Clean and GREEN
An Auckland company is bridging the gap between our cleantech expertise and overseas markets and investors.
Duncan Stewart hears every day from people around the world looking for what New Zealand can offer in clean technology. He’s become the “go to” guy in cleantech because of his lead role in penning the Pure Advantage manifesto, subtitled “New Zealand’s Position in the Green Race.”
His company, The Greenhouse, offers advice to cleantech companies and also oversees NZ-CEN, the New Zealand Cleantech and Environment Network website, a directory to more than 100 member companies.
“People look to New Zealand because of our international image as a clean, green, pristine country,” says Stewart, sitting in his offices in a renovated heritage building in the Britomart sector.
“New Zealanders are also renowned for rolling our sleeves up. We’re working with one company in Dubai that likes kiwi companies because we get the job done and at good value compared with overseas. So the role of The Greenhouse is to connect the dots.” It also has a recruitment subsidiary. “We regularly get inquiries from people looking for businesses to get involved with, so it made sense to provide an introduction service. The Greenhouse is trying to foster growth in this industry. That includes making sure the right talent goes in the right places.”
Stewart plans to launch a sub-$50 million cleantech fund later this year with a mix of local and international investors, giving him a direct stake in growing the sector.
“A lot of these businesses do not require huge amounts of capital to get to the next stage so we will look at early stage investment, introducing further funding partners once they get past the proof of concept or demonstrate they can access particular markets.
“Few companies I have come across in this cleantech space are capable of raising more than $5m, and for many of them, the gap between success and failure is the ability to raise up to about $2 million.”
Cleantech is not industry specific. It could include everything from insulation to agricultural technology to nanotechnology.
“The things we look for include the governance and management capacity, the cash position, the growth potential, likely export growth, and the sophistication of the expertise behind the idea.
“Part of the idea of idea of NZ-CEN was to provide the Greenhouse with some understanding of the depth and spatial distribution of these companies. It allows us to look under the hood and understand who are likely to be the leaders.” Stewart sees things through the lens of environmental science. “If you take Fridays and Mondays off to go skiing you end up with a bachelors degree in environmental science,” he says.
After Auckland University he went to engineering company Beca, which exposed him to large infrastructure projects. In 2002 he and Aaron Andrew set up Andrew.Stewart Limited, a consultancy specialising in water quality issues, which put them in the box seat to help with the massive overhaul of Auckland’s stormwater and wastewater infrastructure.
Seeing how decisions are made in large organisations fed into The Greenhouse.
“Pure Advantage is an example of that. You have a complex issue that needs to be carefully articulated to a wide group of stakeholders in order to get some action,” Stewart says. The lukewarm response the report got from the government doesn’t faze him, as its aim was more to get corporate leaders thinking.
“A lot of decision-making by successive governments has been underpinned by thinking that is fairly narrow and failed to take into account some of the mega shifts happening internationally.
“If you look at other countries, many are taking an interventionist approach looking at environmental issues but they are also looking at the upside and the opportunities that arise from that.”
The unequal size distribution of New Zealand business, with a few large companies and legions of tiny ones, is a challenge.
“It means those larger organisations have a responsibility to foster growth and innovation in smaller businesses as well.”