With each Earth Day that passes, our world becomes more ecologically aware. New, emerging technologies are greener, and vast profits are out there for innovators with the right product, in the right place, at the right time.
Canadian companies are beginning to do very well in the clean-tech field – but not without some considerable risk.
“You have to approach the market in a very strategic manner,” says Gael Mourant, president and CEO of ARXX, a leading supplier of Insulating Concrete Forms (ICFs) for energy-efficient construction. “The construction industry is very averse to change. You have to make people comfortable with the idea they can do things differently, but at the same time, actually get a better product at a more cost-effective price.”
ARXX is based in Cobourg, Ontario. Mourant says proximity to the United States is a significant advantage for Canadian clean-tech firms.
“Americans are very receptive to working with Canadian companies, because they see Canadians as being honest and forthright, and as innovators,” she notes. “Primarily, Canadians are very adaptable. I think we’re very open to new ideas. The idea of green buildings and energy savings is very rooted in Canada.”
Scott MacDonald is a partner at Emerald Technology Ventures, an investment firm specializing in clean-tech start-ups. He sees deteriorating global infrastructure as a huge opportunity for Canadian firms.
“There are 70 to 100-year-old assets – around the world – where they don’t have technology and innovation right now,” he says. “We’re trying to make the grid smarter. We’re trying to identify where leaks in water systems are. That’s not an emerging market. That’s a market that exists, that isn’t presently efficient. We’re taking real business problems that exist today, and finding clever solutions that are better for the environment.”
But even though the market for cleaner products and practices can only grow, MacDonald warns the business risks are very real.
“Nothing in life is low-risk,” he says. “We mitigate risk in certain ways, but clean-tech is high-risk. It’s for big boys and girls. But the prize is so big in these markets, that Canada should absolutely – as a resource-based economy – be players in this space.”