Stephan Ouaknine: Solving climate change through creativity and returns

2013-05-22_11021881_photo _by_Allen_McEachernWhen it comes to thinking, Stephan Ouaknine likes to go BIG. So big, in fact, that the Montreal-based entrepreneur has nothing less than stopping man-made climate change in his sights.


Ouaknine sees the solution in a deceptively simple formula: Creativity – Returns – Impact. “True global impact only comes when there are returns,” he says. “When lots of people make money, things happen that change the world. This has to happen to the energy sector – when creative people make a lot of people money, global impact is achieved.”


Inspired by his exploits in the telecommunications industry, Ouaknine sees clean energy technologies on par with the cellular and mobile technologies that radically redrew the telecom map and helped innovative startwww.c2montreal.comps bring the sector’s long-standing, slow-moving Goliaths to their knees.


The “maddening part,” says Ouaknine, is that clean energy technologies, while available, are neither commercializing nor penetrating markets. What are needed, he says, are creative entrepreneurs with ideas that are big and disruptive enough to generate the kind of returns on clean energy that get investors excited, grow competition and markets, and ultimately force the energy sector’s fossil fuel-addicted behemoths to wakewww.c2montreal.comp and go clean before it’s too late.


“The Establishment only gets jolted into action when they’re under threat, when they’re losing market share,” he says. “As we saw in telecom, when the new entrants arrived with all their cool, new gadgets and the encumbents lost 20 percent market share, all of a sudden crisis meetings were held and guerrilla marketing was put in place and they embraced change. It’s going to happen to energy, too.”


Ouaknine’s company, Inerjys, is a working model of his formula. Part venture fund, it invests growth capital in companies developing clean energy technologies and secures returns on these investments through clean energy infrastructure projects that employ Inerjys-funded technologies. Handsome returns for venture fund investors encourage further investment in clean energy R&D, and (ideally, at least) the cycle builds and grows in scale, penetrating markets and globalizing as it goes.


“When we started Inerjys, we asked a very basic question: why don’t we have a Vodaphone of energy,” Ouaknine says. “I’m willing to bet that 10 years from now there will be a branded, global, multicountry clean energy utility company, a retailer with the kind of scale that global branding brings. Why not be one of those? That’s what we set out to build.”


With “dirty,” carbon-emitting energy constituting 97 percent of current global supplies, it would be easy to lose heart in hopes for reforming the energy sector. Ouaknine, however, prefers to see immense opportunity in the fact that only 3 percent of our current energy supply is provided by clean technologies. “Little by little, bit by bit, we can reform an industry as reputedly unreformable as the energy industry,” he says. “We can do it if we apply creativity and make a lot of people a lot of money. Above all, we can never forget that this planet is alive, and we need everyone involved in the fight to save it.”