I was excited to attend the cleantech forum in Tallinn, and there were two key reasons:
First, Estonia remained one of the few European countries I hadn’t explored. Despite traversing most of continental Europe, this Baltic gem had eluded my travels until now.
Secondly, my previous experience at the Edinburgh CleanTech forum, funded by Scottish Enterprise, had been transformative. It was there, that I encountered my future lead investor, Green Angel Syndicate (now Ventures). The quality of investors, the balanced ratio of investors to entrepreneurs, and the sheer value of connections made it possibly the most valuable event of 2021 for me.
Hence, I self-funded our attendance at CleanTech Europe 2023, braving the challenges of booking flights from Scotland to Estonia. Though the connections were a logistical nightmare, Tallinn greeted me warmly, and within an hour of landing, I was comfortably settled in my hotel.
The main venue was a reconditioned industrial mill which had kept its industrial feel and could easily have been at home as a rave venue or 80s New York bar/disco venue. The food (all vegetarian) was superb and the reception was warm and friendly.
The highlight however was the conference dinner venue on the 2nd night – a refurbished submarine ‘factory’. It was spectacular with marine and other nautical displays including a full submarine on show. Estonian red wine did not dull the irony that where we were eating was developed by the Soviet Union to create weapons of war while a very relevant conflict was in full force not so far away…
Aside from the many investors, entrepreneurs and leaders from civil society available for networking, I enjoyed spending time speaking to people, especially those indirectly involved with the purpose of my visit. Taxi drivers, ushers, wine waiters, even coffee shop owners were all targets of my questions.
The key question that often arose for discussion was: what do you think the outcome of the war will be? It was fascinating to have these chats, often energetic and many of which led to a conclusion regarding the need for a much stronger western military response, a lack of understanding of the importance of a significant response and determination to support Ukraine and protect Estonia.
However, as the title of this piece suggests, the key reason I spent three days in the Baltic region was to gain relevant investment contacts, create opportunities which could be transformed into potential investor partnerships.
Two things stood out:
First: there was again an excellent number and positive ratio of investors to entrepreneurs present at the event and from many backgrounds including corporate, public investment and VC. There was a lack I felt of investors prioritising seed capital stage which limited our options but easily enough opportunities to keep me quite busy for the full 2 days.
Second: the prioritisation and time set aside for meetings and networking was key to make progress. Useful workshops and speakers were lined up but the priority was meeting and engaging directly.
Utilising the event’s tailored app for meetings proved beneficial, yet the reluctance of many investors to engage through it created missed opportunities. There’s an etiquette gap that warrants attention—a need for mutual respect and responsiveness between busy entrepreneurs and busy investors- many entrepreneurs and some investors were left waiting at pre-arranged meeting points and times, but often alone.
As an outputs driven person the key results for me were the eventual scores on the board. We have an open investment round and have raised £1m and are seeking a further £1.5m in equity and debt to build the world’s first CreChar bio additive factory in the UK.
So the output I am seeking is an investor looking to invest £500k-£1m into our business.
Over the 2 days and 2 nights I would estimate I achieved 30-35 interesting conversations with investors or intermediaries of which 15, I am in the process of following up with emails and LinkedIn contact. Of these 15 I am hopeful to create 5 promising conversations which from experience if one proves to be fruitful it will have exceeded expectations.
Meeting directly and individually with the right person from the right organisation is key to making progress and gaining investment. It allows the entrepreneur to put across their passion, seriousness and also to allow the investor to judge directly the most valuable part of the business – the team and its leader and gain a valuable insight into the idea and problem you are seeking to solve..
Overall I believe CleanTech forum Europe is one of the better events that focus on bringing investors, entrepreneurs and brokers together and drive forward engagement and investment. This is based on decades of experience from the cleantech team, significant loyalty from attending investors and the model of engagement. The forum typically sells out but also sets a maximum attendance number – useful for ensuring the event does not become unmanageable. I am hopeful that we will attain positive outcomes from my time in Estonia- a beautiful city well worth a visit despite the challenging flight connections from Scotland- but time, hard work and a large slice of luck will also be required!