10 tips for building an award-winning collaboration

Entrepreneurship is not only for entrepreneurs. It’s also for the corporate, governmental, and institutional partners that work with entrepreneurs. Especially in today’s economy, partners are essential, and working across sectors can be particularly powerful.

Just ask Cambrian Innovation’s CEO Matthew Silver, Ph.D. Cambrian was named one of the GoingGreen Global 200, and Silver is the first to admit that strategic alliances are key components of their success so far -- and of their strategy going forward. “Collaborative projects are a key part of our approach, since they give us both broader reach and more flexibility,” Silver explained.

Cambrian Innovation develops bio-tech solutions that “help industrial, agricultural, and government customers save money while recovering clean water and clean energy from wastewater streams,” according to their press materials. I spoke with Dr. Silver and with James F. Groelinger, the Executive Director of the Clean Energy Alliance (CEA), the national association of clean energy incubators that helped Cambrian obtain the funding for one of its collaborations in 2012. 

To build a winning team, you need partners who bring complementary networks, resources, capabilities, and experience. That’s especially true when breaking new ground in an emerging industry like cleantech. The GoingGreen 200 are “the top companies that are disrupting global industries and creating viable business models for the green technology marketplace,” according to AlwaysOn, the media brand in the Silicon Valley that produces the GoingGreen 200 award program. Winners were selected from thousands of technology companies worldwide based on five criteria, according to AlwaysOn: innovation, market potential, commercialization, stakeholder value and media buzz.

Cambrian’s success has been supported by innovative collaborations, including the U.S. government, the private sector, and the State of Massachusetts where Cambrian is based (it was spun out of MIT in 2006). After Cambrian connected to the Department of Energy Small Business and Clean Energy Alliance Partnership (DOE-CEA), which is administered by CEA, Cambrian reached out to CEA member Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems. The DOE-CEA provided funding support through its Recovery Act-funded grant program, and helped Cambrian obtain advice from the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP). MassMEP is an affiliate of the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) administered through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). 

“CEA is always striving for collaborations that enhance the capabilities of its member incubators and their clients,” Groelinger said. “When I met the Manufacturing Extension Partnership folks, it was obvious how we could work together to help grow cleantech companies and we quickly formed a collaboration to support commercialization by companies like Cambrian.”

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