Ahead of this year’s CleanEquity Monaco, we spoke to its co-founder Mungo Park, and Andrew Jack, Partner at Covington & Burling law firm, to bring you an insider’s opinion on how to get started in the industry. 

From 22 to 23 July, Monaco will host the 14th edition of CleanEquity, a private conference to connect emerging sustainable technologies with a global audience of strategic, financial, sovereign, corporate and family investors, key industry decision-makers, government officials, academia, and international trade media.

Every year since 2008, up to 30 shortlisted companies are invited to Monaco to present their technologies and ideas with the aim of securing investments, establishing new partners and collaborations, and raising their international profile. Over the years, the 350+ CleanEquity companies have gone on to raise over two billion dollars. 

A start-up needs to have expert advice in all the discipline areas that are necessary for going forward.

Yet, the path from beginning start-up to company worth millions can be long and arduous. The key question therefore is: how do the companies shortlisted by CleanEquity get started in the first place? Here is what makes an emerging company tick, according to veterans in the field.  

1. A good dose of expertise

“A start-up needs to have expert advice in all the discipline areas that are necessary for going forward,” stresses Mungo Park, chairman of Innovator Capital and co-founder of CleanEquity. So, when it comes to Cleantech, there is little way around it: the founder is most likely going to be a scientist. “Afterall, the idea has to come from somewhere.”  

Scientific knowledge, however, is not the only key to success. Corporate and financial knowledge, explains Mungo Park, as well as a good legal team are fundamental to an emerging company’s success (see point five). 

You don’t even have to call it gender balance. I would call it representation of the world.

2. A balanced team

For both experts, a good team is a matter of diversity. Gender balance is one aspect.  “You don’t even have to call it gender balance. I would call it representation of the world,” says Mungo Park. “It needs to be distributed throughout the structure, not just the board and executive team.”

For Andrew Jack of Covington & Burlington, diversity means a wide range of experience within the company. “Emerging companies generally benefit from boards that bring to the table diverse expertise, industry and commercialization experience, technology savvy, seasoned judgment and over-the-horizon foresight.”  

Once the company grows, the question of stakeholder distribution must also be considered. “Boards comprised of members that balance interests of key stakeholders with a shared commitment to the company’s strategy and stated goals, rather than boards that are dominated by a single stakeholder’s objective, will tend to guide in the best interests of the company,” stresses Andrew Jack.

If you have a product that can only be used in Monaco, it will be difficult to find funding and you typically have to turn to non-profits for help.

3. A convincing product 

According to Mungo Park, the factors that make a product convincing are rather straightforward. “The product has to work, and it has to be protectable through know-how, trade secrets or patents,” he explains. The product must also be needed, which is crucial to secure funding. “If you have a product that can only be used in Monaco, it will be difficult to find funding and you typically have to turn to non-profits for help. Investors will be looking for a product that can be used on a global scale in both developed and developing countries.”  

There is also the question of the price of the product, which must be worked out before investors come in. “You absolutely have to have a business plan before investors sign with you; and if you price something sensibly, you’ll move it more quickly.”

Funding is the most critical success factor because it enables all else.

When asked what makes a company successful, Andrew Jack speaks of a wow-factor. “The companies that are the most successful tend to be led by inspiring and determined leaders who present innovative, elegant and scalable solutions to widespread problems by either disrupting existing well-developed markets or by creating and setting explosive demand trajectories for wholly new markets.  You know these companies when you see them and immediately exclaim “aha” or “wow.””

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4. Funding 

“Funding is the most critical success factor because it enables all else,” stresses Andrew Jack. “To borrow from Tom Wolfe in The Right Stuff, “No bucks … no Buck Rogers.” 

So, how does one get funding, you ask? “Well, first, you need the team, the technology and the market potential,” explains Mungo Park, “otherwise you’re not getting any money.” Funding comes either from investors, or as mentioned before, from non-profits. Mungo Park also points out that it can be much trickier to fund the beginning stages of a new company, as expert consultancy can come with a significant cost. 

Andrew Jack describes legal matters as “a chronic challenge” for companies, especially emerging ones.

One way to get over the research financial hurdle, Mungo Park suggests, is to reach out to universities. “They can be a good place to start because they have specialised departments, which assist and fund student, or staff-led emerging companies. This is one of the funding gaps that we aim to fill. Right now, it all takes too long.” 

The winners of Clean Equity 2020: OrganoClick, Metron, and Olombria.

Legal challenges can make or break a company, especially when it comes to questions of intellectual property, confidentiality, and non-competition.  “Deficiencies in these areas can vex fundraising efforts,” stresses Andrew Jack. While investors can step in to provide financial support, Andrew Jack describes legal matters as “a chronic challenge” for companies, especially emerging ones.

“In an increasingly regulated and interconnected world, new laws and extraterritorial application of government policies can present unexpected and potentially show stopping obstacles,” he explains. “Also beware of hidden strings that are attached to grants and other sources of seemingly “free” money or to research and development collaborations with universities or government agencies.”  

CleanEquity Monaco 2021 will take place on 22 and 23 July at Monte-Carlo’s Hotel Fairmont.

The full conference can be streamed live on EarthX.

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