A New Lens on Climate Innovation in the Northeast

By Alistair Pim, NECEC VP of Innovation & Partnerships

At NECEC, we support cleantech entrepreneurs through two signature programs, Cleantech Open Northeast, an accelerator for early stage cleantech startups, and Cleantech Navigate, which connects later stage startups to investors, corporate partners and other resources. But this work only allows us to see a piece of the pie when it comes to the Northeast cleantech ecosystem - we’ve never been sure of how big that pie is. Now, with the help of the Asper Center for Global Entrepreneurship at the Brandeis International Business School, we are excited to share a report that provides the Northeast cleantech innovation community a better understanding of our region’s cleantech innovation ecosystem, the variety of sectors cleantech innovators are working in, and the diversity of talent within the cleantech community.

The report, “Climate Innovation in the Northeast, 2000-2020,” is based on data from nearly 500 startups. Some key takeaways from the report include:  

  • One-sixth of cleantech company leaders are women. This share has been growing over time, and of companies founded in the last five years, 25% are led by women.
  • In the last 20 years, an average of 22% of company leaders belonged to an ethnic minority. This share has also grown over time, reaching 30% in the last five years.
  • Climate startups are concentrated in Greater Boston and New York City, but there is an even spread of companies based in all states within the region.
  • The pace of new company formation rose rapidly between 2005 and 2010. From 2010 onward, the pace of new company formation remained high, with moderate ups and downs.
  • A handful of companies lead in both funding and patenting in each climate innovation sector.

A recurring criticism of the clean energy industry has been that it is largely a field dominated by white male workers. What excites me most in this report is that it reveals the field is opening up to a wider range of people, including to more women and more people of color.

Climate change is an existential threat that needs everyone’s involvement, particularly if we are going to turn the tide and keep temperature rise down below the level agreed to in the Paris Agreement. This report gives me hope that our cleantech ecosystem in the Northeast is attracting a diverse talent pool, and that this diversity of background and experiences will help us find  innovative solutions to our climate challenges. There is plenty of work left to do to attract an increasingly diverse workforce to the cleantech community and ensure the sector embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion principles. But you can’t manage what you can’t measure, and this report gives us a benchmark from which we can grow our efforts.

I want to thank Professor Benjamin Gomes-Casseres at Brandeis for his partnership on this report, and for his rigorous scientific approach to gathering and sorting through this information to provide new insights. It will keep us busy thinking up new ways to support the entrepreneurs and I hope it inspires others to do the same. I encourage you to read the report in full here, and reach out to us with any questions, comments, or suggestions.

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Alistair Pim

Alistair Pim is NECEC's Vice President, Innovation & Partnerships.