Our Stories

Feb 01, 2021

More than a cheque! Relationships are key to cleantech development funding


Technology developers received valuable insight into navigating the often turbulent funding waters at a webinar hosted by the Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN) Water Technology Theme Area on January 21.

Presentations from a variety of funders (Sustainable Development Technology Canada, Evok Innovations, Alberta Innovates and BDC) discussed how and when to access financial support whether on the shores of early research, in the depths of preparing for commercialization, or anywhere in between.

Clear hope for entrepreneurs and research technology organizations was found among the guidance provided, including the desire and willingness of funders to share a wealth of experience along with financial support; broad definitions for cleantech (in short, ‘Yes, your project likely qualifies!’); and the growing demand among investors for cleantech innovation.

Entrepreneurs and organizations in research and technology development are not often trained in the art of business management. Making use of the experience and resources readily available within many funding organizations can make an enormous impact on your project and the speed of its development.

“We support cleantech entrepreneurs with capital, coaching and customers in order to build productive and meaningful companies with a solid capital base so they can stand on their own within the larger [global] marketplace,” said Robert Allen, VP, Investments, Evok Innovations.

While there is a lot of interest in cleantech development among funders now, it’s important to do your homework to know which one is the best fit for your project.

“Be sure your project matches the priorities of the funder,” says Brett Purdy, Executive Director, Environmental Innovation, Alberta Innovates. “For example, we have line of site in our R&D and technology development portfolios on environmental impact. So we look for how applicants are positioned to advance technologies capable of reducing the industrial footprint through reduced GHG emissions, improved water use, enhanced aquatic ecosystem health, or accelerated restoration.”

Funders are continuously evolving their programs to respond to market needs, which is creating additional opportunities for green tech developers. Rustam Sengupta, Investment Lead, Sustainable Development Technology Canada, outlined a new seed fund of smaller (<$100,000) grants for earlier stage companies. “This program allows us to start to build a relationship early with the company so as the technology develops we are better able to support and smooth their applications at later stages when they are applying for larger amounts,” says Sengupta.

Those relationships and support are extremely valuable in later stages of project development, when funding structures can be varied and complex. “We provide flexible, patient, creative capital solutions to accelerate growth and help to commercialize,” says Cheri Corbett, Director, Cleantech Practice, BDC. “Once you’re at the working pilot stage and have proven commercial traction, we invest in the parent company to help make that happen. Grant funding is not sufficient at this stage.”

Zac Young, COO of H2nanO, shared his company’s funding journey for the development and scale-up of SolarPass™: a passive, sunlight-activated water and emissions treatment process. He says diverse funding and partnerships were both key for H2nanO when matched to the appropriate stages of development.

“Developing relationships with your customers early in the process is also important,” said Young. “Those conversations ultimately determine what is or is not going to work and scale, which helps you focus on the features that are going to be commercially valued and successful.”

CRIN members can access more panelist insights, lessons learned from H2NanO and audience Q&A on our Resources page including:

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