Funding Tips for Solar Entrepreneurs

I have a great idea for a solar business and I hold patents on the technology I plan to use. How do I go about getting the funding I need to get my business off the ground? — Eric M., San Francisco, California

Investments in solar reached about $1.2 billion in 2007 — a record amount for any Clean tech sector by most accounts. With so much capital pouring into the solar industry, solar entrepreneurs are growing like mushrooms across the nations. Most solar entrepreneurs are so enamored with their technology that they forget that in the Venture Capital [VC] world, it’s about the money, not the technology.

The following are five key characteristics that most VCs look for in an investment — passion, focus, people, innovation, and product.

Passion

In addition to having a proven record of accomplishment, the most important thing is that the entrepreneur has a great passion for the idea. Only passion can carry an entrepreneur through tough times.

Focus

Beyond a passion for a specific idea, most VCs agree that an entrepreneur must be seriously committed to making the business a success. That kind of conviction will lead a company forward.

People

Almost as important as the individual driving the business is the team of people backing it up. A tight-knit team can also provide valuable evidence to the VC of the leader’s ability to maintain enduring relationships, which can be very valuable in the long run.

Innovation

It may be obvious to some, but many VCs said that finding a start-up with a unique approach to the marketplace is unusual in and of itself. The product should be new and different as opposed to more and better.

Product

When it comes to the business idea, investors are concerned with risk versus reward. There are many nice business ideas that could make a decent living, be a success and all that, but most VCs are looking for a big hit, which in turn will make their investors happy.

This is where the business plan comes in. A solid pricing plan, sales model and a detailed approach to the market must not only make sense but also provide proof that the team has identified the principal challenges that they will encounter.

A bulletproof business plan may be a necessity, but as with so much of life, things rarely go according to that plan. This is why, as far as potential investors are concerned, the plan is only as good as the people behind it.

Aside from VCs, the following table is a list of funding sources for solar companies in various stages of product lifecycle.

Round

Title

Funding Sources

Series A

Seed

Angels/VCs/Government

Series B

Development

Vcs/Corporate/Government/
International Exchanges

Series C

Commercialization

VCs/Corporate/International Exchanges

IPO

Public Offering

All public exchanges


Dr. Isabelle Christensen is an expert in cleantech acquisition and investment and a consultant for REC Solar. She has over 15 years of experience in high-tech marketing and business development management. Most recently, she was Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Akeena Solar Inc and prior to that, she founded and sold two companies. Dr. Christensen holds a Ph.D. in Marketing and Consumer Psychology from the University of London and Universite de Toulouse. She is also an active board member for whynotsolar.org and solarpowereducation.org.

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