The Businessman and the Scientist


Spending a few days at a cleantech trade show provides a great opportunity to hear companies tell their stories. I really enjoy listening to a company’s representative talk in intimate detail about their technology and how it will save X, or reduce your dependence on Y. Those working the booths are eager to wax eloquently in phrases that I’m not embarrassed to say, I sometimes don’t understand. True, I don’t hold a Ph.D. in an advanced science, but, I do work every day in the world of clean technologies, so it seems to me I should understand what’s being said.

If I can make a rash generalization, I hear two types of people at the booths. Both groups share one strong quality, which is a passion for their innovation. When they’re good storytellers, the passion and energy are contagious and you walk away and say, “Wow, he’s definitely jazzed about that!”

It’s the differences that really separate the two groups. There are storytellers who ask the right questions to understand their audience and talk in terms of the business of their technology, and there are those who are just so proud of their innovation in terms of the technology that no matter how they try, they can’t talk in terms that a layman, investor or the general public can understand.

I have a very limited knowledge of induction lighting and am far more familiar with LEDs, but after spending a few minutes at one booth, I not only understood what the company does, I learned about their successful trials in three places around the country, and walked away with a very solid understanding of the business. Not once in the course of the conversation did the person take me down the long, winding road of deep detail on the technology. It was a great business conversation.

Just down the lane from him was a company that provides an energy management solution at both the commercial and residential levels. I am very familiar with these technologies. Five minutes into this CTO’s pitch, I was still not sure what exactly his company did. I interrupted him at one point, mentioned several companies and their technologies, hoping to hear a comparison to something I did understand. Instead, he continued down his path of deep detail of the technology. He then proceeded to boast that he was the former CTO of a reputable firm and has over 20 years of developing software for the likes of X, Y and Z. It was a frustrating monologue on his technology.

What separated the two: knowing their audience, speaking in terms of the business value of their technology, and their storytelling abilities. When telling your story, whether in front of investors, at a conference, on your website, in your collateral or anywhere else, ask yourself these questions: Are you the business person in the firm, or the scientist? What do you want to convey? In most cleantech startups, you need to play both roles. But make sure you take off that lab coat when you’re talking about your company, jump into that business owner mindset, and tell the great story of your business, so that you leave your audience emotionally charged and interested in knowing more.


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