Yesterday, I had the great honor to join Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Maeve Bartlett, and the CEO of MassCEC, Alicia Barton, for a celebration to mark the release of the 2014 Massachusetts Clean Energy Industry Report. The report highlighted that Massachusetts’ clean energy sector is now a $10BB industry and that since 2010, the clean energy industry has grown by nearly 50% with nearly 90,000 total jobs. The report also shows industry job growth by types of clean energy jobs and region, and includes an analysis of the Commonwealth’s clean energy business climate. The event was hosted at the Boston Green Academy, an exciting charter school that strives to prepare all students, especially those who struggle, for success in college and the workforce of the 21st century “green economy.”
I was honored to be the CEO chosen to represent the clean-tech sector and celebrate Massachusetts’ continued progress in building the most exciting clean-tech community in the world. I also had the rare opportunity to share WeSpire’s journey and how founding our company in Massachusetts has helped us succeed; a story we thought would also be good to share with you, our fans and followers. We believe it's a great example of why clusters work, how the public and private sector help each other, and how it truly takes a village to raise a start-up:
It is an honor to be here to celebrate the continued progress in building the most exciting clean-tech cluster in the world. Thank you to Governor Patrick, Secretary Bartlett, Alicia Barton and the whole team from the Mass CEC for doing the important work that led to these results. And to Headmaster Holzar and all of the students here, it is so inspiring to see what you are learning. What I hope you remember when the homework piles up and you are up late prepping for a test is that you are preparing yourself to be part of the solution for one of the most important challenges of our lifetime. This world needs your creativity, your passion and your smarts and I can’t wait to see how you contribute.
The story of WeSpire is just one of 5,800 stories about why Massachusetts is a great place to start a clean-tech business. The story begins with an unusual personal challenge: running Boston.com by day, dealing with my (then 3-year-old) son’s serious food/environmental allergies, and a green home renovation gone amok leading to a night course in sustainable design at the BAC. It was during a class in advanced performance buildings that I realized that my expertise in interactive technologies like mobile, social mechanics, and game mechanics could be used to help motivate and inspire people to be healthier and more sustainable. The vision was a LEED system for people—or for those of you who don’t know what LEED is—a Weightwatchers for Sustainability.
Despite not being part of this sector at the time, I was fortunate to be able to share my idea with several people who were, including one of the leading venture capitalists in the space. Over breakfast at Johnny’s Luncheonette, he told me to quit my job—that day—to go start WeSpire. About 6 weeks later, I did.
But for a start-up to succeed, you need a lot more than a good idea. You need a special mix of human capital, financial capital, people willing to be first customers, and yes, a lot of lady luck.
When starting out, I tapped first into our strong university sector: hiring students from BU’s School of the Environment to do research, hiring Co-ops from Northeastern for marketing and computer science, and attracting a lifecycle scientist from MIT to create our scoring system. We took advantage of the strong local tech scene and convinced outstanding engineers from “regular” tech startups that they could not only write great code, but in the process work on something really meaningful and important. As we outgrew my dining room table, we moved into Dogpatch Labs, an incubator space that enabled us to learn from companies ahead of us. And as we’ve continued to grow our team, we’ve benefitted from the fabulous MassCEC intern program—and hired several of the interns as employees.
When we needed capital, we got backed first by CommonAngels and then the Clean Energy Venture Group and Launchpad Venture Group—three local angel groups who not only provide capital, but expertise and connections to customers and new team members. When we started offering our platform to companies to use with their employees, EnerNOC—truly a pillar company in our sector—became our first customer. CA Technologies in Framingham became our first Fortune 500 customer and we now work with over 30 global customers who collectively have 2MM employees. Our most recent exciting news is that EnerNOC has gone from first customer to an investor and partner, and will now be offering our software to their customers.
What’s also immeasurable is the impact of the people who have helped informally, including many of you in this room. You’ve recommended potential employees, nominated us for awards, introduced us to your college roommate who happens to be a Chief Sustainability Officer, written blog posts, or commiserated over coffee about start-up growing pains. You’ve been part of a thriving eco-system that helps start-ups succeed in Massachusetts.
I spend most of my time with the sustainability leaders of large global corporations. They recognize that Massachusetts is leading the nation and this world on all fronts—policy, research & development, commercialization, and adoption of the technologies in this critical, booming sector. We are blessed to be citizens of a state where leadership just gets it. The clean-tech sector is about innovation; it’s about creating jobs; it’s about efficiency; it’s about resilience; it’s about our health and our children’s health both now, and in the future. And most fundamentally, we are in a state where people increasingly understand that the transition to a cleaner economy is very, very good for business.
One of my favorite sayings is that “it takes a village to raise a start-up.” I feel very fortunate that my village is the state of Massachusetts. Thank you.