I think there’s some dust collecting on this blog. I set it aside to tour the country with my seven-month old son for six weeks. My first post since returning is with Jennifer Kho of the recently launched Greentech Media. I first met Jennifer last year when Text 100 was introducing its clean tech group. At the time, she was at still at Red Herring and was one of the few people reporting daily on green business topics. She was nice enough to sit down with us then to share her thoughts on the emerging clean tech industry. A year later, she has a great thing going at Greentech Media, which dubs itself as an “integrated online-media company comprised of cutting-edge news, in-depth market research, and focused industry events.”
Swain: I subscribe to a lot of green newsletters and RSS feeds and more seem to be popping up every day. Is there enough news to support all of the people writing about it?
Kho: Yes, I still think there is plenty of news left to cover (and uncover) in this area. The players are so diverse, involving energy, transportation, energy efficiency, energy management, water and air and so on, that I think a number of reporters are needed to cover the industry thoroughly.
Before you left Red Herring, was the number of pitches in your inbox still increasing or did it start to level off?
The number of pitches in my inbox was growing and is still growing, but many of the pitches I get are not really matched to what we cover at Greentech Media. For instance, I’ll get pitches about new hiking trails, attempts to save endangered species or regional environmental efforts not involving technology. Also, we’re noticing more “greenwashing” from companies that aren’t really focused in green technologies.
You were covering clean tech long before it hit today’s level of mainstream attention – how have things changed?
There’s certainly more mainstream interest. Now, cleantech comes up in the mainstream press every day. Politicians talk about it, we see new fundings almost daily and I no longer have to explain what solar power or ethanol is when I write about it – at least not every time. The public is getting more savvy, as are the companies. When I first started, few of the companies I talked to each day had public relations representatives. That has changed.
The news is coming from the tech, VC and energy industries, and when you add in verticals like building, auto and consumer products, things can get complicated. Are there specific sectors or areas you’re paying closer attention to than others?
Yes, we definitely see more of our news coming from the energy area right now – although we also are doing our best to add more coverage in other areas, like water and green IT – and readers also seem to be very interested in car technologies. We try to find a business angle for every story.
Unlike the technology industry, the success of many cleantech companies and products has a lot to do to do with public policy and changes in old industries that are notoriously slow and resistant to change. Do you think the reporting process for cleantech will change in the coming years?
Yes, as the industry starts to mature, I expect we will be moving from covering mostly new technologies and startups to covering more public companies and new applications for the technologies. Especially if, as some have speculated, there continues to be less money going into university and government research in these areas.
Do you have trouble finding the products, people and companies that have the potential to make a real difference?
I wouldn’t say I am seeing a shortage of companies with this potential. But whether they will be successful or not is anybody’s guess. We definitely will have winners and losers.
Rather than specific cleantech news and innovations, are you interested in hearing from companies who are applying these new technologies as part of a corporate social responsibility initiative?
As important as those initiatives are, we will be covering fewer of those types of stories, compared with news about new technologies. However, it’s still worth pitching us because we will occasionally cover those initiatives when they are very big or when they are surprising.
What are you seeing as big risks and challenges this sector has to overcome in the next five to 10 years?
The different parts of the sector are so diverse that they each have their own set of challenges to overcome. But, in general, I think companies will have to meet their promises, avoid too much hype and persuade legislators to approve greentech-friendly policies. One risk still is the historically volatile price of oil. Even though technologies like solar power don’t directly compete with oil, investors’ perceptions do tend to trade solar and other alternative-energy stocks higher when oil prices are high and lower when oil prices are low. Likewise, different parts of the greentech sector risk being influenced – for better or for worse – by the rest of the sector, so that if one piece disappoints, some investors might lose their enthusiasm for other parts of the sector.
The solar industry has already started to consolidate and I expect a lot more to come. Do you think other renewables/clean sectors will see the same thing as startups start to mature? If so, which sectors are next?
Yes, I think consolidation is a natural part of growth and maturity. This is already happening in wind power. Also, alternative cars and energy-efficient lighting are some areas where I expect we might see some consolidation once the technologies are ready. In fact, we already saw Hymotion get purchased by A123Systems, as an example.
Suggestions on how to work with you and what you look for in a story.
I am looking for stories involving both business and technology. That means story pitches should include elements of money and technology aiming to improve the environment. The product must be a technology, an innovative, fairly complicated piece of hardware or software. It also must be purposely created with some green intent. This focus on business and technology might well shift or expand as we grow, but it is what we’re looking for now.
As for working with me, the best way to reach me is to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can call me at 510-268-9929. Obviously, notifying me early and giving me a scoop or an exclusive makes it more likely you will catch my attention. And if you do call, the best time is in the afternoon, when I’m off the daily deadline.