Jeffrey Lints, MBA ’02, Deputy Director of Colorado Cleantech Fellows Institute
Clean-tech Innovation Intersects with Business Expertise
A Johnson alumnus with a passion for renewable energy, Jeffrey Lints is not your average environmentalist. Early on, Lints established himself as a successful businessman and entrepreneur in a variety of industries, including clean technology startups. “I have been an environmentalist for as long as I can remember, staying up too late reading news headlines, geeking out on technology, and nagging everyone to recycle,” says Lints. After 17 years of experience in startup, high-growth, and Fortune 100 companies, Lints says his primary interest now is finding economically viable models for cleantech and mapping out how the technology adoption cycle can drive itself in the renewable-energy sector. That’s why joining the Cleantech Fellows Institute (CFI) was a natural fit for Lints, who serves both as CFI’s deputy director and as its Capstone Project department head.
The Cleantech Fellows Institute is a nonprofit organization that educates selected fellows on every aspect of the cleantech industry and pairs them with unparalleled resources and venture capitalist funding. The Colorado Cleantech Industry Association created CFI in recognition of the shortage of seasoned executive experience and talent in the renewable energy sector. “The Cleantech Fellows Institute is different than any startup incubator or accelerator I’ve come across,” says Lints. “We are setting up a kind of ‘talent accelerator,’ bringing in proven executives to help launch cleantech companies and giving them preferred access to venture capitalists and innovations.
“Cleantech is a relatively new industry compared to others, and it lacks the deep pool of successful repeat entrepreneurs that other more mature industries can provide,” Lints continues. “And, while every industry has its unique challenges, it is clear that cleantech falls at the more complex end of that spectrum. From adoption cycles to regulatory environment to capital intensity, cleantech has proven to be one of the more difficult industries in which to succeed. This makes finding and investing in the right people that much more critical.”
Indeed, CFI is one of the first of its kind, setting up national and statewide partnerships alongside corporate and public sponsorships. Sponsors include the National Renewable Energy Lab, Advanced Energy Economy Institute, Toyota, Platts, and several others. Partners include Colorado State University, the University of Colorado, and the Colorado School of Mines. When asked what makes CFI different than other startup incubators, Lints noted that CFI’s sponsors view its fellows as proven talent, perhaps accelerating their fundraising efforts. “In addition, we have a national focus – recruiting candidates nationwide, partnering with the Clean Energy Alliance with their national footprint, and partnering with some of the leading cleantech VCs,” he says.
In his role as deputy director, Lints is coordinating the development of CFI’s curriculum with his team of department heads. Additionally, he is arranging for over 150 guest speakers for CFI fellows and setting up tours of local companies. When not busy with those duties, Lints helps to recruit candidates, identify additional sources of innovation, and market the institute. As department head of the Capstone Project, he is also developing the Capstone curriculum. Fellows will be responsible for creating teams to formulate business plans that include market entry strategy, market analysis, and an investor pitch.
Lints believes that CFI’s location and offerings will enable fellows to produce Capstone projects that could become real, viable startups. “Colorado is a hub for cleantech,” says Lints. “There is an abundance of market-ready research and technology here to drive the success of this program. Each fellow will complete the program with a Capstone project, essentially de-risking a startup and positioning it for seed stage or Series A investment. Most venture capital firms are quick to acknowledge that they invest in teams and people, not products or technologies. … We are then combining this talent with commercially ready technologies from Colorado’s leading research institutions.”
CFI will select up to 15 Cleantech Fellows in its first year, and is targeting executives who have built successful companies in different sectors such as aerospace, biotechnology, and enterprise technology. Executives with more than 20 years of experience, an advanced degree, and experience leading a venture-backed startup company are ideal candidates, says Lints.
Lints considers CFI to be a startup itself, as the institute is in its inaugural year. This may have been another draw for him to help establish CFI; he is no stranger to startups. “I enjoy rolling up my sleeves and trying to do something disruptive in the marketplace,” says Lints. “I enjoy the variety of skills needed to get early-stage companies off the ground — everything from building new markets to designing experiments and yes, taking out the trash. I am heading into my fifth startup and feel like I am beginning to learn my craft.”
Even when not working for CFI, Lints remains busy. Concurrent with his roles at CFI, he is consulting for two cleantech startups. But Lints remarks that he has never had a more exciting time in his career: “This summer has been the most fun that I can remember, at least since the Johnson School.”
Sahil Jain ’14 is an intern in Marketing and Communications at Johnson.