Today’s guest is Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs.
Dr. Emily Reichert serves as Chief Executive Officer of Greentown Labs, the largest clean technology startup incubator in the United States. As the company’s first employee, Emily has spearheaded the rapid growth of Greentown Labs into a global center for clean technology innovation, attracting visitors and partners from around the world.
Emily started her career at Arthur D. Little as a Ph.D. scientist and progressed into R&D, business development and general management roles. Prior to Greentown Labs, she was the Director of Business Operations at the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry where she helped grow the angel-funded startup into a sustainable contract R&D business with a mission to minimize environmental impact of chemical products. Emily also served as a MIT Sloan Fellow in Innovation and Global Leadership as well as a Venture Labs Fellow at Flagship Ventures, a Boston-based Venture Capital firm.
Emily has served as a board member or as a key advisor for a number of innovation and entrepreneurship-focused organizations including the Northeast Clean Energy Council, Cleantech Open Northeast, Cyclotron Road, the Incubatenergy Network and the MIT Enterprise Forum. She has been appointed to leadership positions on innovation, economic development, entrepreneurship and clean technology commercialization at both the state and federal level including Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s Economic Development Planning Council and the U.S. Secretary of Commerce’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Emily has earned international recognition for her leadership in cleantech innovation and has received invitations to speak at International Conferences such as Les Rencontres Economiques d’Aix-en-Provence, France, and the Fish Family Foundation’s Japanese Women’s Leadership Initiative in Tokyo, Japan.
She holds a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned her MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management.
When Emily isn’t at Greentown Labs, you’ll likely find her traveling the world with her husband, Chris Nielsen. As an avid outdoorswoman, Emily has experienced adventures in many corners of the globe including, tree-climbing in the Amazon, swimming with sea turtles off the island of Fernando de Noronha, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, trekking the Andes of Ecuador, and cycling along the Danube River bend north of Budapest.
In today’s episode, we cover:
Overview of Greentown Labs
Origin story and what problem it is solving
Traction to date, long vision, and what is coming next
Long vision and whats coming next
How the model works - tools, resources, and benefits
Some example member success stories
How large companies can/are engaging
Role of innovation in the climate fight
Lessons from the first cleantech bubble
Barriers holding back innovation today
Best ways to accelerate
Role of policy and how it interrelates with innovation
How startups should know if right they are a fit for Greentown
How Emily would allocate a large pool of money to maximize its impact in the climate fight
Emily’s advice for others looking to find their lane to help with this problem
Links to topics discussed in this episode:
Greentown Labs: https://www.greentownlabs.com/
Department of Energy grants: https://www.grants.gov/learn-grants/grant-making-agencies/department-of-energy.html
Ed Markey: https://www.markey.senate.gov/
You can find me on twitter @jjacobs22 or @mcjpod and email at email@example.com, where I encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and suggestions for future topics or guests.
Enjoy the show!
Jason Jacobs: Hello, everyone. This is Jason Jacobs and welcome to My Climate Journey. This show follows my journey to interview a wide range of guests to better understand and make sense of the formidable problem of climate change and try to figure out how people like you and I can help.
Jason Jacobs: Today's guest is Emily Reichert, the CEO of Green Town Labs, which is the largest clean technology startup incubator in North America. As the company's first employee, Emily has spearheaded the rapid growth of Green Town Labs into a global center for clean technology innovation, attracting visitors and partners from around the world. I was excited for this one because it's been amazing watching the tremendous traction and momentum that Green Town has been able to put together in a relatively short period of time and they've also done so right in my backyard, here in Summerville, Massachusetts. So I couldn't wait to get over there and find out what's going on from the inside.
Jason Jacobs: We cover a lot in today's episode including an overview of Green Town Labs, it's history, how it came about, when it came about and most importantly, why it came about. We talk about it's humble beginnings and the traction that they've had to date, their long vision, as well as what's coming next. We also talk about how to model works and what tools and resources and benefits there are for startups that are housed at Green Town Labs, as well as what the right profile is for startups who make the best fit.
Jason Jacobs: We talk about some example success stories and how some of the large strategics that are involved with Green Town are engaging as well. And finally we have a great discussion about innovation, the role of innovation in the climate fight, the lessons from the first clean tech bubble that can be applied to clean tech innovation going forwards, some barriers that are holding back innovation today as well as what we can do about it, as well as the role that Green Town anticipates that they'll be playing in helping clean tech innovation flourish going forward.
Jason Jacobs: Thought Emily was a great guest and I learned a lot and I think you will as well. Emily Reichert, welcome to the show.
Emily Reichert: Thank you so much. I'm really excited to do this.
Jason Jacobs: I'm really excited for you to do this as well. And it's funny, I met you very early in the journey and it's been probably a couple, maybe a little longer than a couple months since we talked but I feel like I've bene covering a lot of ground nationally and globally and it's so nice to come back around to do something in Summerville/Boston, especially because you guys are the largest clean tech incubator in the United States.
Emily Reichert: In North America.
Jason Jacobs: In North America? Oh even bigger.
Emily Reichert: Yes.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah and right in our backyard.
Emily Reichert: Right in our backyard. And I agree, it was a really wonderful conversation that we had, it's got to be a couple months back already now. But I was inspired and enthused to hear your enthusiasm to start this climate journey that you're on. And it was very exciting to me that someone coming out of your background, having just successfully sold Run Keeper and really looking for what is next, would be engaged and excited to go on a climate journey. Because there's no reason that you had to do that. And you were, I think I mentioned at the time, one of several people that I was meeting around that time that had all had some different other background, whether it be finance, or something that they had done where they were now turning to realize, "Oh my God, this is a big problem and I need to be part of solving it." And so I was inspired by you at the beginning of your journey wanting to take on this big challenge. And just looking at this list of podcasts that you've already recorded, I am impressed by how much you've already done in that very short time since we last met.
Jason Jacobs: Well thanks so much, Emily. That's great to hear. And one of inspirations for starting a podcast is that, so I'm seven months in now and I've been having, as you know, a ton of discussions like this. But as I've been having them, more and more people are continuing to raise their hand from out of climate saying, "I'm ready to dive in, where do I start?" And here I am spending all day every day having all these great discussions and that's a steep ask for someone to say, "Hey, quit your job and go and spend all day every day having discussions." And then even if they are in a fortunate position to be able to do it, why do it? It's just so inefficient and it just seems so much more efficient to try to capture discussions I'm having, at least where it makes sense, and share them publicly, which is what I'm trying to do here.
Emily Reichert: Yeah. I mean, it's interesting because I have been in this sector now, well clean tech in general, probably for about 10 years but the clean energy and that movement around clean tech for six or seven years now. And the passion from within the group of people that are working on this is just intense. We all are fully committed to what we're doing. And it's exciting to see folks coming in from the outside who are equally committed and equally excited and willing to spend time on this. And so I think that the outcome of this podcast and what you're doing, I hope, is to inspire a whole bunch of other people who can use their talents, their energy, their inspiration to attack this challenge. Which really is the greatest and biggest existential threat of our time. And we have 10-12 years to do something about it that's really meaningful. So I am so glad you're out there and just excited to be here today.
Jason Jacobs: Well why don't we jump in? I know a little bit but selfishly now I get to spend 45 minutes, or an hour really digging deep into Green Town Labs. So maybe let's take it from the top. What is Green Town Labs?
Emily Reichert: So Green Town Labs is, as you mentioned at the outset, the largest clean technology incubator in North America. We currently host about 100 companies here on 100,000 square foot campus here at Green Town Labs in Summerville, Massachusetts. And for those who don't know, who are listening to your podcast, Summerville is a stone's throw away from Boston. If you think about Summerville, it's kind of like Manhattan is to Boston as Brooklyn is to Summerville. So we're where the cool kids are and we are in the triangle that is in between TUFFS, MIT and Harvard. And so it's really a wonderful place to just be benefiting and to bring together the community of folks that are very passionate about these technologies coming out of universities. In fact, I'd say 60% or more of our companies come from the local universities, specifically MIT where they are starting out their journey as entrepreneurs and they need a place where there's a community. And that's really where Green Town Labs comes in.
Emily Reichert: So we are a community of entrepreneurs who are focused on really solving the big climate and environment challenges. And what does that mean? That means anything from working on ways to develop the next wind or solar technology, which we've got companies working on, but also energy storage, energy distribution, transmission. Then there are things that maybe you don't think of as clean tech but really are because of their impact. Agriculture, waste, water related technologies. With also support companies who are doing manufacturing or robotics to make manufacturing more efficient. And finally, transportation and mobility. And then all the technologies that support all of those areas. So we have companies working in chemicals materials and also in internet systems in order to support all of the areas that I've just mentioned.
Emily Reichert: So Green Town is really a place where we have a big community of entrepreneurs. And these folks are passionate about the work they do every day. Absolutely, as entrepreneurs, they want to grow their companies and they start small and they grow while they're with us. Typically anywhere from one to two people to start and when they leave, they will have somewhere between 10 and 40 people in their employment. So they grow fast while they're here. The average time is about two years and when they come here they start with a prototype. So typically that prototype might be something that they built in a university lab. And they've tested it in a university lab context. And while they're here, they are working on building, testing, iterating on that prototype and then trying to test it in a real world environment, usually with a customer or a partner.
Emily Reichert: And so we work with them to try to figure out who are those customers and partners that can help them? Often that's a large corporation and those are folks that we work with as well to try to make the partnership journey between the startup and the corporate working together faster, more efficient and more effective. So we work with about 40 corporates here as well at Green Town Labs. Names you definitely recognize, so GE, Shell, Chevron, Sanco Bane, Violia, others who are kind of the banner names in the energy sector, energy and buildings and environment sector. And all of these companies, I'd say, are part of a broader ecosystem that Green Town Labs brings together around the startups to help them in their journey from that very early, "I created something in a lab," to the point where they're trying to look for a series A round of investment and achieve that series A round of investment of $10-$15 million, which gets them out of the incubator.
Emily Reichert: And that is our ultimate goal. We want to graduate companies, we want them to be independent, build their own culture and be successful in their own right as they scale.
Jason Jacobs: And so one part of it is an office with like minded companies and people around you, a community, that I've heard you talk about before, is so important to you and important to Green Town. And then it sounds like one part of it is equipment as well?
Emily Reichert: Yeah, absolutely. So there's really three components to what we offer here at Green Town. So one is certainly the space and the environment of that space. So we try to custom build our environment to support entrepreneurs. So within Green Town Labs walls, there's really three elements. So one is certainly they have office space, so a place to not only do their day to day work but have conference rooms where they can meet with investors. They also have the opportunity to be in a laboratory where they rent space from us by the square foot. And we rent space from the smallest parcel is about 100 square feet, which is basically a closet or a small conference room, all the way to 3,000 square feet, which you could probably get on the open market. Now that 100 square feet, you absolutely cannot get on the open market. But sometimes that's all that a prototyping early stage company needs. And so why should they pay for more?
Emily Reichert: With that resource, though, of the space also comes a space that is surrounded by other entrepreneurs. It's very open in our laboratory so oftentimes companies are just separated by a tape mark on the floor, literally, between the two companies. And within that, what there is is a comraderies and an understanding of entrepreneurs all working on something big and important. So if you hear someone that is basically say, frustrated in their lab space, that's going to be overheard by the next company that's only separated by a tape wall, which is not a wall. And there's an opportunity there for collaboration. "Hey, what's going on? What do you need? Is there anything I can help you with?" And that kind of thing happens all the time here.
Emily Reichert: So not only do they share their frustrations and their celebrations, they also share tools, equipment and as you mentioned, we have a shared machine shop, a shared electronic shop.
Jason Jacobs: I've seen them.
Emily Reichert: Yes. They're fun. I love those spaces. We have a wet chemistry lab, we have a rooftop testing lab because we just built that in our latest expansion. That is something people asked for over and over so hey, we did it and they can go in there, plug in, put their prototypes up there and it's an open, testing platform for them.
Emily Reichert: So certainly space, the equipment that's shared, because that means they don't have to necessarily pay for that as individual companies. But then beyond that there's really the connections that we provide. So we work with, as I mentioned, a lot of corporate partners. We also work with 100 or so investors and then we work with a lot of manufacturing partners as well. So companies that are in clean tech are typically building something physical. They might be building software too but they're often building hardware. And so they need to eventually go from one prototype to testing 100 or 1,000 prototypes in the field to eventually manufacturing millions, right? So we try to help them to set up their supply chain while they're with us and so that they can really more easily move to the manufacturing and scaling stage while they're still with us at Green Town.
Emily Reichert: And finally, I think the emphasis that I'd like to place on community is really kind of the core of what Green Town Labs is all about. So we were founded by entrepreneurs who really just needed space to build their prototypes after graduating from MIT. This was back in 2010, 2011. And they didn't really come together with a plan to build an incubator, that was not what it was about. It was really about sharing space. But what they realized was there was a lot of value in clean tech companies being in the same place at the same time working together. One of them helped another one to do a department of energy grant. They shared knowledge about how to use QuickBooks software. And that really helped them understand that there was that value of having a community of support among entrepreneurs.
Emily Reichert: Because what these people are doing is really, really hard. I mean, clean tech is a hard field. Building hardware is hard. And our industry goes through incredible ups and downs that are very difficult to navigate. So you really need that community element to bring you through. And that's something that I'm proud to say, I think we brought through to this day. If you talked to a Green Town Labs entrepreneur and asked them what do you like most about Green Town Labs, nine times out of 10 they will say, "I really like being part of this community." And that community can be so many different things to them but it's really common, like minded people that are trying to do something big. Trying to do something really, really hard. And knowing that you have that person that when you're there at 11:00 at night, you look across the room and our office space is very open, you look across the room and you see another person who's still there at 11:00 at night and you're like, "Yes, I'm not crazy." And I have that feeling as well.
Jason Jacobs: Or you both are.
Emily Reichert: That is probably true. Because if you're in this field you are somewhat crazy.
Jason Jacobs: You mentioned the corporates and I see the logos downstairs, it's incredible the list. What's the nature of the relationships with those corporate partners?
Emily Reichert: The corporate partners are really a core part of how we operate Green Town Labs in the sense that we're trying to think about, as our mission, not only the creation of community, but how do we get this technology to market where it can make a difference? And a lot of the time that is going to require a corporate partner in order to get the technology to scale. And so it is very important to us that we help these startups that we work with build those partnerships and build them successfully. And so our corporate partner program is really all about helping us to understand what is it that a corporate partner is looking for or needs? What is in their five year pipeline or their five year roadmap that is going to tell them, "Well I need X, Y and Z." And then how do our startups map onto that?
Emily Reichert: The other thing that we do and we think about is working with startups and corporates, it's a little bit like playing the game of a translator. Or playing the game of helping one understand the other. Helping the startup learn how to manage, pitch to the corporate and helping the corporate understand how a startup thinks and works. And so a lot of our programming is really around that. It's about helping them work with one another. Because if you think about it, a startup might be anywhere from two to 10, maybe 40 people if they're really big. A corporate might be 120,000 people. Where does the startup even get started in that lineup of 120,000 people? How do they know that they're talking to someone that's a decision maker? And even if they are talking to a decision maker, how do they know how to make a sale at multiple levels? Because that's what's required, right? It's not one person making a decision when you're working with a large company, it's usually one person who then has to have that decision reviewed by someone who then has to have the key support of the folks in the C-suite in order for that initiative to be successful.
Emily Reichert: So we're really in it to help startups to be able to navigate through that in order for both the startups and the corporates to be successful in partnering. On the corporate side, corporates don't always understand that the time scales for startups, they're a different company every six months. So the team may have changed, the technology probably has evolved, the applications they're looking at probably have evolved. So if the corporate is not making a decision on the time scale that the startup needs to know whether or not they should be a partner, that doesn't work for the startup. So we, through a program we call Green Town Launch here, help to align the time scale of decision making between the corporate and startup to six month period where they can both really get to know each other well through very structured corporate startup engagement. Through a kickoff, a finale program and also three very intensive workshops. And that is basically what allows the corporate and startup to really get to know each other to be able to push that corporate to a decision within a six month period.
Emily Reichert: And we've found that in 60% of the startups that go through these programs, they end up in a partnership as a result of that six month period. And those that don't, often have other benefits. They get investment or they get scooped up by another corporate partner. So it strengthens the startup overall but it helps move forward that decision making process faster because that's what the startup needs.
Jason Jacobs: And I have so many questions about the history and the business model and the selection criteria and things like that but I think that given that I'm cognizant of time and I really want to make sure we cover some of the meaty stuff about climate change and where innovation fits in and stuff like that, we might have to save some of that for a following episode.
Emily Reichert: Part two.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah. But I do just want to highlight, though, that in addition to all the companies that are here and all the big corporates that are around, I mean this is also, essentially it seems like a launching pad when there's big climate stuff happening even on a national scale, it happens here. So maybe the Green New Deal announcement, can you talk a bit about that?
Emily Reichert: Absolutely. So we were really honored to have Senator Marque, who was the co-author of the Green New Deal Resolution announce that here at Green Town Labs earlier this spring. So the day after they made the big announcement in DC, it was also announced here in Summerville at Green Town Labs. So we were incredibly honored to have that happen here. And that was really just an inspirational event here and let me tell you why.
Emily Reichert: So for those who haven't been to Green Town Labs, we have a very open event space, we can hold 750 people in our event space and there's a balcony that wraps around the top of the event space. And our entrepreneurs, when we have events, tend to kind of congregate there. They wander in, they're around the balcony, then they might wander out at some point.
Emily Reichert: When I was standing on that stage with Senator Marque, I was looking around at this balcony full of entrepreneurs and just watching the call and response of him talking to the entrepreneurs and saying, "You are the future. You are what this is all about." And the entrepreneurs nodding along and realizing their part in pushing America's and the world in general's response to climate forward. And so that was just a really special announcement. We've had several others on the same stage, both at the state level and at the federal level and we're really open to being that kind of platform for folks. It's the perfect community to be celebrating, to be sharing these announcements as they are available. And we'd love to be a platform for the presidential candidates to come share their climate plans as well.
Jason Jacobs: I think you have that opportunity. I mean we are going to switch gears and talk about some climate stuff but I didn't want to do so without really just calling out how amazing it is what you've build, how you've just scratched the surface of your potential here and just how proud I am as a Massachusetts resident, greater Boston area, Summerville, whatever you want to call it, it's amazing to have Green Town Labs in our backyard. And so as someone that's devoting the next chapter of my career to the climate fight, I'm just so thankful for the work that you do.
Emily Reichert: Well thank you. And thank you for what you're doing to get the word out about the work that Green Town is doing but that so many other folks who are dedicating their careers and lives to this issue, it is so important. It's the issue of our time and we've got to do something.
Jason Jacobs: So that's a great transition point. So as an entrepreneur and someone who's worked in the technology stratus my whole career, innovation's the only thing that I know. Now that I'm seven months into climate change, one of the things I've been wrestling with is it's such a systems problem and I struggle with the role of innovation. It's not that innovation isn't important, it's that it's only one thing that's important. And so I think as we were talking about before we put the mics on, there's building one company, there's looking at things more at the system level and there's kind of trying to navigate. So how do you think about that? What is the role of innovation in the climate fight?
Emily Reichert: I think the role of innovation is that we need the technologies not only ... There are many technologies that exist today that are already in the market that can be deployed. And we should do that hole hock. So whether it's solar, wind, we've got those tools. Let's do it. Let's fully deploy those. And that's more of a policy question.
Emily Reichert: Innovation, though, comes to when you talk about the big problems yet to be solved. So clearly energy storage jumps up to the fore there. We really need to be thinking about how do you deal with the intermittency of certain resources like wind and solar? How do you actually handle that? I mean right now in California they're dumping energy into the ground because there's too much coming throughout the course of the day through solar, right?
Jason Jacobs: They actually have to pay people to take it from adjacent states, I heard.
Emily Reichert: Yeah or they just dump it. I mean that shouldn't be the outcome. And part of that is a bigger problem about the grid and how we operate it. But we need to be optimizing for the solution that gets us to where we need to get by 2030. And I think innovation has to be a really big part of that. And so what we need to do, collectively, is to make sure that that innovation moves as quickly as possible to scale. And I think that's really where Green Town plays a role, it's where a lot of the corporate partners and investors that we work with play a role so that we can get that to scale where it can really make an impact as soon as possible.
Jason Jacobs: And do you think about wading innovation, one type of innovation versus another and what are the highest impact ones and is that part of Green Town's role or charter. And I guess, if so, I'd love to hear that. And if not, then I guess with your personal hat on as someone deep in this stuff, how should one think about that as they're evaluating where to hunker down and build something?
Emily Reichert: So it's not really Green Town's role to, and I hate this phrase, but pick winners, so to speak. But I think there are big areas of GHG emission reduction that we should be thinking about and really putting our collective efforts behind. And these have been identified in places like the IPPC reports where you are talking about what are the big levers? I mean obviously industrial, heat in particular. So around making industry more efficient. Also, manufacturing in general, agriculture, transportation, electrifying many thing where it makes sense. There's also probably some role for carbon capture use and storage. I was kind of skeptical of that for many years but I feel like it's really bubbling up.
Jason Jacobs: Seems like we don't have a choice, right? Be emissions reduction can only take us so far and we need to pull carbon out because we've dug too deep a hole for ourselves.
Emily Reichert: Yeah and if you look at, again, IPCC reports, when they're looking at how do you get to the 1.5 degree mark without massively overshooting, they are including that as part of the solution and so I think that we should too. We don't actually have any companies working in that right now but we're thinking about how do stimulate, potentially, entrepreneurship in those areas? Because there certainly are technologies that are coming out of universities, or maybe not coming out of universities, that could be applied to that problem more broadly. So I guess I wouldn't say focus in any one area, I'd say focus in the areas that have been identified as the highest GHG reduction areas and there are experts well beyond me that have really looked closely at this. So I'd say Green Town wants to promote any and all technologies that would help us address those particular challenges.
Jason Jacobs: And given that you've been so close to so much clean tech innovation that's been happening, in your view what are the biggest barriers that have been holding it back, or said another way, what are the biggest things that could change that would unlock accelerating the trajectory of clean tech innovation?
Emily Reichert: So I think a traditional barrier and probably one that everyone would bring up is the lack of enthusiasm in the investor community for this type of innovation. And hey, I understand it makes sense. Hardware is not software and hardware is hard and it is more capital intense and energy in general is a hard sector. There's regulations, it's complicated, you need to know a lot in order to invest, but we really suffered after the 2006, '7 and '8 boom in everything green is good. I think there were some pretty questionable investments made at that time that then went south whenever the crisis happened. And then clean tech was labeled a bad word and we've been a bad area to invest in and we've been suffering from that ever since.
Emily Reichert: I think it's only within the last two to three years since the Paris Climate Agreement that we've seen, really some green shoots in the space of investors now looking at this a little bit differently than they used to. The climate crisis is upon us. You cannot argue with the heat waves that we are going through right now, with the big storms that are hitting every where. Temperature events that no one has ever seen before. Even if you don't believe in "climate change," you've got to say something is happening here, right?
Emily Reichert: I think for that reason and for the reason of the IPCC report being released last fall that said we have 10 years left, people are realizing that they need to put their money where their mouth is if we're really going to make a difference on this. So you have seen, at least in the past couple of years, big investors, folks with significant capital, step forward and do this in kind of a, not quite philanthropic but at least longer time view type of approach. So the Break Through Energy Coalition would be an example of that and their offshoot, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. I think you've interviewed the folks from Prime Coalition, Sarah Curney and Matt Norton and others who are thinking about this from how can you get philanthropic investors involved in this?
Emily Reichert: And then honestly I have seen several funds get raised that are strictly clean tech recently and there are folks that are oil and gas, so oil and gas climate initiative are another group that is trying to put money into this sector. So I'd say we've kind of gone full circle from, yay everything green is good in 2006-8 to everything green is bad and then now we're back to, let's do the smart thing. Let's invest in entrepreneurs that know how to be smart about their resources, are mores scrappy and let's bring smarter investors to the table who actually know something about energy, who have thought about this carefully. Let's have experts involved in making these decisions.
Emily Reichert: And so I think we're at a very different point than where we were 10 years ago and I'm very encouraged by that.
Jason Jacobs: And do you think that the right answer is to try to take the traditional venture capital asset class and educate them on why clean tech is the right fit for their dollars? Or is there a different type of asset class that should emerge and if so, what does that look like?
Emily Reichert: So I would not say I'm an expert on financial asset classes but I do-
Jason Jacobs: Nor am I, by the way.
Emily Reichert: I do think that the longer time frame for this type of, if we're going to go venture investment, we need to have a longer time frame. And you look at the Bill Gates initiative with Breakthrough Energy Ventures as well as the engine at MIT, both of them are doing basically venture investment but with a longer time scale that's more appropriate to energy and hardware type technology development. I mean if you're a software company, you can get in and out in three years or five years, whatever the investor normal lifetime is for that fund and it works. But if you are doing energy, maybe it takes you 10-12 years to get the thing to market under normal circumstances.
Emily Reichert: Now I'm not just saying that we should keep to those normal circumstances because clearly we don't have 10-12 years right now to figure this out. But I do think that there are new models that are needed. I think one of them, when you're talking about traditional venture investment is the longer time frame to expect those returns that ordinarily would have been expected in a much shorter time frame that doesn't really fit the energy space.
Jason Jacobs: And what about policy? So what's the role of policy in the climate fight and also is that a separate instinct set of activities from innovation? Or are they interrelated, interdependent?
Emily Reichert: So I think policy plays an important role to the extent that it can help create markets. And even policy and including regulations in that. A couple years ago I testified before the Senate committee on environment and public works and the topic was how do regulations help create businesses and jobs? That was my job as someone who was testifying to talk about that. And so I did a review of EPA and other regulations that the Obama administration had put together, or this body of work that they had created, which really was substantial and I had no idea until I actually did this testifying and research to know how much they had done.
Emily Reichert: But the point is that there were examples of companies at Green Town Labs I could point to that existed because of regulation. So for example, we have a company that is working on basically de-icing airplane wings. So right now that is done with chemicals that go right, if you are doing massive amounts of de-icing during a winter storm event, all these chemicals going right into the ground, right into the water if we're like Boston where the water and the end of the airport are basically the same thing, and they've come up with a way that they can avoid using chemicals entirely. Now since you have the regulation that is saying we want to reduce the amount of chemicals and we want to reduce that going into the environment, that is driving the creation of the market that airplane manufacturers actually need as a signal to adopt this new technology, which is going be better for the environment.
Emily Reichert: So I think there's examples where regulations and policy can be helpful in creating new markets that wouldn't exist. I mean that's the thing that everyone, most people that I work with, are very bolish on a carbon tax or carbon training. It's the same thing. It's creating a market signal that says, "Hey, you should be investing in X, not Y." And I think that is a very important signal for us to be moving forward faster. So in that sense I think that the policy piece is very important.
Jason Jacobs: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And some of these questions, I guess are leading in some way because bringing it back around to Green Town Labs, I'd love to talk a little bit about what the long vision is for Green Town Labs and how you're thinking about what kind of impact you can have beyond the impact that you're having today, which is substantial.
Emily Reichert: Again thank you and it's nice to know I have a fan in the room and that Green Town has a room because obviously it's an honor to be on this podcast amidst a lot of different leaders in this industry who are all fighting as passionately as we are here at Green Town Labs. So thank you for that. In terms of the long term impact, you know we really believe in trying to fight this and address this climate challenge and climate crisis through entrepreneurship and through technology development and through the uptake of that technology development into large companies where it can scale and be deployed at scale. And so I think that anything that Green Town does going forward will only double down on that particular paradigm, that mission, how we meet our mission.
Emily Reichert: So we are already exploring are there other sites around the country where there is a strong ecosystem that we could help the technology that's being developed there move forward faster into the hands of folks who are going to help scale it? We are also thinking about how do we really measure our GHG and the companies that we support GHG emissions reductions to make sure that they, and we, are optimizing towards that goal? And so I think you'll see some more work that we are doing. There are many good partners in this area who are trying to be better about quantifying GHG impact.
Jason Jacobs: I forgot to press you on that so thank you. I'm glad to hear you're doing that and that's a question I should have asked.
Emily Reichert: Yes. Well it's a hard question. And especially to do it for startups that are at the early stages and not to scale yet in terms of their impact. There's several good groups that are working on this and so we really just hope, as Green Town, to be able to benefit from that and apply it to our companies and therefore be more quantitative in how we actually can measure our impact relative to GHG emissions. So I think you'll see more of that from us, that we're more quantitative about it.
Emily Reichert: The final thing is I think we are trying to work not only locally here in the Boston area and nationally but internationally as well. We have many partners that we worked with and do work with in Europe and we continue to try to build that network around the world so that our companies can help get their technology really wherever in the world it needs to be in order to have an impact. Because it may or may not be the most impactful to create more technology for the American market, or even the European market. Are there other places where we're talking about energy access questions, where energy access could be done in one way or another? How do we make sure that that's the lower carbon, lower cost way? So that's, I think, something that you'll see Green Town looking at in the future.
Jason Jacobs: So I'm going to try to pair it back to you, what I think I just heard just to make sure I understand it right. So I think what you're saying is that innovation is only one piece of the climate puzzle but it's a very important piece and it's one that it has not nearly fulfilled it's full potential and that from a Green Town standpoint, it is integrated with some other areas but that Green Town is really going to double and triple down on innovation not only to help that flourish here in the Boston/Summerville area but also looking at that on a national and potentially global scale as well because if you figure out a model that works for innovation here, there's talent everywhere. And so taking that model and helping innovation throughout the world is the biggest impact that Green Town can play in the climate fight. Did I get that right?
Emily Reichert: Amen.
Jason Jacobs: Awesome. And that's exciting as well. So given that, anyone that's listening that says, "Yes, we need more innovation and yes, Green Town's mission is awesome and we want to help them in any way that we can," what are the biggest things holding Green Town back?
Emily Reichert: Oh goodness. What are the biggest things holding Green Town back? The things that come to mind are space and more space. We are currently filled to capacity in our laboratory space. So anyone got some extra real estate lying around Summerville that they want to give up? We'd be knocking at your door for additional help. I mean we can always use more resources to support the companies and the work that they do here. So if you are sitting on the sidelines thinking, "Oh I may be interested in helping with this climate thing but I'm not really sure how to deploy my resources or any funds that I might be ... Oh I could be an angel investor." Hey, come talk to us and we could plug you in with people that know what they're doing and help you deploy that capital in a smart way. Because it is not the time to sit on the sidelines. So whether you're interested in supporting a mission based organization or you're interested in investing in companies, there are a ton of different ways you could get involved and we invite you to come and talk to us and participate in the discussion and be part of the community that supports these entrepreneurs.
Emily Reichert: There's also expertise, right? There are a ton of different expertise areas that are entrepreneurs and the community in general that is trying to address this climate crisis needs. And we welcome that. We welcome you coming in and saying, "Hey, I'd love to help X company or I'd like to help in this area, I have this expertise." Please come, bring expertise, bring time, bring money, bring all the things that we need in order to really address this climate crisis.
Jason Jacobs: So if I'm an entrepreneur and I have a company and I'm trying to figure out if Green Town's the right home for me, what's your message for them? How should they know if they're a fit?
Emily Reichert: Well first and foremost you need to be beyond the idea stage. Os we only accept incorporated companies and we like you to have some investment from the outside. We don't do investment here. We help introduce you to investors so we want to see that you've already got some seed angel investment, that you've already been through an accelerator program, that you have already had some outside validation. We want you to be able to make use of our resources here. So you have to really demonstrate to us that you're excited about being a part of a community. It's not really just about the lab space and the office space. It's about helping and supporting and taking support from fellow entrepreneurs.
Emily Reichert: And then you really need to be thinking about things in a big way. We are looking for companies and entrepreneurs who are trying to solve a really big challenge that is going to help address climate or environment in some way that's meaningful. So that is pretty clear, even in our application, we have a question that-
Jason Jacobs: So there's actually an application?
Emily Reichert: Oh yes. Yes. So Green Town Labs has an application. If anyone is interested in joining Green Town Labs you can go and check it out on our website. It is several pages long at this point but we are basically asking you about your business model, who your customers are, so kind of a basic business plan. How much money you've raised from where and then also how would you use the resources from Green Town Labs? So there's a pretty detailed questionnaire about your laboratory needs and in terms of how many companies we bring through a year.
Emily Reichert: So we are all the time, probably monitoring about 500 companies. We encourage about 100 to apply every year and then we probably accept about half of those. And so that's roughly 10% of the pool that we're looking at at any one time. So right now with being incredibly full, it's a little bit challenging to get in but we encourage you to apply anyway. Get in line and we are excited to see that application.
Jason Jacobs: And so what about the big corporate? So if I'm from a big corporate, I'm trying to figure out if Green Town's the right fit and how I might engage, what's the pitch?
Emily Reichert: So if you are a big corporate partner, we want to first know what is your goal relative to climate, relative to innovation? And then we try to work with you on how it is that you can participate in the Green Town Labs community? What technology areas are you interested in and what stage of companies are you interested in? And based on that we will develop, with you, a customized program to help you meet your goals and to help you access the innovation community not only here at Green Town Labs but also, more broadly, nationally and globally.
Jason Jacobs: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And so is it an immersive sponsorship type opportunity?
Emily Reichert: Yes. So depending on the resources that you have on the ground here at Green Town Labs, or in the US, we have lots of different options. So we have an advisory board that you can participate in that meets quarterly and that's really a group of open innovation leaders that discuss anything from what their individual strategies are to helping and supporting companies that are new to Green Town Labs. So that's one way to participate. But we also invite corporates to be here on a daily basis and truly be immersed in the community.
Emily Reichert: So we have several companies that have desks here at Green Town Labs. We even have large corporations who have lab space here at Green Town Labs. And some of that is open to the community in order to have, say, an engineer from Sanco Bain help you with using a test facility that's been constructed on Green Town Lab's site in order for testing to happen for building envelope materials. So there's many different models, I'd say we are very flexible but we need to know that, really at a high level, your impact is front and center aligned with our mission and our company's mission.
Jason Jacobs: So what about from a mentorship standpoint? If I am an operating executive or entrepreneur or a scientist, how do I know if the types of companies at Green Town are the right fit for me and if I have skills that would be valuable?
Emily Reichert: So in terms of mentorship, this is a little bit of a challenging one but what I'd encourage you to do is share with us. We have a form on our website that is basically volunteering for providing expertise to our community and it's going to depend on, at some points we have a need for a certain expertise. So we're basically kind of bringing together a bit cohort of mentors that then will be called out and utilized at some time when that particular expertise is needed.
Emily Reichert: The other thing that we're working on doing though is setting up what we call our experts in residence program. And that is going to be a cohort of about 20 experts who are in areas that we see common needs for entrepreneurs. Some will be general business experts but some will be experts in utility, in various different verticals that will be very important to Green Town Labs entrepreneurs being successful. And that's a program you'll see an application coming out for in the very near future.
Jason Jacobs: Awesome. So two final questions. One is, this is not a Green Town specific question, this is back to general climate, we've been kind of ping ponging back and forth. So if someone had $100 billion and they gave it to you with the condition that it had to be allocated towards the climate fight in a way that you felt would be most impactful, where would you put it and how would you allocate it?
Emily Reichert: So I would say put that funding into early stage companies as well as to deploying what is already available as well as to building a pipeline. So you can talk about how do we get a generation of entrepreneurs and folks that are smart, that are talented, that are educated to really focus on this industry? I think that is a big place where I'd like to spend capital. Then you think about how do you take them from their entrepreneur journey, from the point when they might be a student with an idea to someone that could really impactfully bring a technology to market? So that takes some training and that takes some education and that takes a community. All of those steps really need to be supported and subsidized. Then you need funding and support to work with organizations that can help that technology scale.
Emily Reichert: And then finally you need funding for deploying project finance and other pathways of how capital is deployed in order to really make sure that that technology is being deployed at scale as quickly as possible.
Jason Jacobs: Got it. So it sounds like almost mapping out the steps of taking innovation from day zero to full deployment and then allocating those dollars across that portfolio in ways that make sure that it is optimized. And last question, so we have a mix of listeners. So some of them are insiders that maybe focus on one slice of the climate fight and want to understand more broadly what's going on across the landscape of deep decarbonization, others are people of varying degrees of knowledge from none to a fair amount but that are doing other things but care about climate and want to understand the problem better and how to help. So I guess speaking to either one of those or both, what advice do you have for people that just want to play a bigger role and are trying to sort through what their lane should be?
Emily Reichert: The first thing I'd say is I would advise them to follow in your footsteps. I would advise them to learn as much as possible about what the real challenge is, to follow how this is covered in the media. And when it's not covered in the media, to complain. To try to raise these issues among colleagues who maybe have so much on their plates they can't deal with this right now and there's this climate thing out here and I just really can't think about that. Have conversations so that there are more and more people who are choosing their elected representatives based on whether or not those representatives are accurately addressing the climate crisis that we face. Because if they're not, they shouldn't be in office. This is that existential.
Emily Reichert: So I'd say learn and then communicate and then act on what you, based on what talent, based on what opportunity, based on what time you can spend on this. If all you can do is vote, vote. Right? That is a thing that everyone in at least the US who's a citizen can do to take your values and what you think is important to the ballot box and make sure that we're believing and supporting people that actually are addressing and prioritizing this challenge.
Emily Reichert: So you can do a lot just by being knowledgeable, understanding and communicating.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah and I think that's an important message for people to hear because there's a lot of people that think, well I'm not in a position where I can drop everything. Or I don't want to. I love my career, I don't want to drop everything and go focus on this but there's so many degrees and there's a lot of different ways that you can help from very small things to very big things. And it's just a question of investing the time to figure out how but the answers are there and you'll find them.
Emily Reichert: Yeah. And I think it can be as simple as just sharing a story, an experience. What was it like when you were growing up in Massachusetts in 1950s or '60s compared to what it's like today? Have you seen a difference? Share that on Facebook. Right? Share your stories. If you've come across information, a way to very clearly talk about the climate crisis, share that in your social media stream. Help other people understand what's going on. Because it shouldn't be just these ... Those of us who are very engaged in this area, we understand, we're trying to spend our lives and careers doing this. But it's not us who are going to ultimately make the difference in the way that if we are able to all raise our voices, if we're able to all come together and really say this is important to us, this is an existential crisis and we need to address it, that's where the power's going to come from. It's got to be the whole country saying this together.
Emily Reichert: And I have to say, when you look at polls, you see that steadily, slowly but surely, that climate issue is rising up. And sometimes it's 70-80% of people saying that is issue number one or two. Let's make that 100%. That's what we need to do.
Jason Jacobs: All right. Well I think that's a great, inspiring point to end on and a rallying cry. So Emily, thanks so much for coming on the show and for all the work that you're doing. And I wish you and Green Town Labs every success.
Emily Reichert: Thank you. It's been such a pleasure.
Jason Jacobs: Hey everyone, Jason here. Thanks again for joining me on My Climate Journey. If you'd like to learn more about the journey, you can visit us at myclimatejourney.co. Note, that is .co, not .com. Someday we'll get the .com but right now, .co. You can also find me on Twitter at @JJacobs22 where I would encourage you to share your feedback on the episode or suggestions for future guests you'd like to hear. And before I let you go, if you enjoyed the show, please share an episode with a friend or consider leaving a review on iTunes. The lawyers made me say that. Thank you.