As a partner of the Boost My Startup Challenge network, we had the honor of conducting an interview with Eric Plan, Secretary General of CleantechAlps, a network that strives to position Western Switzerland as a recognized center of competence in the field of clean technologies. Let’s get to this interview: a true apology for creativity and cleantech. 

Who are you and what are your deepest motivations?

EPFL mechanical engineer by training I am above all creative and impatient by nature. As Secretary General of CleantechAlps, my main activity is to listen to the players on the ground. Identifying and deciphering their needs, the constraints they face, and finding solutions with them are part of my daily business. A man close to people above all, I have built up specific networks over the years in the political, economic, academic, financial, public and media circles and am now fully integrated into national and international networks put at disposition to our members.

What motivates me on a daily basis is to work to ensure that the social sciences are systematically integrated into projects and are at least on the same level as the natural sciences in today’s debate. I am also convinced that in the same dynamic we should evolve towards a culture of low tech, robust but with a Swiss finish. In the field of buildings, the acceptance of new solutions inevitably depends on the support of the end user. Understanding their behaviors and proposing ergonomic solutions from all points of view is essential.

How does your organization supports startups and innovation?

CleantechAlps works on a daily basis with entrepreneurs and decision-makers to generate new stimulus instruments in addition to optimizing current programs in order to improve the framework conditions. In order to facilitate understanding and expand the subject matter, we promote innovations in specialized publications in order to democratize the sector’s solutions with concrete examples for the general public. Examples include the Swiss Cleantech Report, the Panorama of Cleantech Startups and Hydrogen in Switzerland. The added value of CleantechAlps lies in particular in a qualified matchmaking service and a systemic approach.

The ultimate goal of our activity is to position Western Switzerland as a recognized center of competence in cleantech and to contribute to strengthening the region’s competitiveness. All this while promoting the shift towards a less resource-intensive and therefore more sustainable society. A touch of utopia and great creativity are undoubtedly necessary ingredients to keep faith with this mission.

What are the advantages for a startup to participate in innovation ecosystems?

Opening up to other organizations, other sectors, being able to call on a network of experts or partners and surrounding yourself with the right people is essential for a startup. Participating in innovation ecosystems facilitates these interactions and helps to strengthen and accelerate their capacity for innovation in relation to end customers. In this context, relevant calls for projects such as “Boost my Startup Challenge” are essential elements of the ecosystem.

What are the pitfalls for the development of a startup?

This is a tricky question as each project is different, but the two basic elements are to understand the context in which the startup’s product will be deployed and to ensure that its product or service delivers a real benefit to the targeted customers. Validation of the commercial offer in the field, in contact with the end-user, remains essential. 

A final word to share?

In the current context, one of the big challenges is not to fall into the trap of false good ideas that will save the planet… but that nobody is able to finance. Green innovations must also be profitable. They can only be profitable if they are mass-produced and without frills. To do this, they must be as close as possible to the real needs of the customers. There is no sector that is not affected by sustainable innovation, and building and construction are still in their infancy with the arrival of new materials, digital technology and artificial intelligence.