The Postcode Lottery Green Challenge is the largest annual worldwide competition for sustainable entrepreneurs. It is an effort of the Dutch Postcode Lottery to bring innovative green products and services to the mass market and thereby helping to combat climate change. Entrepreneurs have the chance to compete globally for 680,000 USD to develop a business plan and take it to the market. Are you an entrepreneur with a green business plan? Then register through 3 June at www.greenchallenge.info. Marty Pickett, Executive Director & General Counsel of Rocky Mountain Institute has been a member of the jury since 2008. In this interview she tells all about the Green Challenge.
1. Could you please give a short summary of your professional career in general and your commitment to sustainability in particular?
My career began as a land use planner and then a land use and real estate lawyer. My interest and emphasis in law school was environmental law but I didn’t want to work in policy. Living near RMI and having been a friend and supporter for some years, when I was invited to join RMI in 1998, I was delighted to find such a perfect fit for my passion and interest in finding market-based solutions for energy and resource efficiency.
2. When did you hear about the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge for the first time?
I was a guest in the audience at one of the early Green Challenge competitions in Amsterdam and was fascinated and inspired by the finalists’ presentations. I have been thrilled and honoured to serve on the Green Challenge jury. Since Rocky Mountain Institute is a beneficiary of the Dutch Postcode Lottery, I have been privileged to get to know the leadership and staff there, and knowing their dedication to this event makes it special.
3. What do you consider as the main strength/meaning of this competition?
The Green Challenge is a major investment by the Dutch Postcode Lottery to help fund entrepreneurs with innovative ideas for solving challenges related to climate change. Its international vision and participation means that serious seed funding is provided to the winning entries that can make the difference in whether these solutions can be brought to market.
4. What do you consider as the strongest arguments for young sustainable entrepreneurs to enroll?
Not only is the prize money significant, which can boost an entrepreneur at a critical start-up phase, but there are other valuable benefits. The Postcode Lottery is masterful at marketing and communications and provides intensive training for the finalists on improving their messaging and presentations, which will be helpful as they make their pitches to other investors. The Green Challenge has gained notoriety to the point where the audience includes other potential investors. In addition, the Doen Foundation, funded by the Lottery, is an excellent resource for the finalists.
5. What do you consider to be the most important results/wins of the Green Challenge throughout the years?
That’s a tough question. All of the finalists and winners are unique, with promising inventions aimed at solving different issues using diverse approaches and technologies. It is exciting to see entries that range from solutions for solar energy access for rural communities to ways to dramatically reduce water use to organically growing materials…and more. I can’t wait to see what the entries will be this year.
6. The United States has been well represented over the years with multiple winners and finalists. How do you explain the strong performances of U.S. participants?
There is a strong entrepreneurial spirit here in the U.S. and many in the younger generation are inspired to come up with innovative solutions to solve the climate change challenge. And, since many are frustrated at how political gridlock in this country has stymied viable solutions they see the best opportunities – at least right now – can be realized through the power of the market.
7. Does this mean the United States are ahead of other countries/continents when it comes to sustainability? How do you explain that?
The U.S. is not ahead of other countries when it comes to sustainability – in fact it is not even in the top ten, according to a report produced by Yale and Columbia Universities. Europe has been very progressive in its policies to bring about more renewables and efficiency options. And countries like Iceland and Denmark in particular have governments that are really enacting effective policies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and create a sustainable society. Again, here in the U.S. we have such partisan gridlock about climate change that today’s young entrepreneurs see business and the market as the best opportunity to bring about new solutions. So they are not relying on government or policy to make change happen; rather, their passion is causing them to take matters into their own hands.
8. How do you assess the quality of the business plans that have been submitted?
Every year the quality of the submissions rises significantly. This, of course, makes our jobs continually more challenging, but also encouraging as to the likely success of winners and their solutions having greater impact. There is a preliminary jury that does much of the heavy lifting to go through the hundreds of entries that are submitted. Once the finalists are selected, the jurors review the detailed submissions and during the Green Challenge event we have the opportunity to personally interview each entrant and ask clarifying questions.
9. How will these business plans be reviewed? Which criteria are critical in order to make a chance?
In addition to the major headline criteria of reducing greenhouse gases and commercialization within two years, the jury has developed a comprehensive list of evaluation criteria to help us objectively evaluate each entry. In summary, we look for:
A strong, executable business plan
Creativity and disruptiveness to the status quo
The empowerment of citizens
A passionate leadership team with the right expertise
Clarity on the impact the prize money will have on the project’s success
10. How will you, as a member of the jury, evaluate these business plans? What does it take to win this competition?
Like all the jurors, I spend a lot of time poring over the entries, learning about the technology, understanding the financials, determining the expertise of the team, questioning the readiness of the project to go to market, etc. I also share the submissions with some of my colleagues at Rocky Mountain Institute and we hold our own mini jury selection, so I get to hear other experts explain which entries they would choose and why. It’s always fun to see how we fare against the final jury selection! It takes a great idea to win, one that has the potential for significant impact. But it has to be backed by all the key components that will make the idea successful – from the expertise of the team to a clear and compelling business plan to a product or service that has reached a viable stage of development.
11. What happens to ideas that don’t win?
Non-winners are encouraged to apply again! With the excellent training provided by the Postcode Lottery, finalists who don’t win will have honed their presentation and better prepared themselves to raise funds from other sources. Also, finalists are exposed to various investors through the competition and are eligible for some first-hand assistance from the Doen Foundation, which is an amazing source of entrepreneurial and financing networks. All entrants will have improved their business plan, enhanced their strategy, and acknowledged their areas of strength and weakness as a result of going through the Green Challenge entry process.
12. What is your message to sustainable entrepreneurs who still not have enlisted? Why should they, in your opinion, enrol?
The planet needs everyone to embrace a more sustainable way of life, and one bright idea can make a big difference. We can’t sit by and wait for others to solve the climate challenge for us. The Dutch Postcode Lottery’s Green Challenge is looking for creative, innovative, passionate entrepreneurs in order to fund their viable plans that can speed up the transition towards a low carbon economy. And, even if you don’t win, just by submitting you can open doors to valuable organizations that are interested in helping to realize all types of different ideas. There is no downfall to trying, so get on it! The world needs your brilliant ideas and solutions for addressing climate change. The urgency has taken on a new dimension with the recent publication of the IPCC reports. We know that substantial reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions must occur over the next ten years for a 2-degree target to remain within reach.
The jury will select five to seven finalists in August. On September 11, the finalists will present their plans before the jury, public and press in Amsterdam. Entrepreneurs are urged to enter today at www.greenchallenge.info. Follow the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge on Twitter and Facebook.