Last year, investment in clean energy technologies topped a trillion dollars for the first time. What’s the secret to tapping into it if you have a cleantech startup? For starters, get your story straight.

Your Story Needs An Answer For This…

Because so many cleantech startups are founded by scientists and engineers, they naturally lean towards focusing their story on their technology. It’s what they’ve devoted their lives to creating.

Not to diminish the accomplishment, but the title of the story isn’t, “Here’s What I Made In The Lab Today.” The title should be, “Here’s The Problem That Needs Solving.”

Why? Because investors are interested in technologies that solve specific problems more than the technology itself.

That opening ‘hook’ is key for funders who are looking for a technology that’s scalable (read: can make lots of money).

What’s The Pain Point Your Clean Technology Solves?

There’s an oft-repeated sales analogy that breaks products into two categories: vitamins and painkillers. Having a ‘vitamin’ technology means you have something that improves people’s lives or helps them live longer. Think flat-screen televisions; nice to have but not critical to survival.

Pain killers, on the other hand, are the kinds of clean technologies that solve a problem that could undermine an industry or one that protects people from a poisonous substance. In other words, without the painkiller people and/or businesses will die.

Your startup story needs to identify that pain point right out of the box and make it as visceral as possible for your potential funders.

  • Who or what is in jeopardy?
  • What’s the status quo costing a particular industry?
  • What’s inevitably going to happen to hurt people or cost money if there’s no solution?
  • That’s the context for the rest of the narrative. If your audience is leaning in, it’s because they realize the enormity of the problem and the profitability of a solution. If your funders don’t understand or don’t care, the rest of your story is likely meaningless to them.

    Why Hasn’t It Been Solved?

    Investors will eventually conduct their due diligence on your engineering, but the next question that will pique their interest is why hasn’t someone solved this seemingly obvious problem.

    Answering this question allows you to give a preamble to your technology because by default it’s your technology that solves the problem. The key here, though, is keeping the focus on your prospective audience, and they are more interested in learning that there IS a solution to their problem rather than what’s inside the box.

    What’s Your Differentiator?

    If the problem is expensive enough, there’s likely more than one startup focusing its energies on solving it, and at this point in the game, it’s likely that every VC in town has heard about it.

    This is why it’s crucial for your cleantech startup to have a unique value proposition (UVP).

    What’s that?

    A UVP is the strategic advantage that sets your startup apart and above any other startup working on solving the same problem. If your UVP is strong, no one else can overtake your slice of the marketplace.

    Think Disney for a second (because it’s such a well-known brand). There are other theme parks in America, and there are other companies that make animated movies and kids’ shows. But that’s not Disney’s UVP. Those are just subsets of the Disney brand.

    Disney’s UVP is bringing imagination to life, and they do it better than anyone else. They basically own that marketplace.

    Similarly, your cleantech startup UVP isn’t about your technology. It’s about what your technology unlocks, whether it’s an industry, energy efficiency, waste, competitiveness with fossil fuels, etc.

    Your IP strategy here is definitely important, but only because it supports the claim of your UVP, which is the same reason why Mickey Mouse, Snow White, and hundreds of other Disney characters, shows, and attractions are trademarked. It guarantees the superiority of their ability to bring imagination to life.

    How To Deploy Your Cleantech Story

    It’s a golden era for the cleantech industry, but like California miners had their tools in the 19th century, your startup needs the proper tools to tell your story.

    Long before you get to pitch your idea to a group of angels or VCs, they’ll be conducting their research on you. That’s why you need a strong brand from the get-go and the tools to deploy it like a professionally written and designed website. It’s always obvious when a founder buys an off-the-shelf WordPress theme and writes the copy—and not in a good way.

    Other early-stage key touchpoints that influence funders include:

  • LinkedIn profiles of the company and its key executives that are well-conceived and full of information
  • Written content both on the website and in guest posts on other sites
  • Keyword strategy that focuses on your solution rather than your technology
  • Video content that’s visually entertaining in addition to educational
  • There are a trillion reasons to get your startup story straight, and you’ll increase your chances of getting a slice of the pie if you give your marketing the time and tools to succeed.

    CleanTech Focus