Antenna had the honor of sponsoring Cleantech Forum in San Francisco last week. As the premier gathering of investors, entrepreneurs and corporates, Cleantech Forum is a “Super Bowl” of cleantech, with investors in search of the carbon-cutting, money-making superstars of tomorrow. With Super Bowl 50 right around the corner—and Super Bowl City literally around the corner from the Antenna SF offices—a long-form analogy to pro football is clearly the only way to go.

At my first Cleantech Forum in 2012, the mood was glum. Deals were down. The stock market was surging, but cleantech investment was stifled like a jayvee quarterback facing Lawrence Taylor. It seemed as if a small rain cloud followed around each and every attendee, steadily drizzling sadness. The kind of mood that makes you want to take your ball and go home.

What a difference four years can make! This year, the mood at Cleantech Forum was borderline fanatic. After years of playing defense against traditional markets, cleantech is mounting a strong drive right up the middle.

Boosted by the COP-21 agreement, the Clean Power Plan, the ITC extension and the Supreme Court’s support of demand response, the forum’s crowd of investors and entrepreneurs was in victory formation. The cleantech fan base has been reassured that clean innovation isn’t a passing fancy—like the ’09 Cardinals—but a proven Peyton Manning-caliber force that will reshape the country and economy.

My favorite part of Cleantech Forum is meeting exciting “rookie” companies that are bringing scifi technology to market. A few personal favorites from this year include:

  • HARBO Technologies provides a new take on oil spill remediation. According to HABRO, oil spills travel at 25 miles per day. Cutting off oil spills fast are critical, and HARBO comes with a built-in boat to load right onto tankers for immediate response.
  • RayVio uses highly efficient UV light to kill bacteria in everything from water to healthcare facilities. Reminded me of a recent New Yorker article on the transformative impact of Purell on hospital safety.
  • Why heat a whole room when you really just need to heat one person? Tempronics offers smarter and more efficient personal heating and cooling, which can make a wide-ranging impact on energy use, carbon emissions and even electric car range.
  • Onyx Solar bakes solar cells into window glass, marking one of the most incredible two-way plays since Deion Sanders.
  • It’s innovation like this that has us dancing in the end zone!

Many of the best moments took place in impromptu hallway meetings and introductions over lunch, the dozens of small interactions that move the chains with fresh smarts and connections. That said, a few big plays stood out for the highlight reel:

  • Eric Wesoff of Greentech Media directly challenged his interviewee, the impressive Maryrose Sylvester of GE’s Current, to be more interesting than the previous speakers. Maryrose not only powered through Eric’s arm tackle, but also mapped out a thoughtful overview of GE’s innovation-driven transition to deliver outcomes rather than services.
    Andrew Beebe from Obvious Ventures rallied the crowd to the death of coal and a call to start thinking about solar in terms of terawatts, not gigawatts.
  • I heard stories about direct line between solar deployment in Africa and social improvement from the d.light CEO. Amazing what a solar light can do to help kids read safely at night (no smelly, dangerous kerosene required).
  • A fond farewell to outgoing Cleantech Forum CEO Sheeraz Haji, who has been a lively MC at Cleantech Forum and a brilliant connector. We’ll miss you, coach.

I was also delighted that seven Antenna clients were picked to the proverbial Cleantech Pro Bowl for their impact on the markets. GlassPoint, Stem, FATHOM were selected for the Global Cleantech 100 list; Cambrian Innovation and PV Nano Cell were named to the Ones to Watch list; and Lehigh Technologies and Primus Green Energy were included in the Under the Radar list.

It’s hard not to get excited about the future of clean energy, but for once it felt like attendees could actually enjoy victories today. To keep a tortured analogy going past its prime, I had the palpable sense that the biggest names in cleantech are daring to believe that the industry isn’t in drafting and rebuilding mode—but already has a strong team ready to win now.
Here’s to a long-delayed celebration of cleantech that so many entrepreneurs and investors richly deserve. Enjoy the big game!

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