1. Technology trends can take many twists and turns before they reach a critical mass. A few years ago, for example, autonomous vehicles were all the rage, and it felt as though a watershed moment in transportation was about to arrive.
“It’s easy to get enamored with buzzwords,” says Ken Evans, managing director of Tampa Bay Innovation Center, a St. Petersburg-based business accelerator and incubator. “But when you talk to people in the industry, there are multiple levels of autonomous vehicles — assisted driving vs. self-driving vs. complete, hands-off, no steering wheel driving. I’ve got lane assist on my car, and that’s cute and nice, but I don’t really use it that much.”
In other words, the adoption rate of most, if not all, new technology is going to be incremental. But for Evans and many others in his position, climate tech is THE buzzword for 2023 and, given the myriad environmental challenges facing the planet, there’s a potent sense of urgency surrounding it.
“There’s also the realization that, hey, we can actually solve some problems,” Evans says. “We see climate tech, clean tech and sustainability being an ongoing thing that will draw in a lot of very interesting technology. When you look at artificial intelligence and machine learning, IoT (Internet of Things) sensors, Big Data, all those things are essential elements to climate tech solutions.”
2. Climate tech solutions serve a vast array of economic sectors, from transportation and agriculture to development and construction, to name just a few.
“Capital markets are starting to invest heavily in climate tech,” Evans says, adding he recently had a conversation with a company that specializes in water management solutions. “They're heavily betting on IoT and sensors embedded in stormwater systems and drainage systems to provide better feedback to municipalities about what their systems are saying. That’s an AI play, a data analytics play, a data science play. All those things are underlying technologies that are going to be very, very important to climate tech and lots of other industries.”
TBIC is so high on climate tech that its next startup accelerator program, which kicks off Jan. 9, is solely focused on companies that specialize in emerging climate technologies.
“We see climate tech being one of the core focal areas for the Tampa Bay Innovation Center,” Evan says.
3. According to Evans, just like it’s easy for investors and the general public to get enamored with buzzwords, it’s easy for startups to get enamored with the technology they’re developing — instead of the solution it’s supposed to provide. A lack of a customer, rather than temporary challenges like rising inflation and supply-chain problems, is the true threat.
“What it comes down to is can they find a customer who’s willing to pay for what they’ve been working on?” he says. “You can put your heart and soul into blockchain, but unless it's solving a problem around something, and someone's willing to adopt it in their business, it's just a technology. The true validation of a startup is when someone is willing to write the check and buy the product, not just invest, but buy it and put it into use.”