Cleantech: Examples, Companies, and Trends

14 minute read

*Updated December 2022

The demand for cleantech is on the rise. We are constantly searching for cleaner and more efficient ways to store energy, and more sustainable solutions in agriculture, waste management, and transportation.

This call for renewable sources of energy has birthed new technologies. The most famous examples of clean technology are electric cars, solar panels, wind, and wave energy. But energy isn't the only cleantech sector changing our planet for the better.

Explore innovative technologies →

This emerging trillion-dollar industry has room and opportunities for startups and corporates alike.

Now that cleantech is coming to the forefront, we're seeing headlines like "Almost all of Costa Rica’s energy has come from renewable sources since 2014" and "The UK runs without coal power for three days in a row". It's no doubt that we're beginning to pay attention to the importance of preserving what we can of our fragile planet or at least taking sustainability more seriously.

This article covers the definition of cleantech, an introduction to the industry and the investors involved, the sectors making the biggest impact, and finally, the most innovative startups in the industry today.

What is cleantech?

Clean technology encompasses more than just a Tesla. It’s a vastly growing industry that encompasses multiple sectors like energy and power, transportation, water and waste management, agriculture, and biofuels.

But what exactly is clean technology, and what does it mean for the future of our planet? It's one of the most disruptive industries, and it is difficult to define as it covers multiple technologies.

CleanTech.Org defines cleantech as a term that is “often used interchangeably with the term Greentech, [cleantech] has emerged as an umbrella term encompassing the investment asset class, technology, and business sectors which include clean energy, environmental, and sustainable or green, products and services”.

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What are the objectives of cleantech?

To create more efficient and cost-effective products,
Reduce the negative impacts of fossil fuels on the environment, and
Improve the use of natural and renewable resources.


Investors in cleantech



NTEC was founded in 2002 and was created to play a role in helping major stakeholders with technology needs in Kuwait. The company is fully owned by the Kuwait government and focuses on many industries within cleantech.

Investor Type: Venture Capital
Headquarters: Kuwait


Foundation CapitalFoundation Capital logo

This particular VC firm is made up of a group of entrepreneurs whose goal was to create the ideal firm in their eyes. They have currently involved in around 60 ventures in numerous technologies as well as cleantech startups like Autogrid. Autogrid organizes energy data with big data.

Investor Type: Venture Capital
Headquarters: Palo Alto, California, U.S.


Echoing Greenechoing green logo

Echoing green takes the millennium goals seriously. They define themselves as a “social innovation fund that acts as a catalyst for impact”. They’ve been active for the past 30 years and have invested in companies like Concord Spirits, which are working towards creating spirits that have low carbon emissions.

Investor Type: Seed
Headquarters: New York, New York, U.S.


The LabThe Global Innovation Lab for Climate Finance

The Lab “is investing in the design of innovative financial instruments to fund climate solutions”.

Investor Type: Private Equity
Headquarters: Global


Prime CoalitionPrime+Coalition logo

PRIME Coalition is a public organization that partners with philanthropic investors that invest charitable capital. These partnerships are centered around companies working to combat climate change, with a likelihood of success in the commercial market.

Investor Type: Philanthropic Investor
Headquarters: U.S.


Solamere Capitalsolamere capital logo

The private equity firm Solamere Capital is a collection of business leaders and families investing in energy and finance.

Investor Type: Private Equity
Headquarters: Lexington, Massachusetts, U.S.


Congruent Ventures

congruent ventures logoCongruent Ventures is a new VC group comprised of hungry entrepreneurs who are investing in early-stage cleantech startups.

Investor Type: Venture Capital
Headquarters: San Francisco, California, U.S.


Alumni Venture Group

alumni venture group logoThey class themselves as a "different" kind of investor. They are designed to help individual investors, like accredited alumni and investors who are looking to expand their venture portfolio.

Investor Type: Venture Capital
Headquarters: Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S.


The Yield Labthe yield lab logo

This particular accelerator was formed to address the lack of investors for early-stage agriculture technology companies (AgTech). Recent investment in Agtech company RootWave with Seed Round of $1M.

Investor Type: Accelerator
Headquarters: St Louis, Missouri, U.S.


Pitango Venture Capitalpitango logo

The VC firm invests in numerous industries, including IoT, Healthcare, and Cleantech!

Investor Type: Venture Capital
Headquarters: Herzliya, Tel Aviv, Israel


G2VPG2 Venture Partners

G2VP is the reincarnation of the well-known investment company Kleiner Perkins. They've unloaded a much-needed large fund to the cleantech sector, raising $298.15. This staggering amount was oversubscribed by 17.5% of the fund's initial targets.

Investor Type: Venture Capital
Headquarters: San Fransisco, California, U.S.


New Enterprise AssociatesNew Enterprise Associates (NEA)

This large and global VC firm invests in technology and healthcare. They have offices located across America. Their portfolio ranges from seed investment to early-stage and even to market leaders. They have created the "$130 early-stage energy fund" known as Green Bay Ventures.

Investor Type: Venture Capital
Headquarters: Menlo Park, California, US



morningside logoThis firm, based in Shanghai, is very committed to social responsibility along with its other investment activities.

Investor Type: Private Equity, Venture Capital
Headquarters: Shanghai, China


Braemar Energy VenturesBraemar Energy Ventures

This firm, like others, has been birthed out of a need for more skilled energy-focused investment firms. They successfully invest in "new breed" energy technology companies, specifically early-stage startups.

Investor Type: Venture Capital
Headquarters: New York, New York, U.S.


GE Ventures

GE ventures logoThis large fund is active in many technology markets and is also investing and partnering with cleantech companies to help accelerate their innovations.

Investor Type: Corporate Venture Capital, Venture Capital
Headquarters: Menlo Park, California, US


BDC CapitalBDC Capital

BDC invests in growing companies in New England, U.S. They provide "gap financing," which is assistance in finance gaps.

Investor Type: Venture Debt
Headquarters: Wakefield, Massachusetts, U.S.


Khosla Ventures

Khosla Ventures logoKholsa is one of the most active investors in cleantech, having a portfolio of over 70 clients since 2008.

Investor Type: Venture Capital
Headquarters: Menlo Park, California, U.S.


Fontinalis PartnersFontinalis Partners

The young venture group has its sights set on one market, the mobility sector. They've invested in companies that provide the innovation for next-gen technology.

Investor Type: Venture Capital
Headquarters: Detroit, Michigan, United States


Lightspeed Venture PartnersLightspeed Venture Partners

Lightspeed is an active investor in the cleantech sector. Solar, biofuels, and clean coal are just some of the areas in which this large venture capital company has been active.

Investor Type: Venture Capital
Headquarters: Menlo Park, California, U.S.


SAIF Partners

SAIF PartnersThis firm is active in a number of different sectors like healthcare, technology, the internet, and of course, cleantech and energy.

Investor Type: Private Equity Firm
Headquarters: Hong Kong, Hong Kong


Sofinnova Partners Sofinnova Partners

The French VC firm invests in European biotech and cleantech. Although the company does have a second office in Menlo Park, California. The US counterpart focuses mainly on biotech, with 20% of its funds going towards Europe.

Investor Type: Venture Capital
Headquarters: Paris, France


The cleantech bubble

It's rare to find venture capital (VC) firms that have invested in early-stage cleantech startups, and GreenBiz attributes this to the considerable losses that firms in Silicon Valley suffered in the past decade.

VC and corporate investors put over $25 billion towards the funding of cleantech and energy startups during 2006-2011, with more than half of that capital being lost. But how did this happen?

Peter Thiel, an investment partner and angel investor has spoken openly about the cleantech bubble of the late 2000s. At the time, hundreds of eager entrepreneurs were opening cleantech startups. The investments were pouring in. But instead of turning into a worthwhile investment, it turned into a bubble that inevitably burst.

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Cleantech investments are tricky. They need time to develop, and they are expensive to scale. They focus on the "commodity market with high competition and low margin," resulting in less research and development investment.

But it's not all bad news...

VC firms investing in startups are entering a new age. They've learned from previous mistakes and are emerging with a newer and more stable ecosystem for cleantech investments.

Venture firms like Congruent Ventures, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, and Green Bay Ventures are just a few looking to invest in sustainability startups.

This "re-emergence" of early-stage investment is mainly due to the increase in demand for cleantech solutions and the maturity of the technology involved. It's now closer than ever to commercialization.

In 2008 alone, venture investments from around the world reached over $8.4 billion. And by 2014, Israel, Finland and the U.S. became known as the leading countries in Global Cleantech Innovation. But let's not forget about one of the hidden players. China is rapidly becoming ever present in the cleantech industry, with 43% of the $61.1 billion invested in the first quarter of 2018 coming from the country.

An introduction to the cleantech industry


The industry today

The race to lessen the effects of climate change on the environment is ever increasing, and the global investment towards clean technologies is pushing the cleantech industry towards becoming a trillion dollar industry.

According to Bloomberg, the industry has been on the decline in the past four quarters. Even so, the market is huge. In 2014, the market value of the cleantech sector soared to $601 billion, and it’s expected to increase to $1.3tn by 2020, according to the global consultancy firm Frost & Sullivan. And by 2022, it’s expected to double to $2.5 trillion. That’s a pretty huge leap in the space of two years.

Who’s leading?

The Asia Pacific will continue as the leader in clean energy, as visible from China and India's heavy investment in the cleantech sector. Their shift towards clean energy solutions has risen, in part, due to the global concern over energy security, especially in the Asian Pacifics.

Rapid growth is taking place in China as they tackle their fossil fuel dependence and over pollution. And this will start with a realignment of their economy, steering away from coal and oil and moving towards clean energy.

Input factors - The input innovation takes into consideration the government policies, public R&D spending, access to private financing, the infrastructure in place for renewables, and the industry organizations in cleantech.

Output factors - The output factors factor in the evidence of emerging innovation with early-stage private investments, the number of high impact companies, and environmental patents. It also analyses the cleantech imports and exports, renewable energy consumption, late-stage investment and exits, and the listed cleantech companies and employees.

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Let’s break that down

Countries that rank high on the innovation index do so as they are progressively innovating in cleantech by:

1. tapping into the global demand for renewables and other cleantech,
2. connecting startups with channels to increase their success rate, and
3. increasing the international engagement across the industry ecosystem

It’s no surprise that Denmark comes out on top due to their overwhelming efforts to turn Denmark into a ‘Clean Capital’. But they are not the only contender. Poland rose 13 places to position 24 because of its increased spending in cleantech R&D.

Of the 40 countries listed on the global innovation idex, Russia and Greece came in the last place. Russia's low rank was in part attributed to their heavy focus on their natural resources which they have in abundance. And Greece's tough austerity measures (taxes placed on solar generators) placed them low on the list.


How do we increase innovation?

We’re all clued up on the environmental impact of global warming, and we’re in deep need of de-escalating the already existing effects of a temperature rise on the environment.

Countries need to band together in order to accelerate growth in R&D and cleantech innovations within a relatively short period of time. This means that products and services offered by newer start-ups are going to have to scale up, and fast.

They don’t have the resources larger corporates have in order to pull off a scale up, and often, they end up failing due to lack of correct resources. This is why we’re beginning to see larger corporates and investors partner with smaller startups, especially within cleantech.

More collaborations between larger companies, accelerators, investors, and entrepreneurs are incredibly valuable to startups. That’s why matchmaking tools have become a vital tool in the latter part of the 21st Century.

So if you’re a corporate, it’s crucial to stay up to date with smaller startups that make large breakthroughs and are able to find the newest and most exciting technologies.

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Partnerships between larger corporates, investors, and accelerators with startups are where the future of this budding industry lie.

Emerging startups in developing countries also have the positive effect of bringing jobs and growth. Latin America and Africa show the most potential in this respect, with their potential market sizes averaging

And if you look at the statistics on the growth of the market, we’re getting there.

Commercialization of cleantech

It’s also important to note that innovation and the collaboration/merges between startups and corporates have a very positive effect on the market. And countries investing in innovation, for example, R&D and policy changes benefit greatly from the commercialization of cleantech.


The sectors involved

Cleantech is a huge market and it covers industries far and wide. And there are industries within cleantech that are advancing at a rapid pace. The main sectors involved fall into the following categories:

Of these sectors, there are three that are getting the most attention in terms of funding, and you'll notice that the majority of startups mentioned fall into one of these three categories.

Energy & power, agriculture & food, and mobility & transportation.

Energy & power

Energy and power can be divided into a number of sub-sectors:

-Solar power


-Wind energy

-Ocean energy


-Energy storage

-Energy efficiency

-Energy infrastructure

Of these sub-sectors, wind and solar are the dominating market forces. Solar energy is continuing to decrease in cost and is the dominating player in the market. Its growth has been attributed to a number of factors:

-The increase in pollution,
-The government incentives and tax rebates for the installation of solar panels
-The surge in rooftop installations, and
-The increased application of solar technology in architecture.

It is no wonder that solar energy has become so popular. It is low cost and deliverable at scale and takes a relatively short time to erect, and venture capital is bringing solar power to the mainstream. With increased investment in R&D, the demand for solar is expected to rise.

The biggest sector is wind energy in term of the dollars invested. The global industrial demand has increased due to the private wind farms. Wind turbines are also able to produce power in turbulent conditions, making them appealing to countries with adverse weather conditions. They are also easy to operate and generally low cost to maintain.


Agriculture & food

This sector is rapidly growing and it is attracting an increasing amount of venture investment. It's risen to $1.5 billion in 2017 from $200 million in 2007.  And while such an increase can seem like a positive, it is concerning experts who are worried that the current investment trend will head in the same direction as the cleantech crash.

But VCs continue to pay attention to the food and ag-tech startups, like Farmers Edge, that are ripe to disrupt. This is a tricky industry though, as it is not dependent on technology. Processes can be enhanced with it, but it is up to the unforgiving nature of weather and global warming to decide the ultimate result of crops.

agtech 04

Transportation sector

The transportation sector is rapidly evolving. Fluctuating and unpredictable oil prices, over pollution leading to stricter regulation, and over population are all contributing factors.

Investment (firm?) Village Capital sees this sector as a rich opportunity with aviation, electric transportation, mass transportation and the sharing economy being just some of the high potential areas involved.

This is great news for startups, as Aviation is racing to create zero-emission technology and it is fuelling the partnerships and investments between corporates and startups. And there is a surprising leader for the highest number of electric vehicles (EV) on the road. China's subsidiaries on EV's has helped contribute to the 650,000+ on the road.


The cleantech startups

The most prominent startups in clean technology don't just fall into one specific sector. There is an intersection between industries. What you will notice from the list below is the strong presence of the Internet of Things (IoT), with lots of the energy platforms being enable by IoT.

AeroFarms is changing the way we farm. They are the world largest vertical indoor farm. Their aeroponic growing systems are capable of growing plants without the need for sun or soil. They recently earned a huge chunk of funding in their Series D for $40.5M.


AeroFarmsaerofarms logo

AeroFarms is changing the way we farm. They are the world largest vertical indoor farm. Their aeroponic growing systems are capable of growing plants without the need for sun or soil. They recently earned a huge chunk of funding in their Series D for $40.5M.

Founded: 2004
Location: Newark, New Jersey, U.S.



AgBiome logoAgBiome is creating innovative products for agriculture using new knowledge in the microbiome field. One of their main products has been produced to overcome the growing pesticide resistance. They have partnered with multiple agriculture companies.

Founded: 2012
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S.



Airthium is using alternative ways to store excess wind and solar energy by using low cost thermodynamic energy storage systems. Their modules have a 25 year life-cycle, and best of all they are 100% recyclable!

Founded: 2016
Location: Palaiseau, Ile-de-France, France


Amyris Biotechnologies

amyris logoThis slightly older startup creates renewable products that reduce the lifecycle emissions by 80%. All products are created using natural and sustainable sources. They are also partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Founded: 2003
Location: Emeryville, California, U.S.



Aquaporin LogoAquaporin is a global water technology company, dedicated to revolutionizing water purification through the use of industrial biotechnological techniques and thinking.

Founded: 2005
Location: Lyngby, Denmark


Aquion Energy

aquion energy logoA company that manufactures alternative energy storage that is sustainable, cost-efficient and reliable with$33 million in funding.

Founded: 2007
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.


Ather Energyather energy logo

A startup based in India that is focused on selling and designing electric scooters. They have also created a vast network of AtherGrid charging stations. They've amassed a total of $59M in four funding rounds.

Founded: 2013
Location: Bangalore, Karnataka, India


Auto Grid

AutoGridThe software and cloud-based solution for end-users and grid operators of renewable energy.

Founded: 2011
Location: Redwood City, California, United States


Blue Pillar

blue pillar logoBlue Pillar is an older startup whose IoT platform is the first solution to connect behind-the-meter DERs by self-prescribing secure IoT networks that enable real-time asset control and energy data.

Founded: 2006
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.



biogts logoA company that uses organic waste and turns it into renewable energy, vehicle biofuels, chemicals and fertilisers.

Founded: 2011
Location: Jyväskylä, Western Finland, Finland


BloomenergyBloom Energy

Bloom Energy provides electricity for organisations around the globe that is both sustainable and cost effective.

Founded: 2001
Location: Sunnyvale, California, U.S.


Carbon Masterscarbon masters logo

This British based startup helps organisations to manage and reduce their carbon emissions. With offices in Edinburgh, Bangalore (India), and Quito (Ecuador) they have helped large clients like Pfizer Pharmaceuticals and Edinburgh Airport.

Founded: 2009
Location: Whitley Bay, North Tyneside, U.K.


ChargePointchargepoint logo

This startup works in the energy and power industry and creates open electric vehicle charging ports.

Founded: 2007
Location: Campbell, California, U.S.


CorPower Ocean

corpower ocean logoThey've created a better, and cleaner solution for wave energy conversion with pumps that mimic the heart, increasing the power absorbed from the waves.

Founded: 2009
Location: Stockholm, Sweden



A Danish startup located in London is an effective solution for the binding of pollutants in water.

Founded: 2015
Location: London, U.K.


eLichenselichens logo

This newer startup provides information on their platform that details the air quality with high precision. In recent news, they released the first high-resolution air pollution of Grenoble.

Founded: 2014
Location: Grenoble, Rhone-Alpes, France


Enbala Power Networksenbala power networks logo

Enbala is an intelligent software that helps energy retailers to increase their revenue by providing real-time control of distributed energy resources.

Founded: 2003
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Enervalisenervalis logo

The Belgian company provides a software called the Smartpower Suite and is the backbone to smart microgrids. Their platform using machine learning algorithms to analyse energy use and adapts to usage, resulting in significant energy savings.

Founded: 2013
Location: Houthalen-Helchteren, Belgium


Farmers EdgeFarmers Edge

This Canadian based startup focuses on agriculture precision farming. Their IoT enabled platform allows farmers to make informed decisions with real time information with farm sensors, historical data, and data management.

Founded: 2005
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada


FreeWire Technologies, Inc.freewire technology logo

FreeWire Technology is An intelligent energy system that provides clean power to certain applications. Their recent Series A pulled in $5.7 million in funding.

Founded: 2014
Location: San Leonardo, California, U.S.



GamayaThis agriculture and farming startup improves the sustainability and efficiency of farming with Ai.

Founded: 2015
Location: Lausanne, Vaud, Switzerland



Hyliion logoA company that is creating alternative energy consumption options for the agriculture industry by reducing tractor-trailer fuel consumption by 30%.

Founded: 2015
Location: Austin, Texas, U.S.



The have a Virtual Power Plant that makes it easier to earn revenue with renewable energies. They are one of the largest battery managers in the world.

Founded: 2013
Location: London, U.K.


May Mobilitymay mobility logo

The Uber of shuttle busses. This company is developing autonomous electric buses that are for both public and private use.

Founded: 2017
Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.


Naked EnergyNaked Energy Ltd

This company has not yet completed a commercial launch, but is set to launch in the second half of 2018. It's a design and innovation company that specialises in energy conservation and solar technology.

Founded: 2012
Location: West Sussex, U.K.


NexeonNexeon Ltd

Nexeon creates next generation lithium ion batteries. They have incorporated silicon into their batteries significantly increasing battery storage and life cycles between charges.

Founded: 2006
Location: Oxfordshire, U.K.


Orbital SystemsOrbital Systems

Swedish based water technology company is significantly reducing water consumption. They are saving energy and water usage with their recirculating system that essentially treats the water in a miniature waste water treatment site for showers using smart technology.

Founded: 2012
Location: Malmo, Sweden


Plantixplantix logo

Plantix is a mobile app for those in the agriculture sector to help farmers increase the productivity and profitability of their land.

Founded: 2015
Location: Berlin, Germany



Pyka using autonomous planes making the application of chemicals to crops faster, safer, and more precise. Their product is also affordable, allowing smaller farms to benefit from the technology.

Founded: 2017
Location: Oakland, Cali, U.S.


Pyrowavepyrowave logo

Pyrowave is a plastic recycling company that turns plastic waste into chemical material that can be used to create new plastics.

Founded: 2013
Location: Montréal, Quebec, Canada


Tadotado logo

A German company that supplies thermostas to homes and small businesses. The thermostat and app adjust to the realtime behaviour of users.

Founded: 2011
Location: Munich, Bayern, Germany


The Ocean Cleanup

the ocean cleanup logoA Dutch company that has developed revolutionary technology that is helping to clean and prevent plastic pollution in the ocean.

Founded: 2013
Location: The Netherlands


Vivintvivint solar logo

Vivint Solar provides energy solutions and are fast growing in North America. They are making solar available to the masses, helping them to go green!

Founded: 2011
Location: Lehi, Utah, U.S.


Zola Electric

zola electric logoZola utilises the latest renewable energy technologies. Their energy systems are used across the African continent to power homes and businesses with renewable energy.

Founded: 2011
Location: Arusha, Tanzania



The cleantech bubble of the 2000s rocket the investment world, and for a long time, cleantech was not getting funding. But the increasing demand for clean technologies and rise in the commercialisation of the industry could make way for a new age in cleantech and drive sustainability.

Will China's increased investments towards renewable energy and shift away from a fossil fuel dependent economy mean more profitable returns from early-stage cleantech companies?

Whether or not we learned our lesson remains unanswered. But one thing remains certain. The need for more sustainable technologies that help conserve and nurture our planet are more important than ever.

Scientists have long been warning of the consequences of a temperature increase, but new studies reveal that we need to up the anti. Keeping to goals we set for 2030 is no longer enough to curb the effects of a temperature increase. We're running out of time. 

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