This week four members of the Los Angeles Cleantech community went to Washington to tell our story. Our Mr. Smith trip is an exploratory and ground-laying trip as we want to learn how “its” done (i.e. work the system), meet people that we can ask for help/information in the future, learn about programs that we can potentially participate in, and generally get the lay of the land. Moreover, we wanted to hone our narrative making sure as many people in Congress, DOE, Commerce, and the White House know about us as possible.
Week One — The Stats
For the number-crunchers out there, here’s the metrics of week one:
- One conference (APRA-e Summit) of 1500 people and 200+ exhibitors
- 13 formal meetings with Representatives, Senators (their staffs), DOE program managers and staff, EDA staff, SBA staff, the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and a couple of fellows from the World Bank.
- Number of problems getting through security (EVERY one, most of which are my fault)
- Number of grass hoppers eaten at dinner: one (I will get even with Goodstein)
Setting up these meetings requires a Herculean effort by a lot of people. Sean, Michael and their organizations (the Los Angeles Area Chamber and UCLA) took the lead in making these meetings happen. Ian and the LACI team worked weeks trying to get ready, making sure we had background material and leave behinds for the entire trip. Just coordinating our schedules was a heavy lift.
A Typical “Pitch Session”
Depending on whether you’re meeting with a member of Congress or an agency, the protocols vary. Let’s take a member of Congress or their staff as an example. They go something like this for Team LA:
- Find the office in the respective building (not as easy as you think).
- Outside, give all our cards to our “lead,” — Chair Swords — who presents all cards to the staffer in the reception, who then pastes the cards on a sheet of paper and gives them to the person we’re meeting with.
- These meetings are typically 30 minutes max and usually take place in a group office. We took one sitting in the reception area and two others in the Congress Member’s office.
- Format: Each of us would give our respective 5 minutes pitches, each with a difference emphasis depending on who we were meeting with and which one of us started out. We’re getting pretty good at filling in the gaps of each others’ narrative. After the introduction, there is a Q&A session with the staff, most often focusing on “the ask,” if we have one. Push the leave-behind across the table for future reference.
- Key themes: (1) Please support LA’s efforts to build a cleantech ecosystem (2) Unique public/private partnership; (3) Unequaled powerhouse of university research centers in LA; (4) Unique LA region’s strengths (5) New initiatives underway (LACI, new ED at CTLA, etc.)
Week One’s Highlights
- You can’t come away from the ARPA-e Summit without feeling that no matter what else is going wrong with the world, there are a lot of smart people working on sustainability in the US. This was a spectacular event attended by 1500-ish people. More than 180 companies/projects displayed their technology, products and services. Key speakers included Bill Gates, Secretary Chu, Fred Smith (Fed Ex), the Chairman of Walmart, and my nomination for best presentation — Dr. Arun Majumdar.
- Sitting around a small table in Congressman Waxman’s staffer bullpen and making our first pitch and realizing we were a pretty damn good team.
- The numerous evening gatherings with serious conversations late into the night. There are a lot of passionate people working on sustainability issues in DC and it was good talking about things that matter.
- And by far the best of all — the tour of the West Wing graciously arranged and given by Brandon Hurlbut, Chief of Staff to DOE Secretary Chu. Seeing the Oval Office in the flesh is something special.
This week has been practice for next week’s Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce’s Access DC event with more than 200 delegates and more than a dozen events. These events literally start at a 7:00AM breakfast and last through a reception and dinner each night.