OUR GREAT MINDS

Sheeraz Haji, CEO of Cleantech Group

Sheeraz Haji

CEO of Cleantech Group

In an exclusive interview with The OGM, Haji ponders the evolution of energy technology, its growing value, industry prospects, and the important role of corporates.

Haji says, “Cleantech has experienced some tough times. A decade ago, it was still emerging as a theme. Big investment firms were moving into the space and making significant allocations of capital. Startups were immature and big companies were not yet engaged in the space. When I arrived at Cleantech Group, I refocused our team on innovative corporates. We are now working with Total, BP, Shell, Aramco, Cenovus, Suncor, and Schlumberger, among others.”

Deciding not to go to Harvard Business School, he chose instead to study environmental engineering at Brown and Stanford. Following this, he made the strategic decision to leave a secure position to launch an early-stage startup (Digital Impact), eventually landing at Cleantech Group in 2009.

He shares his insight about the challenges of entrepreneurs today, and believes that his knowledge in this area has enhanced his abilities as a C-level executive. “Managing a young company on very little cash … successfully bootstrapping an emerging business have taught me invaluable lessons to prioritize what’s truly important to a business.”

While there are challenges in aligning cleantech startups with larger corporates, new partnerships are forming at an increasing rate (with deal data tracked in Cleantech Group’s i3 data platform).

“Some environmentalists would prefer to not work with oil and gas companies,” explains Haji, who counters that oil and gas executives often have reservations about engaging with segments of the cleantech industry. These differences typically stem from misaligned perspectives on how businesses operate successfully, and represent a gap that Cleantech Group is working hard to close.

Cleantech Group is making insteps into oil and gas. In their recent report “Partnering with Corporates: An Important but Complicated Aspect of Growing Cleantech Companies,” the company shows that out of the top ten most active corporate investors, three were oil and gas companies. Haji is proud of his ability to bridge cleantech and the oil and gas industry with Suncor, Total, Aramco, and others as clients. He affirms that oil and gas companies have key roles to play:

  • Fund companies.
  • Participate in pilots.
  • Scale and validate technologies.

On the macro level, several factors are driving change:

  • Natural gas is plentiful and cheap in North America, creating competition for other energy technologies, such as solar.
  • Horizontal drilling and fracking have launched a renaissance for oil and gas, with a growing spotlight on low-carbon initiatives.
  • China’s emerging position as a “cleantech superpower” is influencing the cost of solar products.
  • Shifts in government policies are creating uncertainty in cleantech sectors, including wind power.
  • New industrial businesses are demanding substantial amounts of time, money, and resources to achieve full operational scale.
  • Client acquisition can prove challenging in conservative sectors.

Haji is very optimistic about the future landscape of cleantech. He states that companies like Tesla, Solar City, Nest, Opower, and others are, throughout shifting macroeconomics, successfully disrupting major industries.

Haji’s advice to the upcoming generation of cleantech leaders:

  • Take risks.
  • Trust your gut.
  • Follow great people.
  • Don’t overplan your career.
  • Be passionate.

And if it comes time to merge: “I believe execs often do not pay enough attention to culture and building personal relationships that can sustain challenging integrations.”

In closing, Haji summarized why Cleantech Group has been a real game changer in the area of energy innovation:

  • Network of connectivity between startups, investors, corporates, and government agencies.
  • i3 data platform supporting 18 primary sectors, 22,000+ companies, $7B+ in transactions.
  • Business focus on helping clients grow through innovation, and the realization that key decisions are driven by finances.
  • Global presence—offices worldwide.

Industry experience and being cleantech and sustainability pioneers.

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Tina Olivero

Tina Olivero

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