WSJ had a nice section recently on understanding entrepreneurs, Why Washington Has It Wrong on Small Business. In it, Professor Aaron Chatterji from Duke talks about how job growth comes from high-growth, not low-growth startups (companies younger than 5 years old). This insight mistakes hindsight for foresight but, more importantly, it puts the entrepreneurial cart before the horse.
Efforts to bring electric vehicles to market are stumbling—electric car maker Fisker Automotive just recalled all 2,400 of its plug-in hybrid cars; Electric Vehicle battery maker A123 is being acquired by Chinese parts supplier Wanxiang Group; Tesla's CEO says the next six months will decide their fate. It's a good time to point out that not all disruptive innovation is good, and not all good innovation is disruptive.
General Electric has just introduced its new Durathon molten salt battery. The battery illustrates the unique challenges of developing sustaining innovations - and particularly the Faster, Better, Cheaper challenge I've described earlier. In doing so, it offers insights for both innovators and policy makers pursuing similar efforts. (to read more on The Hargadon Files, follow the link)
Just finished reading The Responsible Company, the second business book by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. His first, Let My People Surfing, laid out Chouinard’s personal path and the company’s history before spending the bulk of the book on the business philosophy of the small (roughly $400M) outdoor gear and apparel company. This second book establishes Chouinard’s voice and leadership in the new sustainable business movement—though he and co-author Vincent Stanley are quick to point out there’s no such thing as a truly ‘sustainable’ business.
If you’re thinking about starting something—or re-orienting your existing something—towards what matters to you, this book belongs on the stack on your desk. It’s a perfectly-timed counterbalance to the Jobs biography.
Working with the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, I’ve just completed an study of companies that have already successfully developed and launched new low-carbon strategic initiatives. The resulting report, “The Business of Innovating: Bringing Low-Carbon Solutions to Market,” was released today. The study documents the challenges and best practices to inform other businesses developing their own low-carbon innovation strategies. Innovation is challenging regardless of company or industry but, as the study found, low-carbon innovation has distinct challenges—and requires particular capabilities—that reflect the distinct nature of the technologies, opportunities, and environments involved.
The Solyndra debacle raises significant questions about how to best pursue a clean tech revolution. As I argued before, most of these questions will go ignored in the scramble for political advantage but several others are raising the same questions (E.G., Real Solyndra Scandal). A good post by Bruce Krasting actually brings testimony from an engineer with Solyndra that makes the company look very much like any other venture-capital backed business—consuming cash as fast as possible to grow as quickly as possible to meet a rapidly closing window of opportunity.
In particular, the Department of Energy’s recent loan guarantee program, through which Solyndra received its loan guarantees. has backstopped roughly $2 billion to venture-capital backed clean tech startups with the honorable motive of fostering a clean tech revolution. In a search for means to foster a clean tech revolution, the Obama Administration made venture capital a cornerstone of its energy policy. Yet, despite venture capital’s leading role in clean technology this past decade, we don’t really know when it works well and, as importantly, when it doesn’t.
Last spring, my colleague Martin Kenney and I completed a research paper that looked at the boundary conditions underlying venture capital’s success and its appropriateness in pursuing a clean tech revolution: "Misguided Policy: Following Venture Capital into Clean Technology." The paper looked directly at the funding of Solyndra, Tesla, and other new ventures. It is forthcoming in California Management Review but, given the circumstance, wanted to introduce it here.
Two particular articles in today's NYT provide a nice comparison between investing for innovation in greentech versus internet startups.