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Spotlight on EcoPreneurs: Leaders Making a World of Difference

Ecology Entrepreneurs, often referred to as EcoPreneurs, hold strong beliefs about creating a sustainable planet and sustainable market opportunities. They think big. By marshalling their leadership and resourcefulness, they possess the drive, passion, focus and patience to literally change the world.

Glenn Croston, author of "75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference" believes that it's a combination of business savvy and a commitment to the future that defines the successful green entrepreneur. "EcoPreneurs have got to believe in the importance of working for a greener future and a sustainable economy," he says. It's also important to "be a solid business person, someone who knows a good product and can deliver it."

Croston says that its absolutely essential for EcoPreneurs to possess both of these traits. "Lacking either of these will block or slow success all around for green entrepreneurs. They have to be committed to the idea that both of these can be done at the same time, that there is no choice that needs to be made between success and the environment."

Starting Young

Many EcoPreneurs are initially attracted to the industry at a young age. Tim Healy, EnerNOC's CEO and Co-Founder and 2007 recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in New England says, "Energy has been a dinner time conversation at my house since I was a kid. My father worked at a fuel cell company, so thinking about the challenges of energy was really second nature. In business school, I started experimenting with ideas about how capitalism could actually be the single biggest transformative factor in modern energy usage."

Anthony Pereira, CEO and Founder of Altpower also began thinking about energy in his youth. "As a kid, I remember vividly waiting in line for gas in the late ‘70s. In elementary school, solar power and wind power were being discussed in class. Something had to done."

Switching Mid-Career

But starting young is certainly not a prerequisite to success. For several of today's most successful EcoPreneurs, the revelation of "doing well while doing good," came at a turning point in their careers. T. Raghavendra Rao, PhD Founder of Sustainable Technologies and Environmental Projects (STEPS), a Mumbai-based company working on converting waste to petroleum, started thinking about the technology his company is now working on, in his old job.

"Having been in the oil industry as a drilling engineer, I immediately realized the need for cleaning up the oil industry and began developing technology for mitigating the sludge and working into soil without microbes. I identified that there was a problem that had to be handled," he says.

Similarities exist in the Wind Energy. Randall Swisher, Executive Director of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) sees a cross-over from natural gas to wind, "The implosion of the gas-fired side of the business, coupled with much capabilities in wind energy has led a great many people into making wind energy today who were once making gas-fired energy."

But more than just industry cross-overs, EcoPreneurs appear to possess a grander vision about the world. According to EnerNOC's Healy, "an ability to think big and the patience not to get too frustrated when the world doesn't catch up fast enough," is foremost.

Nancy Floyd, Founder and Managing Director of Nth Power, a clean tech venture capital firm says that it takes more than just perseverance. "A common trait in every entrepreneur is tenacity, but a lot of folks have that. You need to have vision and be a leader, not only leadership in your firm and community, but in a broader community; for example, in policy. Obviously policy individuals and leaders have charisma, but you have to have what it takes to execute broader community initiatives and hold true to that vision."

Moving the Industry Forward

As the industry continues to mature and receive mainstream acceptance, EcoPreneurs have some ideas about what might come next. Healy says, "For a long time, the green industry was the domain of non-profits and politicians. In the last five years, we've seen a growth in innovation because more and more businesses are figuring out ways to build solid companies that offer products and services that benefit the environment."

Trey Taylor, President of Verdant Power says, "The key factor in moving, not only our company forward, but also the green industry, is the establishment of political will, manifested in RPS, economic incentives (e.g., production tax credits, investment tax credits) and feed-in tariffs, such as those created in Germany. It also is manifested in the streamlining of regulatory processes, so that clean tech power plants can be built quickly."

Mainstream awareness, societal and investor acceptance are the leading goals for clean tech firms. Brian Keane, President of SmartPower, believes that economic value predominates the hearts and minds of individuals, businesses and investors when considering renewable energy and energy efficiency options.

"SmartPower consistently shows that there is real economic value to bringing renewable energy to the marketplace. When we visit clients, we demonstrate the economic value that we bring; economics are number one."

Monty Bannerman, Chairman and CEO of ArcStar Energy feels the same way. "100% of the value proposition is ROI. The PR and other goodwill is not part of the proposition, just icing on the cake."

"Necessity is the mother of invention." says Taylor. "People want to live in sustainable communities. Communities all over the world are waiting for renewable technology and clean energy systems. We cannot possibly get there fast enough."

Dawn E. Dzurilla is Founder and President of Gaia Human Capital Consultants, an Executive Search Consulting firm solely dedicated to providing recruitment solutions and employment branding solutions to green/clean tech, renewable energy, environmental and corporate sustainability organizations and non-profits clients. She has twenty years of recruitment experience and approximately ten years of environmental & corporate sustainability experience, including Co-Founding an innovative Socially Responsible Investment Management (SRI) firm, which integrates personal, societal values and environmental concerns with individual investment decisions. She is a resident of Naples, FL and New York City. Dawn Dzurilla can be reached at dawnd@gaiahumancapital.com.

This is the fifth article in our series on Human Resource Management in Renewable Energy firms.

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