January 06, 2017

Innovative Communities and Massachusetts as a First Customer: The Public-Private Push for Cleantech

Maeghan Lefebvre, Project Administrator

Massachusetts is well-known for its rich tech sector. According to the Mass Technology Leadership Council’s 2014 State of Technology Report, the state’s tech sector directly employs over 200,000 people. The sector is rapidly growing, and the state is increasingly taking notice of the vibrant startup community that has made its home here in the Commonwealth.

Earlier this month, members of the Legislature’s Tech Hub Caucus unveiled the Innovative Communities legislation, an initiative that aims to create a program to help startup companies pilot their innovative products and services with municipalities throughout the state. Filed by State Sen. Karen Spilka and Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, both chairs of the Caucus, the bill is another step on the ongoing trajectory of greater collaboration between the Massachusetts public sector and the Commonwealth’s startup tech community.

The Innovative Communities program is an answer to the question: how can government and tech work together in a way that allows the tech community to thrive? The bill, which was borne out of an “Idea-a-thon” hosted by the Tech Hub Caucus, is a direct result of the Caucus’ continuous engagement with the tech community over the past year. The program would directly benefit the startup community by allowing first or early municipal customers to vet and prove their technologies, and, by extension, benefit Massachusetts communities who are able to introduce greater efficiency into their operations through the use of these innovative products and services.

Where does the startup cleantech community fit into the conversation? One of the primary goals of the Tech Hub Caucus and its Innovative Communities program is to encourage government agencies to purchase products from startup companies. A few programs exist in Massachusetts with similar goals aimed at cleantech companies. The Commonwealth’s Leading by Example program sets aggressive targets for Commonwealth-owned facilities regarding greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency, renewable energy and water conservation, and encourages state facilities to adopt innovative cleantech products.

MassCEC is currently in its pilot round of the Massachusetts as a First Customer program, which aims to facilitate the adoption of new energy and water innovation technologies by public entities. Phase 1 of the program assesses the technical readiness of emerging technologies. Products deemed ready to enter the market are placed on a commerically-ready technologies (CRT) list that serves as a resource for public agencies, municipalities, and colleges and universities that are interested in adopting cleantech products, but are unsure which ones might best suit their needs. Companies are then eligible for a second phase of the program, wherein MassCEC offers technical assistance and grant funding to help facilitate a purchasing agreement between the startup company and a public entity. 

Supporting the startup cleantech community in Massachusetts is a good bet for public entities. Employment in 2014 at early-stage energy efficiency and renewable energy companies made up 15.7 percent and 2 percent of total clean energy sector employment, respectively. The state is continually developing programs to facilitate and encourage the growth of the cleantech sector and support its larger startup community.