5 Questions in 5 Minutes: Richard Adams


We often wonder why our fellow cleantech advocates do what they do and think what they think. So when we get the chance, we ask them. Our latest subject is Richard Adams, who manages the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).


Why do you do what you do?

I love the commitment to renewable energy and cleantech – where that’s going to take us, our kids and our grandkids. I would love to be able to see what the world will look like in 20 years versus today. I’m also passionate about startups and entrepreneurs; I myself lived in that world for a long time. I like to be in a role where I can support their evolution, and see their growth and success.


What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?

It’s seeing the evolution of startups, watching nascent companies grow, thrive and prosper. And seeing the upside of that: the whole ecosystem that grows with it, so we’re left with a culture that’s devoted to cleantech and renewable energy. When it permeates the culture, it becomes part of the fabric of what we do and why we do it, as opposed to isolated pockets of success that may not interrelate or interconnect.

In your experience, what’s the one thing that most often gets in the way of great marketing?

Lack of execution. I see lots of great ideas, great plans. Most of those fail due to a lack of execution. It runs the gamut: marketing, sales, biz planning, strategic planning… Why do we have so many good ideas nobody’s heard of? I think partly because [inventors] are telling the wrong people. If you’re not telling people who can execute on the idea, nobody’s going to hear about it. Whether the potential market is huge or you think it’ll solve world hunger, I say “That’s great, but where do you start? You can only eat an elephant one bite at a time.” It’s less about how you’re telling the story and more about who you’re telling.

What’s the most important lesson that you’ve learned as a marketer/advocate?

You still have to execute. Many cleantech startups either have no plan and are flying by the seat of their pants, or have a plan but are not following it. They’re grabbing at the nearest thing that looks like the next tangible benefit, whether that’s money, a customer, a sale, or a product or solution that’s just not ready.

If you could wave your wand and make any product or service in the world a smashing overnight success, what would it be?

A highly efficient battery that works at any scale. A grid-scale battery.