A launch pad for green and clean entrepreneurs

In between these sessions, participants will work in small groups to hone pitches and develop slide decks, receive individual coaching on their pitch, ultimately making 15-minute pitches and taking questions from judges. As things wrap up, participants will hear from experts and successful entrepreneurs about “exit strategies,” and how early-stage entrepreneurs should “begin with the end in mind.”

This year, GBBC will hold three of these workshops—in Los Angeles, London and a third in Asia. Next year, Norton plans to launch an e-learning platform “aimed at serving up content that initially serves the needs of the early-stage entrepreneur but ultimately can serve a number of different audiences with an interest in entrepreneurship, innovation, green business, and cleantech.”

I asked Norton about the role of big companies in her program. “We work with big companies in a number of ways,” she responded. “They sponsor our workshops. They provide expertise to teach some of the modules that we're offering. But perhaps most importantly, we’re trying to create what I call a virtuous loop of innovation. Big companies are looking for innovative ideas and many of them don't know how to innovate internally, so they're looking outside for what's next. We are working with a number of big companies that are interested in seeing what's next in green business and cleantech. They can provide partnership opportunities for our entrepreneurs to sell services and products, perhaps even acquire them. It's critical that we continue that loop of communication between what's happening inside the Fortune 500 and what's happening on the front lines of innovation in entrepreneurship.”

Those big companies also serve as a cautionary tale, Norton says. "The original model was, how do we take the Fortune 500 and retrofit them through sustainability? That's been kludgy at best. We need to start thinking about sustainability from the ground up, helping entrepreneurs integrate it from the very beginning. We're building sustainability into the DNA of these companies."

Will it work? It’s, well, early stage, so it's hard to know. But I’ll give Norton high marks for her vision, and for the savvy she and her team bring to the party. Norton is one of the most determined, connected, and passionate individuals I know, strong qualities that will increase the odds that GBBC will end up in the rarified air of startups that succeed. And if it does, GBBC could play a pivotal role in fostering a new generation of entrepreneurs interested in tapping into the growing markets for green and cleantech products and services.

I asked Norton to envision what success might look like for GBBC. She responded, “We build a profitable company that serves up great content all over the world. Ultimately, we are so attractive as a business that we get acquired.”

“So, in effect, you're modeling the curriculum in real time?” I asked.

She replied, “Yes, indeed.”