It’s now 13 years since Al Gore won the best documentary Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth in which he warned of the stark perils of global warming. It’s also 13 years since John Doerr, the legendary billionaire venture capitalist, gave his famous Ted Talk in which he teared up as he warned about climate change and championed clean energy investment.
That first wave of global cleantech investment was born out of the collapse of the dot.com bubble but foundered on the rocks of the 2008 Financial Crash.
But, here at the TechX programme in the North Sea’s oil capital, we have not only taken up the challenge set by Mr Doerr of providing breakthrough technologies for the zero-carbon era: we’re placing Aberdeen at the heart of the next wave of global cleantech innovation and we’re delivering on it.
True, these issues have been eclipsed in recent weeks by another global crisis, the coronavirus pandemic and the plunging price of Brent Crude on the back of the Saudi-Russian oil price war.
But, serious as those issues are, we cannot lose focus on the existential threat posed by climate change. That’s why, amid these challenging times, we have some very positive news to report in our quest to make the UKCS the world’s first net hydrocarbon basin by 2050.
We’ve always been clear that our strategy is to be the main pipeline for the most exciting energy-focused start-ups from around the world, bringing them here to Aberdeen to supercharge their journey and ours towards the urgent energy transition.
At TechX, the Oil & Gas Technology Centre’s award-winning technology accelerator, we are currently finalising our third cohort of tech ‘pioneers’, those innovative start-ups looking to bring a much-needed performance step change to the UK oil and gas sector. From the outset, our ground-breaking programme has been a gamechanger in the rapid acceleration of new technology companies.
Now in our third year, we’ve once again demonstrated our international reputation and global pulling power by attracting over 150 applications spanning 37 different countries.
More encouraging still, there has been a massive increase in applications from cleantech pioneers, who accounted for almost half (49%) of the total entries, up from 28% in the first year.
Already, eight very promising companies have been selected for the third cohort of the programme. With four final places still to be awarded, there is every possibility that fully half of the companies represented in this cohort of 12 will be cleantech, a fivefold increase from year one.
Some of these companies will come from our ground-breaking TechX Venture programme. This collaboration with Deep Science Ventures is the first of its kind, a rapid growth venture builder that focuses solely on creating, from scratch, new tech companies that specialise in the net zero technologies that the UKCS so urgently requires.
These notable achievements in cleantech are complemented by another very encouraging trend: gender diversity among applicants has also doubled from the second cohort intake. A total of 18% of companies in the application pool had female founders or co-founders representing significant progress on one of the programme’s key goals.
The bar has been set extremely high for cohort three by the continuing successes of their counterparts in the first two cohorts who are making fast-track progress in the industry.
Optic Earth stands as an example of what TechX is achieving. It was incorporated in just two months, entering the TechX programme in May 2019 from our inaugural TechX Ventures intake. Since then the Aberdeen-based company has hired four new staff, won the coveted BP Performance award at Graduation and secured a commercial contract. It is also pursuing field trials while actively raising more than £1 million in investment to accelerate its commercialisation and scale up rapidly.
It’s by no means unique. The first two cohorts continue to make major strides forward: over ten field trials have already been completed while more than 20 are in progress or being planned. Together, they have created 20 new jobs and raised over £2 million in additional funding with a further £15 million currently being sought to help them commercialise and scale. We also have five Scottish EDGE winners, testimony to their potential for entrepreneurial high growth.
Of course, between them, coronavirus and the sub $30 oil price have cut carbon emissions and reduced output in the short-term. But our cleantech pioneers offer a real long-term opportunity for the UKCS to achieve a secure, sustainable, competitive and cost-effective energy future for the North Sea and beyond. I for one, am excited to see what this year’s talent will bring to the table.
David Millar, TechX Director, The Oil & Gas Technology Centre