Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cleantech Forum in Shanghai

As part of my efforts to meet more people involved with Renewable Energy and Clean Technology, I went to Shanghai from December 3 - 5 to volunteer for a forum that was being held about Cleantech. The event was being organized by the Cleantech Group, which is basically a membership organization that tries to connect entrepreneurs with investors in the Cleantech industry. I figured that the forum would be a good opportunity to meet people involved in the industry, as well as see some of the latest trends and innovations. It all started a month or so before the forum when I emailed the Cleantech Group and asked if I could get involved. They said I could attend the event for free as a volunteer (normally it is pretty expensive to attend) and when I had some downtime, I could attend the speaking sessions and talk to the entrepreneurs and investors. The forum was held at the Hyatt in the Pudong side of Shanghai. It was pretty luxurious, something I am not really used to these days. The first day the Cleantech Group employees and all the volunteers met to prepare and setup for the forum. There were around 15 volunteers total and after introductions I realized I was the only non-MBA student who was volunteering and probably the youngest person at the forum. This was both good and bad. On the one hand it was good to gain some experience at a forum like this at a younger age than most other people. However, during some of the networking sessions I had to make more effort to talk with people since most of them weren't really looking to meet a relatively inexperienced person like me.
Volunteering at Cleantech Forum
The next two days at the forum there were full day sessions of businessmen, professors, or other industry experts speaking about the Cleantech industry. Some parts were one person giving a speech and others were panels with four or five people discussing a particular topic. My favorite parts of the forum, though, were the "Deal Flow" sessions. In these sessions, start-up companies had eight minutes to pitch their ideas, with two minutes for Q&A. While no investment was guaranteed from these presentations, it was a good opportunity for the start-ups to pitch their ideas to all the Venture Capital firms and other investors attending the conference. Despite all the rhetoric around the environment and "saving the planet", the one common purpose of all the people attending the forum was definitely money. The start-ups needed investment money to get their businesses going, the Venture Capital firms wanted to find promising companies from which they would be able to get a good return on their investment, and even I wanted money in the form of finding a potential job. It was really interesting to see the process of making deals and to see the new ideas in the field. The start-ups ranged from solar power, water treatment, clean coal technology, home "grid" management, and many more. To be honest, a lot of the ideas presented at the conference did not seem to be that groundbreaking, but more incremental improvements of existing ideas. One of the speakers at the forum gave a reason for that. He said that mostly start-ups in China are about making a viable business, whereas in the US the start-ups often shoot for the fences, looking for a huge financial payout and trying to come up with a game changing technology. This difference is mainly due to the fact that in the US they have more money going into the investments and are able to take a longer term perspective, allowing millions of dollars and several years to pass without expecting a return on the investment.
Session at Cleantech Forum
As a volunteer, we mostly just had to help with registering the forum attendees and help out during the sessions, getting microphones to people with questions. Those two things did not really require too much time, so there was plenty of time to attend all the sessions and network during breaks, lunches, and the receptions at night. I was able to meet a lot of people and talked a lot about Cleantech. Everyone was giving out business cards like crazy and I must have given and received around 40 or 50 cards. I'm sure some of the better VC firms and startups must have given out at least a hundred.
Networking Dinner
During the networking sessions, it was especially interesting to talk to the entrepreneurs who were working on a start-up. An interesting thing about the entrepreneurs is that they did not necessarily seem to be a lot more intelligent or innovative than a lot of people I know from my days at Northwestern or Deloitte. Even during the "Deal Flow" sessions, when the start-ups were pitching their ideas, I definitely saw a lot of decks, or Powerpoint Presentations, that could use some cleaning up by a few consultants. I think my old roommates from 1741 Melrose could have thrown together a presentation better than a lot of the start-ups there. To me, the main difference that separates entrepreneurs from other people is their willingness to take such a huge risk. Working for 2-5 years for little to no salary, 60 - 80 hours a week, with no guarantee of a huge financial payout is a risk a lot of people are not willing to take. Attending the Cleantech Forum was a great experience and I was able to learn a lot about how start-up companies get investment money from Venture Capital groups or other investors. Unfortunately for my job search, though, most people were looking to make deals at the forum, not hire someone. Who knows, though, because I made a lot of contacts and you never know where a job opportunity will come from. Regardless, it was interesting to take part and learn more about the industry. All these conferences and forums I am going to will help educate me in the Cleantech industry and make me more knowledgeable about business in general. I also was able to stay in Shanghai, see some of the city, and do some Christmas shopping at the counterfeits market. What could be better? I'll leave you with a few pictures, with a few more online at:
Financial Trade Center on Left and Hyatt on Right
Pearl Tower at Night
Financial Trade Center on Left and Hyatt on Right
Pudong at Night


Phil Dawsey said...

I think you're onto something - let's steal someone's idea (in good ole Chinese fashion), slightly change it, and be guaranteed boatloads of money! haha.

I wouldn't mind doing a little shopping at counterfeit markets right now, because Switz has bankrupted me (kinda). I really like that financial center building.