Funding is one of the most significant challenges facing the ocean energy industry, and it's time to explore new opportunities.

Crowdfunding for the Ocean Energy Industry

Stephanie Thornton | Clean Reach

Why did you decide to launch a crowdfunding site specific to the ocean energy industry, and what sectors of ocean energy do you cover?

Clean Reach’s platform supports crowdfunding campaigns for tidal, wave, ocean thermal, current and offshore wind energy. 

Several industry challenges inspired the creation of Clean Reach, including:

  • Lack of early stage funding to support innovation
  • Absence of public attention and engagement to this nascent industry
  • Slow pace of industry growth

Access to adequate funding is one of the largest challenges facing the renewable energy sector. Our objective is to provide an alternative source of funding to help ocean energy entrepreneurs cross the ‘valleys of death,’ or funding gaps that occur throughout the research and development process. Companies in the research and development stage, as well as those moving into prototyping, use Clean Reach to raise money that helps them take critical steps in their development process.

Clean Reach is also valuable to mature ocean energy companies. Although mature companies are likely to seek millions of dollars, crowdfunding can play a key role by helping them a) supplement other funding, such as raising matching funds for government grants and other sources, b) build public support, especially in communities where their technology will be deployed and c) strengthen their credibility and ‘fundability’ to capital investors as a result of successful crowdfunding campaigns. 

Successfully implemented crowdfunding campaigns demonstrate accomplishment, thus cementing existing supporters and attracting new funders. These strategies are also applicable to coastal communities interested in implementing ocean energy projects. 

Absence of public attention and engagement to this emerging industry is another challenge that Clean Reach intends to address. Given its nascent state, the ocean energy industry is hardly visible to the public. Even renewable energy advocates know very little about renewable ocean energy. Our objective is to facilitate that connection.

Finally, we established Clean Reach to help accelerate the growth of the ocean energy industry. Our objective is to help ocean energy technology developers move faster through the development cycle so the vision of what renewables can provide to the world’s energy supply can be realized. For example, providing renewable ocean energy to isolated communities who currently depend on imported diesel.

What unique challenges does the ocean energy industry face, funding or otherwise?

Successful ocean energy entrepreneurs need to juggle a myriad of challenges, including building an international business, marketing and promoting their company, designing their technology and moving it through the development process, and navigating the incredibly complex policy and licensing requirements for ocean energy testing and project development.

All of the above require many years and large sums of money. Clean Reach’s goal is to provide a new way for these entrepreneurs to raise funds and overcome these challenges.

What types of projects do you expect to host on Clean Reach?

The primary groups of projects we expect to see are:

  • Start-up and early stage ocean energy technology developers who need funding support to help them take an important step in developing their technology.  Our WETGEN and Uniturbine campaigns are examples of this type of project.
  • Coastal communities—especially isolated ones—who want to move toward clean ocean energy to supply electricity to their communities. This group is not developing a specific technology, rather they will utilize someone else’s technology to implement a renewable ocean energy project. These are “project developers.” 
  • Organizations who wish to accomplish a special or unique ocean energy initiative or program that advances the industry—from providing educational opportunities for students to fostering global research collaborations. Our INORE, Navigator Award and Hebridean Marine Energy Futures campaigns are examples of this group. 

Do you have any projects on the go now?  How are they doing?

Clean Reach has five active campaigns that launched one week ago. Our campaigns are receiving great visibility and some are starting off with great support. Because crowdfunding is a very new and relatively unknown form of fundraising in ocean energy, we expect a learning curve for both those hosting campaigns and supporting campaigns. We are confident that industry leaders and people passionate about advancing renewable energy will realize the value of crowdfunding.

Clean Reach is a contribution-based crowdfunding platform. What does that mean?

A relatively new but growing practice, contribution crowdfunding is fundraising for businesses, creative projects or causes by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically through an online platform. Crowdfunding supplements traditional funding sources and connects passionate supporters to forward-thinking ideas.

There are three main types of crowdfunding: contribution (donation), investment, and debt or loan crowdfunding. Clean Reach is a contribution crowdfunding platform, meaning that contributors have no ownership or stake in a project or company. Instead contributors are supporting a specific project or initiative they believe in.

How will you spread the word about the crowdfunding site to attract investors?

To clarify, Clean Reach is a contribution-based platform, not investment. Contributors to project campaigns do not have any ownership or stake in either the project or the company.

To start, we envision two primary groups of contributors: 1) industry members and 2) non-industry individuals or organizations who support renewable energy development. The primary industry communication strategy is through targeted trade channels, such as publications, associations and social media groups or networks. We also intend to spread the word through public presentations at key industry events. The non-industry communication channels will be through our comprehensive social media network, sponsorships and through the project managers themselves, who are responsible for publicizing and seeking support for their own campaigns.

Why do you believe crowdfunding will work in the ocean energy industry?

Funding is one of the most significant challenges facing the ocean energy industry, and it’s time to explore new opportunities. There are people around the world who want to make viable ocean energy a reality, but they may not be engineers or developers. Crowdfunding gives them an opportunity to contribute to something they care about and believe in. And for industry leaders, it gives them a low-risk way to support new, innovative ideas that will contribute to global success. 

How do you see Clean Reach evolving?

Our vision is to see Clean Reach become to ocean energy technology and project development what Kickstarter is to consumer technology growth and advancement.  We want to be the place where all levels of industry members bring creative ideas into the public domain for support and funding. 

We are working on two new features that we expect to introduce over the next couple of months. These features are intended to increase communication among industry members, help overcome industry obstacles and improve the ability to acquire resources necessary to accelerate the growth of this nascent industry.

 

Stephanie Thornton - CEO, Clean Reach

Stephanie Thornton is the CEO and Founder of Clean Reach. She has spent considerable time fostering the growth of the renewable ocean energy industry across the globe, from serving as the executive director of the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, working directly with technology developers in Norway and Australia, and co-founding and serving as CEO of Ocean Energy Industry Australia.

Stephanie has a strong foundation of knowledge in ocean-related issues having spent 10 years of her childhood living full-time with her family on a commercial fishing boat on the West Coast of the United States. She has a BS in Marine Science from Humboldt State University and an MBA from Golden Gate University. She holds a current Project Management Professional certification from the Project Management Institute and is an active member in the international ocean energy community.

Clean Reach is Stephanie’s vision and passion.


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