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How Debt Financing Powers the Growth of Cleantech Innovators
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How Debt Financing Powers the Growth of Cleantech Innovators

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Catherine Daly
Content Strategist

As the world demands greater sustainability and a path to decarbonization, cleantech startups stand at the forefront. But how do they grow and scale their critical innovations? Debt financing can help.

Startups across the cleantech sector are developing sustainable energy solutions, green infrastructure, and waste-to-energy systems that will revolutionize the energy landscape, help other industries decarbonize, and create a better future for the planet. 

Cleantech company founders must navigate intricate challenges, including regulatory compliance, scalability issues, environmental impact assessments, and securing partnerships. But above all this is the need to secure significant capital to grow and scale their solutions.

Debt financing emerges as a viable solution for cleantech companies aiming to become the next big thing. 

In this article, we examine the benefits of debt financing for cleantech companies and highlight success stories in the space from TIMIA’s portfolio.

Investors Appreciate Cleantech

The appeal of energy and cleantech startups to investors and lenders has surged in recent times, fueled by the drive towards sustainability and the push for decarbonization across most industries. However, there are several key reasons why investors are looking to add cleantech companies to their portfolios:

1. Vast Potential for Green Transformation

The urgency to combat climate change has put pressure on traditional industries to adopt green technologies and make real efforts to decarbonize. As a result, cleantech startups with groundbreaking solutions can tap into vast markets awaiting sustainable transformation.

2. Carbon Accounting Requirements

A growing number of publicly listed firms are now issuing some form of annual ESG reporting in alignment with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and other recognized frameworks thanks to proposed regulations like the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) new disclosure rules to ensure companies transparently report their climate-related risks and greenhouse gas emissions. This is trickling down to venture and private equity-funded companies too.

3. Investor Demand

In light of growing demand, the finance industry is creating more products and services related to ESG ratings, indices, and funds. Reflecting this, a recent survey by law firm Fasken revealed that 68% of companies in the S&P/TSX 60 Index link CEO and senior executive compensation to the delivery of at least one or more ESG objectives. 

4. Stickiness of the Technology

Much like the stickiness in medtech and fintech, once energy or infrastructure providers integrate a cleantech solution, replacing it becomes difficult. Such integration guarantees consistent revenue streams and a long-term customer relationship for the cleantech company.

Cleantech Startups Successfully Growing with Debt

There are several examples of cleantech companies that have successfully leveraged TIMIA’s unique approach to debt financing.

1. Watchwire (Previously EnergyWatch)

Watchwire was among the first energy consulting and procurement advisory firms in the deregulated energy market in New York. As the space evolved — and environmental concerns began to play a broader role in corporate operations — WatchWire spotted a gap in the market for a SaaS-based platform that could address the common challenges faced by its customers.  

The company strategically used debt to fuel business growth, which was instrumental in WatchWire’s successful acquisition in 2023 by Tango Analytics, a cloud-based real estate and facilities management software company backed by Berkshire Partners.

Read Watchwire’s growth and exit story.

2. Uplight (Previously Agentis Energy)

Uplight is a Chicago-based SaaS company with an important mission: to unlock data that will empower businesses to reduce their carbon footprint and ensure reliable, affordable energy for future generations.

Instead of focusing on venture rounds, Uplight focused on its customers and built a great product and an enduring company using debt financing in a capital-efficient way.

Read Uplight’s growth story.

Benefits of Debt Financing for Cleantech

Debt financing is a common funding strategy used by cleantech businesses of all sizes. Here are some of the primary benefits of using debt financing:

1. Retain Ownership

Debt financing ensures cleantech founders maintain full control over their venture without diluting ownership.

2. Lower Cost of Capital

Compared to equity financing, debt is typically a cheaper form of financing because lenders take on less risk than equity investors. This means the cost of debt (interest) is typically less than that of equity (dividends/ownership dilution).

3. Predictability

Debt financing agreements often come with fixed repayment schedules and interest rates and can offer flexible terms including interest-only or amortized payments. This allows businesses to keep working capital in the business and plan ahead.

4. Subordination for a Blended Cost of Capital

Some debt solutions include the ability to subordinate its loans to senior debt. This arrangement provides cleantech companies with an added layer of financial flexibility and security.

5. Flexibility

Debt can be used for a variety of purposes, including:

  • Lengthening Runway and Delaying Equity Raises: Cleantech startups aiming to defer their next equity raise to prevent dilution can benefit from debt financing. It provides the necessary capital to propel the business forward without diluting equity stakes.
  • Reaching Cash Flow Positivity: Debt can provide the necessary financial boost for cleantech startups striving to achieve a cash flow-positive status, a crucial milestone for any business.
  • Facilitating Business Model Transition: For clean startups looking to pivot their business model or decrease their services revenue, debt solutions can provide the much-needed capital during this transformative phase. It can also help fund the acquisition of new intellectual property, talent, or customers.
  • Positioning for an Acquisition: Companies gearing up for mergers or acquisitions can use forward-facing loans to enhance vital financial metrics while preserving a simple capital structure.
  • Refinancing: Some companies need more time to repay loans that are either about to expire and need more time or are called by the capital provider due to liquidity. Others want to consolidate multiple different debt products, clear accounts payable build-up, or open a new credit line.

To conclude, debt serves as a great finance instrument for cleantech startups aiming for growth without compromising their equity. Providers like TIMA are instrumental in plugging the finance gap for these companies, providing industry-specific expertise and tailored debt solutions for cleantech firms with $2-50M in ARR.

To explore TIMA’s offerings tailored for cleantech startups, contact our team for a chat.

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Catherine Daly
Content Strategist

Catherine joined TIMIA Capital as a freelance copywriter and social media manager in January 2019. She has 15 years experience in marketing and held senior positions at a number of technology companies including Hootsuite, Absolute, and Avnet Technology Solutions. Catherine is an expert writer and marketer and holds an executive Masters in Marketing, a Bachelor of Science in Communications and Journalism, and a Diploma in Digital Marketing.