From local ingenuity to global impact: How WA cleantech startup Sunovate got their big break

Glen Ryan and Cesira Leigh standing beside their PVT technology panels

Published 15 Apr 2019

By Jessica Hyne

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Traditional solar panels have a major weakness. As they heat up, they become less efficient.

Is there a way to help the panels keep cool, and at the same time capture that heat energy and divert it for heating use? Cesira Leigh, an expert in innovation and sustainability, and Glen Ryan, an engineer and energy specialist had a fix, but were looking for early validation to see if they could turn it into a business. It was a problem that had always been there, but nobody seemed to be talking about it.

“We thought that we had found a great solution to a problem that we had, but we needed potential customers to provide us with feedback.

When the pair learned about ClimateLaunchpad, the world’s biggest cleantech and green business ideas competition, they saw it as a wonderful opportunity to explore the market potential of their product.

ClimateLaunchpad is a competition designed to seek out the most innovative and most potentially impactful green business ideas to take to a global market, during which competitors are all given training and mentorship to help them turn their idea into a successful business.

“A green business school in disguise, that is how former participants refer to our competition,” says Frans Nauta, the founder of ClimateLaunchpad. “We train people with green ideas to become successful entrepreneurs.”

ClimateLaunchpad in Australia accepts any team or individual with an innovative idea that could help tackle climate change, and gives them the tools and skills to pitch their idea to investors. Participants first attend a two-day boot camp in their state – this year, participants will be accepted in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth –attend a series of webinars designed to help them hone their pitch and build their idea into a marketable business, and then compete against other competitors in front of industry leaders at their state final pitch panels.

Cesira Leigh and Glen Ryan, from Sunovate, participating in ClimateLaunchpad in 2018
Cesira Leigh (left) and Glen Ryan (right), from Sunovate, participating in ClimateLaunchpad in 2018

Cesira says this stage, where competitors are given the opportunity to work with industry experts and solidify their ideas is what sets ClimateLaunchpad apart from other entrepreneurship competitions and programs. “If you know it’s an idea worth taking further, you grab onto the opportunity and run with it”.

Winners from each state are then matched with mentors to help further develop their pitch decks, before they compete again in the National Pitch Finals. All of this is to determine the top-two climate innovation ideas that will represent Australia at the Global Finals. During the global finals, they pitch in front of angel investors, international industry leaders and accelerator programs for a chance to win a spot in the coveted EIT Climate-KIC accelerator program and up to €10,000 in start-up capital.

In addition to the ultimate grand prizes, the competition is an opportunity for participants to get their ideas in front of local accelerator programs and investors who may be interested in helping them take their idea to the next level.

Sunovate emerged the winners of the Australian national finals of ClimateLaunchpad in 2018, and with their first run of panels currently being manufactured, and their seed-funding round progressing well, Cesira and Glen are now very much living the startup lifestyle.

“It really is a ride,” Cesira said about launching her own startup. “You never quite know what the following week is going to hold…You have to roll with the punches surround yourself with people who are supportive, and really believe in what you’re doing.”

They aren’t the only ones who believe in what they are doing: Sunovate have been invited to participate on an International Energy Agency taskforce on photovoltaic-thermal (PVT) technology and were recently named one of the top 100 energy transition start-ups by the World Energy Council.

Frans Nauta is firm on the potential of businesses like Sunovate to tackle climate change: “We know climate change is solvable. We also know there will not be one single cure, we need – and there will be – thousands of big and small cures. That is why it is our mission to fix climate change, one start-up at a time.”

Climate-KIC Australia is now accepting applications for ClimateLaunchpad 2019. For more information and to enter, please visit www.climate-kic.org.au/launchpad

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Time for a new idea to solve climate change?

Climate-KIC Australia today launched the Australian 2019 edition of the world’s largest green business ideas competition, ClimateLaunchpad. Globally, ClimateLaunchpad brings in clean-technology and green business ideas from over 50 countries across five continents.

ClimateLaunchpad Pitch Finals

Traditional solar panels have a major weakness. As they heat up, they become less efficient. Is there a way to help the panels keep cool, and at the same time capture that heat energy and divert it for heating use? Cesira Leigh, an expert in innovation and sustainability, and Glen Ryan, an engineer and energy …

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