Travel to New England, the Cradle of Green Startups in the U.S. - connected to Progetto Manifattura in Trentino, Italy

The Silicon Valley of the green economy? Don’t search for it in California. The hub of cleantech startups is in fact on the opposite coast, in quiet New England.  State support, research networks, the influence of great Massachusetts universities, MIT and Harvard and others, but also attention to energy conservation and renewable energy by citizens, public administrations and private enterprise contribute to the vital cleantech activities in the region.  From Connecticut to Maine the new imperative is to develop new businesses related to technologies for the environment: from super-efficient battery  systems, energy monitoring , a new generation of solar panels, anaerobic digesters to patterns of use of sustainable biofuels .

Just enter within the walls of Greentown Labs, a cleantech incubator born a few steps from MIT, to understand the atmosphere that characterizes this place. "We host over 40 companies here”, states Elizabeth Barno, head of public relations for Greentown Labs. "Each one receives counseling services to grow their business, has a work space and also, if needed, a space in the laboratory to build their prototypes.” One startup company Sistine Solar, designs and manufactures solar panels in a modular format that can be used as art installations or billboards, minimizing the impact of urban solar panels on the wall or installed on canopies . Another startup, CrowdComfort, has designed a system where occupants can control heating and cooling in public places with their mobile phones.

Other incubators, such as the Institute for Energy and Sustainability in Worcester, MA, do not necessarily house startups in physical space. "We work in a virtual way with many new businesses”, says Chris Noonan. “We provide support and training, putting companies in contact with potential investors, and help them to develop prototypes in order to come to market with a solid foundation behind them.”

With so many incubators forming, three years ago ACTION, the Association of Cleantech Incubators of New England was established, a business league of incubators that collaborate and share their networks. "The New England region”, said ACTION’s Executive Director, Gillian Isabelle, “has become the Silicon Valley of cleantech by virtue of the excellent entrepreneurial ecosystem for businesses of this type - solid networks, many institutions with engineering programs in the advanced cleantech sector that generated this humus to grow new businesses.  Sure there are other important clusters that are forming, such as in Austin, Texas or North Carolina, but they still do not have the strength that we have".

Today ACTION includes twelve New England incubators that support over 200 early-stage businesses. There are almost 500 people working in these incubators, with a high concentration of young people from universities. "There were young people who were in a company where they could develop their idea, and dropped everything to be here," explains Noonan.

The heart of American cleantech is on the U.S. East Coast. There ACTION was born, a network of business incubators that includes a production hub in Trentino, Italy.

Emanuele Bompan 
April 28, 2014