Energy Startups: Opportunities, Challenges, & Considerations
In a presentation during Maine Startup & Create Week, Verrill Dana partner Jim Cohen, a utilities and energy lawyer with more than 25 years of experience, moderated a panel focused on the question, "How can tech disrupt energy?" With innovation and new technologies being developed in the industry, and consumers seeking more affordable and cleaner options, Jim led a discussion with panelists Ryan Nesbitt of Arcadia Power; Ben Polito of Pika Energy; Kat Joyce of Bernstein Shur; and Ben Sampson of GE Ventures.
Beginning with a general foundation and overview of the energy space, conversations flowed into the collaboration between utilities and new energy startups, as well as how to increase focus on consumer engagement to achieve a balance between attention and sustainability in the marketplace. While different entities may "win or lose," there is certainly no lack of opportunities in the energy market. Providing advice for those looking to enter the space, Ben Sampson highlighted the three areas that they look for when investing in an energy startup: (1) a great team, (2) large markets in the future, and (3) differentiation. Finally, all speakers agreed that finding a mentor was a key element of business success, whether in this market or any other.
As a cautionary note, the panelists noted that many regulatory hurdles still exist for innovators and investors, slowing growth within the industry. Further, the regulatory models vary from state to state, and Jim encouraged entities looking to do business nationally to look into the regulatory challenges posed in each state.
In closing out the discussion, Jim conducted a lightening round for the speakers; look at their quick responses below to the question, "What is the most important consideration when starting an energy company?"
- Ben Sampson: Profitability as soon as possible, and autonomy
- Ben Polito: Finding the right niche … even if you're going to take over the world, you're going to start small first
- Ryan Nesbitt: Funding of the startup is essentially the same… you have to have a unique market opportunity
- Kat Joyce: Understand where you fit in the market, and differentiate