There is an exciting new opportunity for universities and colleges to advance the New England economy and at the same time help address environmental concerns.
The current snapshot of New England’s economy relative to other areas is favorable. The region suffered less decline during the recent recession than the national average, and the region’s recovery has been stronger than the national average. Neither of these were true for the previous three recessions. The problem is that having a relatively strong economy in these economic times is not very good. Unemployment rates in the region are still significantly higher than they were before the recession, and with the current rate of job growth, it would take over three years to recover the jobs lost in the Great Recession in the region.
After the recessions of the early 1980s and early 1990s, the region benefited from significant growth in growing technology industries. In the growth periods after the last two recessions, New England was one of the leading regions in the nation in the fast-growing, technology-based industries of those times. Coming out of this recession, the region has an opportunity to lead in a new technology-based industry: the so-called “clean tech” industry.
The term clean tech describes a group of emerging technologies that provide energy with minimum climate and environmental impact and use resources efficiently. Examples include wind power and solar energy and other new technologies in renewable energy generation and energy, materials and resource conservation.
In New England, the clean-tech economy is already evident and can be expanded. All the states in the region are relatively well-positioned in clean-tech industry development. The industry, however, is still very small compared with other sectors of the economy in New England, and it does not appear to be growing currently at a rate that would make it a very significant sector in terms of percentage of total employment anytime soon (e.g., over the next decade).
Five of the six New England states are among the top one-third of states in employment concentration in clean-tech using the frequently cited Pew Charitable Trust definition of clean tech. Maine leads the region and is second in the nation, behind only Oregon, in clean-tech employment concentration with 0.85% of total employment in clean tech. Massachusetts follows close behind, ranking third among the 50 states with 0.69% of total employment in clean tech, followed by Vermont with the 5th highest concentration (0.59%) in clean-tech employment in the nation. New Hampshire (12th) and Connecticut (16th) are also among the top third of states in clean-tech employment concentration. Rhode Island is the only state in the region with clean- tech employment concentration (0.42%) below the U.S. average overall of 0.49%. The regional average at 0.61% is 20% higher than the national average.
There are many initiatives across the region to try to build on the research oriented clean- technology base in the region to create jobs and enhance employment growth. This article reviews and updates information from a June 2010 New England Journal of Higher Education article on one novel effort, the Green Launching Pad (GLP) in New Hampshire, that has produced significant results in a short period of time and offers a model for other states to consider. It is university-created and based and suggestive of the role that colleges and universities can play in the next industrial revolution in the region.
To help further stimulate activity in clean-tech industries, in February 2010, University of New Hampshire (UNH) President Mark Huddleston and New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch announced the start-up of the GLP project. Green Launching Pad is a strategic partnership UNH and the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning, with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. The GLP is a business acceleration program to commercialize clean technology. Ventures funded under the program are subject to a double-bottom line criteria. They are required to produce economic and environmental benefits. Faculty and students from UNH and Dartmouth and professionals from New Hampshire’s leading businesses including law firms, major utilities, manufacturing, and investment firms have been involved with the GLP.
Since its inauguration in February 2010, the GLP has selected 11 ventures to participate in the program from over 120 proposals. Selection is on a competitive basis and done by an advisory council of judges from industry and the nonprofit sector. The selection criteria include: 1) the potential for ventures to increase energy efficiency, reduce energy use and lower carbon emissions; 2) their potential to contribute to economic development—job creation and growth opportunities; 3) technology capability; 4) market feasibility; and 5) experience and capabilities of the leadership team. Winning teams consist of entrepreneurs, faculty, and students. Winners receive funding up to $100,000 each and receive accelerated business development assistance, including mentorship and coaching from experts in scientific, technical, business and legal areas.
In the first round of funding in 2010 (GLP 1.0), five winners were selected. They included a mix of companies applying a range of different clean technologies. All are based in the New Hampshire. Green Clean Heat in Newton Junction designs and builds fully-integrated “turnkey” efficient wood-fired heating systems for commercial and municipal facilities. EnerTrac in Hudson has developed low-cost smart metering technology and a corresponding monitoring service for propane gas and other uses that can reduce CO2 emissions by 30% or more. Revolution Energy in Dover develops renewable energy projects using third-party financing and creative incentive leveraging. Innovacene in Durham manufactures high-performing organic semiconductors for flexible organic solar cells and organic light-emitting diodes for lighting and displays. Air Power Analytics in Bedford improves energy efficiency of industrial compressed air systems, reducing electric consumption, and saving money while reducing upstream greenhouse-gas emissions.
The five first-round GLP companies have increased employment and developed business and marketing plans. Four of the five companies have begun to sell new products or services. All the companies have used student interns from UNH and Dartmouth. And all the companies are well-positioned for future growth and will be adding employees this year.
In April 2011, the second round (2.0) GLP funding competition was completed. Overall, the applicant pool was stronger than in the first round. There were six winning teams selected, again all New Hampshire-based, and again representing a diverse mix of clean tech.
SustainX in Lebanon provides a new non-toxic technology for low-cost scalable energy storage. The company’s new technology enables efficient storage of renewables (e.g., wind and solar) and can potentially be a game-changer in the economics of renewables. The energy storage technology is modular and allows for siting anywhere, from low-scale to grid-scale storage. Blue2green in Ashland will promote hydroelectric power production by restoring dams to produce renewable energy and attracting investors to suitable dams and mill-restoration projects. The revitalization of hydroelectric power in small- to medium-sized former industrial mill towns can help produce renewable energy, create jobs and preserve community history.
Holase in Portsmouth has developed self-contained, solar-powered LED traffic signal lights that are low-cost and easy to set up and operate. New England Footwear in New Market has developed a sustainable solution to footwear manufacturing and a way to revive shoe manufacturing in the region through new technologies that use organic materials, molds (instead of stitch and sew) and modular design to allow for easy replacement and re-use. ThermaPAVER of Exeter invented an invisible low-cost solar collector and heat exchanger with a diversity of potential applications. Applications include winter time melting of snow and ice off of roofs and summer time cooling pool side pavements and heating pools. Walker Wellington of Portsmouth has developed a hydrokinetic turbine power generation system which will capture and produce off-grid renewable energy for on-site use. Primary users will be municipal waste water treatment facilities and drinking water delivery systems.
The 11 wining GLP teams have generated a lot of excitement across the UNH campus and in the state of New Hampshire. The GLP has been mentioned in the last two state of the state addresses by Gov. Lynch and also highlighted in UNH’s new strategic plan. What is striking is that the excitement and potential for green entrepreneurship (and ventures launched with the GLP) remains high even with all the energy and environmental policy uncertainty in Washington and with the NH state legislature.
Looking forward with the Green Launching Pad and with similar types of efforts that might be undertaken elsewhere in New England what are the lessons from the GLP? First and foremost is that entrepreneurs are well along on the next industrial revolution and that the public sector in general is lagging behind. Many of these entrepreneurs are interested in profit making and also environmental impact (they are both a priority). This provides a significant opportunity for colleges and universities to work with private industry to be in the lead on clean-tech industry development and environmental entrepreneurship.
It is clear that with broadening concern about sustainability comes market opportunities and there are large numbers of entrepreneurs across the region and some with very good ideas for clean-technology business creation. A competitive grant program can help to identify and focus efforts on the highest quality ideas with the greatest market potential and positive environmental impact. What many clean-tech entrepreneurs, particularly those that are academic-based, lack are business know-how and connections, such as connections to legal and marketing advise to help them to identify and then to tap into market opportunities.
Finally, marketing and market development are very important for launching successful clean-tech ventures. Marketing is essential in creating new markets and customers. New clean-tech ventures require assistance in identifying target customers and figuring out how to convince them to buy products or services that they did not know they needed. Marketing assistance is an area in which business students and faculty can help tremendously and benefit from. Clean-tech ventures provide a near perfect opportunity for business students to apply what they learn and in turn learn through their experience working with nascent ventures about clean-technology business enterprise. They can learn about entrepreneurship and how clean technology can be applied by business ventures for profit making and to achieve desired social ends.
A focus on the commercialization of clean technology and ideas and social entrepreneurship, not just on breakthrough research or the invention of new technologies, is a role that many colleges and universities can engage in. It is not limited to the region’s top-tier research institutions. Engaging in clean-tech industry development, with initiatives such as UNH’s Green Launching Pad, can provide an exciting opportunity for students, faculty and others on college campuses across the region to work with private industry to help strengthen the region’s economy and help to address environmental concerns and to learn a lot while doing it.
You can visit the Green Launching Pad at www.GreenLaunchingPad.org
Ross Gittell is the James R. Carter Professor at the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore School of Business and Economics and A.R Venkatachalam is a professor in UNH’s Decision Sciences Department, They are the co-directors of the Green Launching Pad.