How to Grow a Cleantech Cluster

The green revolution is not evenly dispersed. The companies that are revolutionizing how we drive, produce electricity, and build often stick together in specific locales forming cleantech clusters.   As old industries struggle, cities are building up their emerging cleantech clusters as new centers of economic growth.  San Diego is one of the cities vying for a position in the cleantech revolution with government, schools, businesses, and other groups all helping to make it happen. 

 

San Diego has beaches, sunny weather, and Seaworld, but that’s not all.  San Diego has world class universities and research centers, and strong biotech and hi-tech business communities.  It has a unique asset in the San Diego Zoo, a world class institution that educates and inspires innovation.  San Diego also has a city government that sees cleantech as an important opportunity for future economic growth.  All of this has helped to attract over 279 cleantech companies to the city (June 2009 data compiled by CleanTECH San Diego).

 

Cleantech clusters don’t develop in a vacuum – they are shaped and grown by their local environment, including the efforts of government at all levels.  Jacques Chirazi is the Program Manager of the Cleantech Initiative in the Mayor’s Office for the City of San Diego.  His job is to help green companies get started in San Diego, and attract new ones by making the startup process as quick and easy as he can. 

 

At the September 22, 2009 meeting of the Eco Investment Club, Chirazi described how he can help businesses interact with the city, acting as their “project manager”.  Walking the halls at City Hall and collaborating with the local business community, he expedites processes from permits to partnerships.  “I’m also helping to create the policies that help cleantech companies in San Diego, and create demand for their products,” says Chirazi.

 

One example of the policies the City of San Diego is working on is implementation of funding for green initiatives for renewable energy and energy efficiency in homes, based on AB 811.  AB 811 provides for cities in California to fund home projects like renewable energy, creating special tax assessments on homes and allowing homeowners to pay back the money over a long period of time through their property taxes.  Creative funding like this removes one of the biggest reservations homeowners have about green projects – the initial cost. Already started in Palm Desert and Berkeley, AB 811 based funding is being adopted by more towns in California like San Diego.  San Diego is working to scale up this financing method for solar and energy efficiency projects in homes, and to expand to include projects like fuel cells and water conservation in the future.  As the demand for solar power and energy efficiency increases from these efforts, local businesses that meet this demand will also benefit.

 

The City of San Diego is also supporting innovation with efforts like the Biomimicry Symposium they are partnering to support with the San Diego Zoo and the Biomimicry Institute October 1-2.  Biomimicry looks at how living organisms in nature solve common problems like saving water or protecting themselves, and then finds ways to adapt nature’s solutions for innovative industrial applications.  Qualcomm, a sponsor of the symposium, has developed its innovative mirasol display for phones based on how butterfly wings and peacock feathers produce colors, for example. 

 

With initiatives like this, bringing together researchers and business people, San Diego can generate the next generation of businesses commercializing more innovations like this, driving economic growth for decades to come.  For the city, efforts like this should have a bright future and a big payoff.

 

Glenn Croston is the founder of StartingUpGreen.com, helping entrepreneurs and small businesses to start and grow greener businesses, and delivering the Green BizBlast to connect those seeking and selling green products, services, events, and opportunities. He is also the author of "75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference", and the author of "Starting Green", a nuts and bolts guide to starting and growing a successful green business (Entrepreneur Press, September 2009).

[Image: Flickr user Michael in San Diego, California]

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