The emerging world leader in climate tech could soon be Massachusetts, experts say


(BOSTON) — Massachusetts could soon become the new leader in climate and environment technology, as the race to find solutions for sustainability and emissions mitigation heats up around the world.

A $1 billion proposal for Massachusetts to become a global leader in climate technology by Gov. Maura Healey and the emergence of environmental startups and think tanks are among the reasons why The Bay State may emerge as the nation’s climate solution hub in the near future.

But the foundations for seeing environmental initiatives from their inception to public market have long existed in Massachusetts, home to some of the most prestigious research institutions and scientific discoveries in the world, as well as existing infrastructure that allows production to be achieved much faster, according to experts in the state.

Climate tech is any technology and any type of company that’s working to fight against climate change — from solar power, offshore wind, hydropower, as well as fusion and decarbonization of existing processes such as construction — Massachusetts Secretary of Development Yvonne Hao told ABC News.

California and New York often receive the majority of accolades when it comes to climate solutions. There is currently competition among Boston, New York, Texas, California, Europe and Asia in the climate tech domain, Jim Matheson, a professor at the Harvard Business School and expert in climate tech innovation, told ABC News.

Massachusetts is currently No. 3 in the country for the number of climate tech solutions — 340, compared to 1,607 in California and 661 in New York, according to Powerhouse, an environmental solutions firm.

What makes Massachusetts unique is it has a proven track record of taking what is learned in the lab and applying it to real life, Lindi von Mutius, director of Harvard University’s Climate Action Accelerator, an environmental solutions hub, told ABC News. This is especially true when it comes to life sciences innovation, which already has extensive infrastructure in place that can also be applied to climate technology, von Mutius said. Advances in sickle cell studies, research in cell gene therapy and the Moderna Covid vaccine all came out of Massachusetts, Hao said.

“I think we have a really great place where we’ve already proven leadership in one area of tech, innovation and cutting-edge financing for that innovation,” von Mutius said,

A successful tech venture requires what is known as “the capital triangle,” Matheson said: intellectual capital — Massachusetts is home to places like Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; human capital — the individuals running the company; and financial capital — the funds needed to get the startups off the ground.

The ideas and entrepreneurial talent coming out of universities and laboratories around the Boston, Cambridge and New England area combined with financial capital that supports companies from their very early stages all the way to deployment into the public markets, Matheson said.

“The modern venture capital industry started in Boston,” he said, adding that the proximity to New York and Washington, D.C., allows for even more investment and entrepreneurial opportunities.

The biggest difference between Silicon Valley and Boston is the latter’s ability to produce “real, physical things,” opposed to software, Matheson said. Rather than the booms and busts of big tech, climate solutions require longer cycles.

Gov. Healey is “wicked competitive,” which is aiding her ambitious climate agenda, Hao said. Healey’s $1 billion proposal aims to catalyze the economic growth around climate tech by using the successes in life sciences as a template and applying it to climate tech innovation, Hao told ABC News.

The proposal includes return on investments that pay back “multiple-fold,” tax incentives, job creation at a “competitive scale” and an operating budget for the Clean Energy Center, which will ensure the installation of EV charging stations and rollout of green electricity in the future, Hao said.

A startup called Boston Metal is creating decarbonized steel, the traditional production of which is extremely damaging to the environment and one of the biggest contributions to greenhouse gas emissions from the construction sector.

Sparkcharge, also based in Boston, is a startup that created the world’s first mobile EV charging network, an idea borne over a lack of charging stations throughout the U.S., Joshua Aviv, founder of Sparkcharge, told ABC News.

Since its inception in 2018, Sparkcharge has developed a fast charger that could charge an electric vehicle without any connection to the grid, Aviv said.

Sparkcharge is the brainchild of Greentown Labs, the country’s largest incubator for climate tech, located in Somerville, Massachusetts, Julia Travaglini, senior vice president of marketing and communications for Greentown Labs, told ABC News.

Greentown Labs was founded in 2011 among four startups in the MIT ecosystem, making Massachusetts a natural home for the company, Travaglini said.

“Massachusetts is home to more than 80 different academic institutions across the state,” she said. “We’re really this sort of like nexus and melting pot of all the pieces you need to catalyze its climate community.”

Highlighting the economic potential for climate tech will be a main focus at Boston’s inaugural climate conference, titled ClimaTech, taking place from Monday through Wednesday.

“We really wanted to have a gathering of people who are focused on the economic growth aspect around the actual innovation and technology and startups,” Hao said. “How do we solve these big, hard problems in climate tech, but at the same time grow startups and grow jobs and actually help create this acceleration of economic growth from it?”

Global warming is the most existential crisis of our times, the experts said. The competition among the global leaders in innovation will likely lead to more impactful results, Matheson said.

“It’s great that there’s competition between the states if that means that there are more people working on climate change,” von Mutius said.

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