Arthur Wyns - environmental journalist

By Arthur Wyns


Business is turning green: innovation, and sustainability have become more and more entwined. In addition, a new generation of green entrepreneurs is emerging, with a growing number of people that are founding their own start-ups while, in the same breath, tackling the defining environmental problems of our time.

There are, however, many hurdles to be overcome when building up your first sustainable business. Here are 5 golden tips from some of the leading climate entrepreneurs of our time.

Time waits for no one, and in the business world new companies are more and more frequently entering the world as start-ups. Different in many ways to traditional business models, start-ups move from the realm of ideas to the land of cold hard reality on a boat built by investors. But there is a big ocean that separates a start-up from success and 90% never reach the other side. Cue the incubators!

Incubators offer training and advice and introductions for new start-ups to a community of established investors. Climate KIC, or Climate Knowledge and Innovation Community, the European Union’s main climate change initiative, is one such organisation that takes promising individuals and provides the means through which climate aware start-ups can find success. With 13 of the Forbes 30 under 30 most successful start-ups being Climate-KIC alumni, it seems wise to take a closer look at the KIC’s success story.

Every summer the KIC organises a Climate Journey in which they play the role of incubator and guide promising young participants through major European cities and aid and equip them as they develop start-ups that seek to fill gaps in the market for current climate issues. During their Journey, several teams of young innovators are mentored to develop a sustainable start-up from beginning to end, after which they pitch their business plan to a panel of climate KIC experts.

There are many lessons to be learned from overcoming the obstacles that come with building your own start-up. Below, a team of climate KIC experts, who were gathered in Riga, Latvia, for this year’s final pitching competition of the Climate Journey, provide some of their insights to help climate entrepreneurs to pitch their business plan, and turn their ideas into realities.


Sustainable start-ups; expert advice from Climate KIC

“If you would like to go fast, go alone. If you would like to go far, go together.”

-Talis Juhna, Vice-Rector for Research at the Technical University of Riga-

When commencing with a start-up a well-balanced team is your key priority. Nobody can successfully develop and implement a business idea without any help. Surround yourself with like-minded and motivated individuals and know when to ask for help. Make sure to highlight your team when pitching to investors.


“Coming up with an innovation is one thing, making it into a reality is another.”

-Liene Rubina, RIS-manager at Climate KIC-

It’s ok to dream big, and without dreaming you will not come up with an innovation. However, remember to keep it feasible a well. Test a few big dreams you have for your start-up through trial and error, but when the time comes to actually pitch your innovation, be realistic of what your start-up could or could not achieve, and what a realistic scope would be.


“No innovation without improvement.”

-Liene Rubina, regional manager at Climate KIC-

When developing something new, make sure your innovation is actually solving a real issue and is therefore more than a gadget. Every good innovation tackles a pain-point, and forms an improvement to what is already on the market. When pitching climate-friendly solutions, pointing out the reduction in emissions your solution would offer, for example, is vital.


“Keep in mind who you’re doing this for.”

-Liene Rubina, regional manager at Climate KIC-

Every green innovation needs to be directed towards a good cause, whether it is protecting the environment in general or improving the lives of people. When pitching your idea, make sure you are pointing out what kind of improvement you’re bringing. Involve your audience: apply your solution to their personal life and explain how your innovation can make their and other people’s lives better.


“No matter how technically sound your new innovation, don’t forget about human nature.”

-Gundars Skudrins, entrepreneur and Climate KIC pitching jury-

Combining a technical innovation with something people are actually willing to pay for and find easy to use can be very tricky. Moreover, it’s best to assume that most costumers are really lazy. Even when you’re offering a great green innovation, don’t expect people to find about it by themselves. Simply putting your start-up’s product or service out there is not enough, make sure it is as accessible as possible.


“Make them remember you”

-Julia Panny, Programe Officer for Climate KIC-

You can have the perfect innovation, a great team and a realistic business plan and still not manage to pitch your idea to investors. In particular during pitching competitions, your great idea might get lost in between all the other start-ups that are fighting for attention. Try to stand out, find new angles to present your innovation and be charismatic. Your start-up can stand out by connecting to people.


Go green or go home

Although pitching a start-up is never easy, the benefits of a climate conscious business model are clear. Firstly, it addresses the current global trend towards sustainability and corporate responsibility. With the birth of the moral costumer, businesses and corporations are finally taken responsible for their environmental impact. And today, every business that takes itself seriously has incorporated a sustainable resource management plan into its business model – or at least presents itself in a green spotlight to the public.

Secondly, the necessity of tackling climate change does not only put a restrain on unchecked economic growth, it also provides great opportunities. The landscape for climate friendly entrepreneurship is an area of rapid growth and excellent market potential: there is already a $5.5 trillion global market for low carbon technologies, and jobs in the zero-carbon economy are predicted to keep growing in the decades to come.

Wael Hmaidan, the director of Climate Action Network International, puts it clearly: “The political developments in the last years have finally ingrained climate change awareness in the international political platform and the global consciousness, now the stage has been set for businesses to step in, to turn the policies into a reality.”

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