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'World's Largest Clean Tech Accelerator' Gets a Boost from the U.N.


Having means and opportunity are requisites for law enforcement personnel investigating crimes. But they're also essential for individuals, groups and organizations looking to develop innovative, commercial solutions that can improve the well-being and quality of people's lives, as well as enhance ecological sustainability.

Established in 2006, the Cleantech Open “was founded on the premise that entrepreneurial innovation is the answer to the world's most pressing environmental challenges, and the key to economic growth for all nations.” Having grown into “the world's largest clean tech accelerator,” the Palo Alto, Calif.-based nonprofit today announced a partnership with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) – the principal financing mechanism for several keystone U.N. environmental and sustainable development agreements – to launch clean tech startup accelerators in six countries.

Working together, Cleantech Open, UNIDO and the GEF intend to launch international clean tech accelerators in Armenia, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Africa and Turkey. Their mission, Cleantech Open explains in a news release, “is to find, fund and foster small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that can tackle the most urgent energy, environmental and economic challenges in those countries.”

Accelerating growth for clean tech startups

To date, the nearly 900 startups that participated in the Cleantech Open's U.S. Accelerator program have raised more than $900 million in capital and created “thousands of jobs,” according to the nonprofit. The partnership with GEF and UNIDO will enable the organization to expand its efforts geometrically by replicating similar initiatives in countries that stand to benefit most from creating the means and opportunity for local clean tech entrepreneurs to succeed.

As Cleantech Open states: “The partnership with the GEF and UNIDO—two global organizations that promote and accelerate inclusive and sustainable industrial development in developing countries and economies in transition—aims to nurture cleantech innovation that can address unique local challenges.”

Added Cleantech Open Executive Director Rex Northen:

“Right now, entrepreneurs around the world are developing ingenious solutions to major challenges in the generation, distribution and storage of energy, air and water pollution, waste management, new forms of transport, and sustainable construction techniques.”

The partnership with GEF and UNIDO raises Cleantech Open's triple bottom line impact potential to new heights. Working with its two new U.N. partners, “each national clean tech accelerator is led by national executing partners and teams in-country, hosted by major institutions, universities and supported by local industrial associations and key stakeholders,” the nonprofit elaborates.

Furthermore, in concert with UNIDO and the GEF, Cleantech Open will produce proprietary events, training materials and an online global platform that connects entrepreneurs to a global network of mentors, industry experts and investors. As Northen commented:

“The GEF and UNIDO are the perfect partners to clone the Cleantech Open DNA in countries that can most benefit from our proven accelerator program. Our objective is to help those entrepreneurs turn their ideas into transformative success stories."

How the Cleantech Open Accelerator works

  • Each national clean tech accelerator will support startups in four technology categories in 2014: energy efficiency, renewable energy, waste to energy and water efficiency.

  • Each country will leverage $1 million to $2 million in funding from the Global Environment Facility, matched by $2 million to $3 million in co-financing (including in-kind contributions) from in-country public- and private-sector partners.

  • Each accelerator will identify the most promising entrepreneurs in the country and unite a diverse range of local partners with the sole objective of accelerating and supporting the best clean tech ventures in each category.

  • A national competition in each country will kick off to identify the most promising entrepreneurs. Qualifying entrepreneurs will also participate in the Accelerator program, which builds the local entrepreneurial ecosystem; supports, promotes and “de-risks” the participating companies; and connects them to potential investors, customers and partners.

  • In November 2014, the best clean tech ventures from all six participating countries will attend the Cleantech Open Global Forum in Silicon Valley, a major event on the clean tech calendar that attracts thousands of attendees from 30 countries. There, they will meet with technologists, corporate leaders and investors.

A boost from UNIDO and the GEF

UNIDO's guiding mission is to promote and foster industrial development that reduces poverty and enhances “inclusive globalization and environmental sustainability.” With the partnership, the Cleantech Open will be able to leverage UNIDO's worldwide presence and in-country resources.

Supported by 183 U.N. member nations, the GEF is the principal international financing mechanism for addressing global environmental issues, including providing financial and other resources in support of keystone multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) including the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, and the Minimata Convention on Mercury. Managed by the World Bank Group, it also works closely with the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), which manages the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances.

The GEF depends on contributions from U.N. member countries party to these international treaties to carry out the missions specified in their charters. The impacts of the most recent financial crisis and global recession raised concerns that contributions would fall far short of projected requirements.

Record GEF funding

Allaying these concerns to a significant extent, 30 donor countries on April 16 pledged a record $4.43 billion to the GEF “to support developing countries' efforts over the next four years to prevent degradation of the global environment.” Commenting on the unprecedented amount of funding commitments GEF CEO and Chairperson Naoko Ishii stated:
"Today's decision is a powerful signal from the global community about the importance of urgently reversing the negative environmental trends in order to ensure a sustainable future for everybody. I am extremely encouraged by the broad coalition that has come together behind the belief in GEF's ability to play a critical role in helping achieve this transformation."

With those funds, GEF will be able to support projects in more than 140 countries that address a wide range of threats to ecological health and integrity, including climate change, deforestation, land degradation, extinction of species, toxic chemicals and waste, and threats to oceans and freshwater resources, GEF explains.

"Only by integrating environmental considerations into decision making by governments, private businesses and households can we hope to make a difference in the global environment,” Mexico Secretary of Finance and Public Credit Luis Videgaray stated in a press release. “The GEF-6 effort gets under way at a critical time, and is a vital platform to help mobilize all stakeholders to play their part."

Images credits: 1.) Cleantech Open, 2.) UNIDO, 3 .) GEF

Andrew Burger headshotAndrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

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