Clean Energy Council Expands Executive Retraining Program

Breaking into the cleantech business brings lots of unique challenges—and to equip more entrepreneurs to handle them, the New England Clean Energy Council (NECEC) launched a fellowship program last April aimed at retraining CEOs from the information technology, life sciences, and telecom worlds. A dozen former CEOs spent the summer of 2008 learning the energy-industry landscape through intensive classroom sessions, visits to local companies and national energy research labs, and “capstone” entrepreneurial projects. Already, according to Peter Rothstein, a coordinator of the fellowships and an executive in residence at Cambridge, MA-based Flagship Ventures, 11 of the first 12 fellows (whom Greg listed here) are working in the cleantech sector, and four have launched their own new ventures.

The program was such a success, in fact, that NECEC has decided to repeat and expand it this summer. Applications are now open for the summer 2009 season (they’re due March 2; you can find all the details here). And according to an announcement today, the council will increase the number of fellows it selects this year to 25. It will also increase the scope of the fellowships to include non-CEOs, and will even select a few entrepreneurs based outside New England.

“The Council’s 2008 Fellowship program was extremely successful in helping to transition senior entrepreneurial talent into the clean energy sector,” NECEC president Nick d’Arbeloff said in a statement. “Based on that success, we will be more than doubling the size of the Fellowship class in 2009, and broadening the program to include individuals with a wider range of executive experience.”

Fellows will meet 10 hours a day, two days a week through May, June, and July. To support a larger program, NECEC is raising money from new sources such as the Kauffman Foundation, according to Rothstein. But the group is also in funding discussions with the program’s original sponsor, the John Adams Innovation Institute at the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council.

At the CEO level, the council is looking for fellowship applicants who have raised $3 million to $10 million dollars in capital for previous ventures, have 5 to 10 years of executive leadership experience, and have been through at least one successful IPO or sale. If applicants haven’t worked as CEOs in their industries, they need to have a solid background in science, engineering, manufacturing, marketing, or development, as well as experience with strategic and financial planning issues, including mergers and acquisitions.

There were at least a couple of reasons for the council to open up the fellowships to a broader group of applicants, Rothstein says. “One is that there are a lot of very interested and qualified people out there, in terms of what they could bring to cleantech companies, who simply may not have been CEOs, but might bring lots of marketing, operations, or business development experience,” he says. “And as we thought about the capstone business projects, we thought some of them could make greater progress if they included not just individuals but teams.” The fellows will be encouraged, though not assigned, to join groups around business projects during the final month of the fellowship, Rothstein says.

While Rothstein says he expects that the majority of 2009 fellows will be from Massachusetts, as they were last year, though the NECEC has made some changes to open up the program to entrepreneurs from other areas. For one thing, it’s holding its sessions on consecutive days of the week (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) rather than repeating last summer’s Tuesday-Thursday schedule; that’s intended to make it easier for fellows living far outside Boston to commute.

The Kauffman Foundation has also agreed to underwrite travel expenses for fellows based in distant parts of the Northeast, Rothstein says. “This program is in some ways expanding into a regional effort, and will likely include some people form New York,” he says. “We think that’s still well aligned with NECEC’s mission to build a cluster across the broader Northeast.”

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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