News, insights and events for innovators
News, insights and events for innovators
News, insights and events for innovators

Scaling-up sustainable energy start-ups

energy startup

By Elena Bou, Co-founder and Innovation Director, EIT InnoEnergy. Watch Elena speak on this topic during the Vivatech conference, available on-demand.

An ideal world

In an ideal world we would encounter speed and simplicity when looking to scale-up sustainable energy start-ups. Yet, the reality is, we are often faced with slow and complex, which has a domino effect on development, deployment and scalability.


One of the major hurdles impacting start-ups in Europe is permits. Despite the European Union implementing various policies to support the deployment of sustainable energy technologies across its member states, many start-ups are starting on the back foot when securing their permits.

Right now, the time it takes to receive a permit is on average 3-4 years; yet the global benchmark 6-9 months.

Given the complexity of the European Union, with each country controlling its own regulatory framework, local laws, regulations and permitting requirements, complexity is expected. But let’s learn from the countries with the most well defined, streamlined procedures and make it a priority to cut unnecessary bureaucracy so that we can fast-track our innovations.


The next issue is financing. Sustainable energy start-ups need financial muscle to support early-stage development. Unlike software developers, many of our start-ups are producing capital intensive technological solutions, also known as Tough Tech. However, most VC firms cannot meet their high capital needs and traditional banks, that could typically provide the level of financing needed, do not have the appetite for such risk. As a result, we have a huge gap between the financing required by these start-ups and what they can access. To bridge this, these high CAPEX early-stage companies require specific financing instruments, such as loans and equity investments, that will meet the required level of capital needed to support their large-ticket financing needs.

Public funding also has its limitations. In Europe we have been able to mobilise public funding for early-stage investment, but unfortunately applicants are expected to fit within certain criteria. As a result, many start-ups are missing out. We need to shake up this thinking and encourage new solutions to the growing complexities surrounding climate change. One size will never fit all, that is simply at odds with innovation.


Scaling up start-ups is not just about technology, it is also about people. Just like we use Technology Readiness Level to assess the maturity of a technology for deployment, we also need to consider the society readiness level of acceptance when it comes to adopting sustainable technologies. To what extent is a consumer willing and able to change their behaviour when adopting sustainable technologies? Too often we see the NIMBY effect come into play, where many people support renewable technologies – just not in their backyard. Politicians, corporates and innovators need to take this into account, lead by example and provide a platform to have important conversations that will start to breakdown barriers to behavioural change. For example, we know we should take public transport, walk or ride our bikes. We understand and support the idea of recycling. But to what extent are we making daily conscious decisions to reduce our carbon footprint? On the other hand, there are topics that remain largely unknown to the general population. One example is the impact that mobile phone batteries are having on the environment. Currently the raw materials used to produce these batteries are being mined, but nobody wants to talk about mines. We must face these types of discussions, at all levels of society.

Supply chain

Despite Europe being at the forefront of developing robust and interconnected supply chains, there are still many shortfalls that need to be solved. For example, in 2022 Europe deployed 41.4 GW of new solar capacity. Yet, because only 1% of production is within Europe, 99% of this infrastructure needed to be imported, resulting in a €12 billion deficit. High-capital costs and a complex policy and regulatory framework across our different EU states all add to the challenge. As does a skilled workforce and the need to invest in training to develop expertise in new technologies and their integration into the energy system. The challenge here is big, but the loss is even bigger should we not succeed. At InnoEnergy we are on a mission to support the European Union’s Industrial Strategy by spearheading three industrial value chains in battery storage, green hydrogen and solar photovoltaics. What is more, we are also providing training for the workforce via our InnoEnergy Skills Institute.  

The bright side

We should all be very proud of what we have and will continue to achieve in Europe. The policies we have in place provide stability and longevity for sustainable energy development. What’s more, these policies are continuously pushed for the betterment of the continent. Look at RePowerEU for example in March 2023 the EU agreed to strengthen this legislation, increasing our target of renewable capacity from 12% to 42.5%. When reached, we would be on track to almost double the amount of renewable energy currently produced in Europe. Thanks to policies like these, combined with innovation ecosystems like ours, we are seeing a real impact on the ground. By 2030, it is estimated that our portfolio companies will have saved 2.1 Gigatons of C02, €12.8 billion in energy costs and generated 831 terawatt-hours of energy from clean sourcesBut, this will only be possible if we are able to scale these innovative sustainable solutions: scale and speed. 

Watch now

To watch Elena Bou speak on this topic at Vivatech, click here