, where 130-plus finalists from 45 countries competed. And our start-ups from India did very well, sending three start-ups to the top 16, more than any other country.


With this confidence boost, we launched the 2019 programme in 15 states in India this year, along with Sri Lanka and the Maldives, and supported the accelerators in Nepal and Mauritius, supporting nearly 200 amazing climate start-ups! What I learned confirmed my initial assumptions. We have significant talent everywhere in India and South Asia to solve many of our environmental problems through technology and innovation. Of course, innovation hotspots like Bengaluru, Delhi, and Mumbai will always yield substantial innovation, we have seen amazing innovation in the smallest of places, from natural pectin from fruits to reduce harvesting loss in Mauritius, to wooden shipping pallets from coconut waste in Hyderabad, to plastic plucking robots in Bhubaneswar, to waste-to-jewellery products in Colombo, and so on!

Of course, spotting early-stage innovation is not enough. There are no valuation games or easy funding in sustainability start-ups, but ironically only cash-flow. And climate entrepreneurs need more time than other start-ups to get to the market and generate enough revenue to sustain. So, Climate Collective has started building out follow-on accelerators, with the first one, Climate Runway, to be launched in Pune in partnership with Science and Technology Park, Pune in November. And we hope to set up three more Climate Runways in India by end-2020, as well as later in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, etc.

One thing that still needs to be strengthened is the connection between start-up and corporates. In sustainability, corporates often have many problems or needs to solve across the entire value chain from sustainable procurement to resource-efficient operations and all the way up to customer delivery. And often, due to internal structures and risk-aversion, corporates are not easily able to develop solutions to their internal sustainability problems or to address their customers’ new needs. This is exactly where climate start-ups, which have the speed, agility, and risk appetite, can innovate and quickly bring to market solutions to help clients. The Climate Collective is working here to develop an online database – Climate Pilots – to connect the growing number of cleantech solutions from start-ups to corporate clients who need the same.

By working together on regional platforms and in partnership with corporates, we can all help the amazing climate entrepreneurs currently out there or yet to emerge who are taking the risk, putting in the hard work, and surviving long enough to succeed in the market that will help us all survive and thrive in this world that was given to us as gift and that we should pass on as a gift.

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