I’m going to take a departure from directly blogging on cleantech to comment about a trend that I am seeing. Tech refugees are trying to move into cleantech. I know this because I get contacted a couple of times each week by friends, acquaintances, friends of acquaintances and outright strangers asking for job leads.
I have to admit that the idea isn’t so bad. Some of the better cleantech entrepreneurs that I’ve run across had earlier successes in information technology. So then, what does it take to succeed in cleantech?
As readers of my earlier blog entries know, cleantech is really two very different fields of business depending on what you are trying to accomplish. The first type of cleantech business is product or service development. This can be very similar to IT start ups and some cleantech start ups ARE IT startups – use of software to address the pain that businesses or individuals feel when they try to make more use of cleaner technologies.
The second type of cleantech business is that of a project. Projects generally make use of established technologies to provide a clean/cleaner commodity or service. Projects must stand on their own two feet financially and are often developed by a small group of experts who understand the waste remediation, clean water, renewable energy or whatever commodity they intend to supply.
Which is the easier field to break into? As in many things, it depends. Cleantech project developers often need lots of help creating their project and keeping it on track. They rarely have any money to pay people until all the plans are finalized and the big money has signed on to pay for construction. The big money doesn’t tend to come on board until:
1. Comprehensive project business plan is written
2. A site has been obtained or controlled by option
3. Raw materials, feedstock or other inputs are locked up for a lengthy period
4. A proven conversion/production technology provider selected
5. Firm contracting for the output of the plant is obtained with a multi-year duration
6. Feasibility study has been written
7. Key permits obtained or other elimination of the risk of intervention by major 3rd parties
A smart job seeker will see numerous places where his or her business skills will readily transfer into this space. Did I mention that independent project developers generally don’t have any money to pay for people to do this work?
Paydays for project developers come few and far between but they can be large. It isn’t unusual for a small development team of a handful of people to split up a 7 figure developers’ fee upon closing of long term finance of the project. By that time, the big value-add opportunities are over and the salaried, more mundane (but no less difficult) jobs emerge of build it well and run it cheaply. You have to have deep pockets to play this game.
The cleantech product company is quite different from this and will be much more familiar to the IT veteran. These companies often get their start from venture capital. They need to build and sell early, imperfect models of what they’d ultimately like to make and they need to cultivate their customers across the continuum as Geoffrey Moore has so well described in “Crossing the Chasm.”
So if this is so familiar, shouldn’t it be an easy transition? Yes and no. The challenge here is that in these tight money times, no one wants to pay you to learn. That means that cleantech start-ups are looking for either domain expertise for the markets they serve or technology expertise with the tools to be used in making their products.
Like most industries, cleantech fields have their own jargon and nomenclature. I recommend doing whatever you can to get familiar with the industry segment that you want to break into. Having a common language with practitioners in a field is a key element to creating rapport with them. Having rapport is key to gaining consideration of you as a candidate.
So, once you are ready, where do you find leads? Not in the places where most people look. Monster, Hot Jobs, even Craig’s list will from time to time show openings that you feel qualified for and interested in. By the time the opening is in public view, it’s a job-hunter donnybrook.
HR is fully engaged in weeding out as many resumes as possible to minimize intrusion on company management. Since they are not necessarily domain experts, they may resort to buzz word bingo on your resume. You tout your knowledge of polycrystalline silicon power generation technologies but get overlooked because they only want people with “photovoltaic” experience.
The point is that if you are looking for a job in cleantech, especially trying to transition into cleantech from another field, you need to network like crazy. Find the events where people go who are already in the industry. Career counseling is way beyond the scope of this blog but lots of help can be found around the general topic of career transitions.
With so much excitement around cleantech, every metropolitan area will have events, trade shows and promotional organizations springing up on the topic. Be a volunteer! Angel groups, business plan competitions, economic development seminars and so on. Get involved. Learn who the shakers and movers are. Get some recognition for yourself. Become a mover and shaker.
I am convinced that we are on the leading edge of a massive wave of cleantech employment. Riding that wave, like surfing will require that you get out where the big waves are, be prepared when your chance comes and at the right time paddle like heck and be read to ride.