Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cambridge Cleantech: An idea whose time has come?

Last Friday saw the launch of 'Cambridge Cleantech' at the great new lecture hall at the redeveloped Cambridge campus of Anglia Ruskin University.  The turnout was impressive: 300+ attendees at 07:30 in the morning is quite an achievement for any event.  The success of this launch event  - bringing together investors, entrepreneurs and academics - did seem to point to the notion that a network dedicated to clean tech in the Greater Cambridge (broadly defined) could be bang on the money. But why has this only happened now?
There have been numerous 'green' related local and regional initiatives in the past but none has really managed to bring together the diverse geographic and sectoral interests to act as a voice for the wide range of cleantech organisations in the same way that OneNucleus has done for the life sciences and Cambridge Wireless has done for those commercialising wireless technologies.
This diversity of needs and interests may be one reason for the lack of a single voice for cleantech to date, coupled with the fact that there are so many other business networks into which cleantech, and cleantech-related companies have been able to fit.
Some prior attempts at bringing together 'green' companies have been more publicly-funded push activities, with limited private sector, business-driven pull, and hence lacked market traction.
There has also been the dilemma of the 'C-word'.  While 'Cambridge' is a superb national and international brand, using it (even in its broader 'Greater Cambridge' version) to represent a region that stretches from Bedford to Ipswich, and King's Lynn to Harlow has, for some, stretched both the brand and the patience of those far from Cambridge.
Then there are also changes in the cleantech sector itself (which is not really a sector but rather a collection of technologies applied to deliver some specific benefit but minimise impact on the environment).  This multi-faceted sector is increasing in maturity in terms of consumer uptake, investment readiness, and refinement of available business offerings. But there is still a long way to go in getting the best solutions to market to address the sustainability opportunities presented by the huge range of needs of individual and business consumers.
And this is why a network  - leveraging the power of the Cambridge brand for regional benefit - that represents and lobbies on behalf of this diverse range of organisations, facilitates value-adding connections between these firms, and supports the development of its members is so timely and important.

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