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IXP – Extreme Green Tech (Lite)

A Few Key Takeaways from an Epic Journey in the Bay Area

In early January, twenty-five HBS RCs and ECs led by Professor Joe Lassiter set out to discover the mysteries of green tech in the bay area, and ended up finding the meaning of life, the path to true happiness, and, most importantly, each other.

Well…not really. Back in reality, we visited green tech companies and VC firms, and spent the entire week exploring how MBAs fit into the field ambiguously named “Green Tech.” Of course, the answer is-it depends. It depends on your background, the type of company you are looking to join, how much you are willing to risk, and a host of other factors stemming from the fact that green tech is a relatively new field with technology and regulatory risk. It is a fragmented field in which certain sectors are dominated by techies who do not necessarily see value in an MBA education. At the end of the week, we distilled what we had learned into a few questions to ponder as we continued our career search.

1. Can I “go long” green tech without shorting myself?
No: Placing a bet on green tech is like gambling. It is difficult to see what technology will come out as the front-runner in the next decade, and whether or not skill sets will be transferable among technologies is questionable. You may spend years of your life working on something, and, in return, receive no relevant industry experience.
Yes: Sales and management experience is transferrable. In order to gain that experience, positioning yourself with the right people to teach you those skills rather than with the right technology is a more effective strategy. Also, you always have an HBS degree to fall back on if everything goes wrong.

2. What can an MBA contribute to a green tech company?
It depends on the type of company. For early-stage tech companies, this will likely entail performing the responsibilities that the scientists do not want to do, such as meeting with potential investors, performing market research, reading legal documents, and, of course, buying coffee. For green tech companies with a project financing focus, an MBA can position himself or herself at the core of the business.

3. Should I work for a Venture Capital firm?
No! This advice is courtesy of every partner at A-grade VC firms that we met. If you are interested in VC in the future, get some real managerial operating experience, potentially at a portfolio company of a particular VC firm-then join a VC firm. Unless of course you enjoy carrying luggage, ordering coffee, and having no real prospects for advancement.

January 31, 2011
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