Builders, architects and building material companies from all over the country — and all over the world — will converge this week in San Francisco for the Greenbuild 2012 international conference and summit. The annual event includes green building tours of the City by the Bay, a leadership awards ceremony and more LEED workshops than you can shake a stick at.
The event has always been a place where smart, up-and-coming startups in the green building space might hope to catch the eye of a company well established in the field, via the magic of networking. But this year, in the convention’s exhibition hall, that opportunity will take the form of actual matchmaking between startups and a well-heeled international company looking to form strategic partnerships.
The company is 350-year-old global building materials giant Saint-Gobain of France, which is hosting its Nova Innovation Competition for the first time in the U.S. at this year’s Greenbuild. (The European counterpart of this competition has been held for the last three years.) Nova essentially seeks out inventive startups in the fields of building construction, advanced materials, energy efficiency and environmental sustainability, offering both cash prizes and the opportunity to partner with Saint-Gobain’s Nova External Venturing organization.
This opportunity opens up potential joint development, licensing or other collaboration agreements — an approach Saint-Gobain terms Outovation, and which it cites as a key factor in keeping the largest building materials manufacturer on the planet agile in a rapidly changing market.
Those startups who made the final round of the Nova competition were announced around the middle of October, and this week, those companies will have just 10 minutes to pitch their big ideas both to Saint-Gobain and Greenbuild attendees at large via several rounds of what Saint-Gobain calls “speed-dating.”
Rakesh Kapoor serves as the director of both Saint-Gobain’s Northboro R&D Center its NOVA External Venturing program. He told us, “It’s a way of encouraging innovation in the target areas for us. And of course if you couple it with a prize, and — much more important, from our perspective — the opportunity to talk to the senior-most managers of a 60 billion dollar company,” you gain more participation.
Prior to the presentation, all the finalists have been screened, not only by Saint-Gobain, but by “external experts,” including two from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, one from MIT, and one who heads up the sustainability division of a major U.S. construction company. These finalists have also been coached on how best to convey their company’s unique selling proposition in the speed-dating format. Which is to say, the presentation is less of a true competition unfolding before your eyes than a bit of a green building reality TV — call it the The Ultimate Green Elevator Pitch.
All of the startups that have made the final round of judging could be looking at a potential partnership with Saint-Gobain. (Or, for that matter, another company that happens to be impressed by their presentation at the conference.) By making a show of the showdown, so to speak, both the startups that have made the final round and Saint-Gobain gain a platform for discussing and capitalizing on innovation in the green building sphere.
Which startups should win the cash prizes, and attract that fairytale partnership with Saint-Gobain? Check out our super-speedy guide to Sain-Gobain’s Nova speed-dating startup competition, on Page 2. (And if you happen to be in San Franscisco for the conference this week, check out that competition live on November 15 and 11:00 AM.)