Hub In Focus: Jonathan Siskin

Sep 22, 2023

An interview with Jonathan Siskin, co-founder of the Georgia Cleantech Innovation Hub.

Jonathan has spent his career driving business transformation, innovation, and growth across various sectors with some of the leading companies in the world.  He has been particularly passionate about building ecosystems with focuses on collaboration and public-private partnership. Having spent over a dozen years supporting the highly successful growth in the Fintech ecoystem in GA, he sees strong parallel to what is happening in Cleantech and Sustainability which he believes can ultimately be a larger opportunity for our region.

Tell us about your background.

I began my career studying the intersection of economics, policy and earth systems and was part of the inaugural Stanford-in-Washington DC program focused on environmental policy.  I leveraged this into my first job focused on market-driven approaches to environmental and regulatory policy during the early periods of approaches such as tradeable permits and carbon taxes The idea of climate warming was just getting on the radar screen. I was always interested in how business could be a pivotal driver of this, but it was so early that very few career paths existed outside of environmental compliance.  The idea of “Green Business” was still in its infacy.

Out of business school at the University of Michigan, I took a more traditional path in management consulting at Deloitte focused in the utility space on transformation and consolidation until the collapse of Enron put a significant stop on innovation happening in the sector.    Moving to Atlanta, I then spent over the next 15 years in the retail, fintech, and data sectors at leading companies such as Home Depot, Equifax, and Deluxe. In those roles, I had the opportunity to see how the Fintech sector in Georgia evolved to be one of the global leaders, with almost 200 companies, big and small, making a robust ecosystem.  I have loved the challenges of combining strategy, innovation, and business transformation to create new growth opportunities and have been fortunate to have a variety of roles spanning strategy, product management, marketing, analytics, and operations.

How did you become involved in the Georgia Cleantech Innovation Hub?

A few years ago, I recognized that we were finally at a tipping point, with dramatic tailwinds in the cleantech space. I believe large scale change, particularly at the speed and scale that is required, can only be achieved through a successful public-private partnership with a robust pipeline of innovation through the entire business lifecycle. The Cleantech sector is poised to drive those opportunities and deliver upon the promise of the  “triple bottom line” impact  – people, profits, and the planet. I believe that transformational change around climate, the decarbonization of our global economy and the building of massive resiliency, is just as big, if not bigger, than the digital transformation of the past several decades,.

When I met Bernie Burgener, I immediately recognized his passion for sustainability and saw how he had built an organization at a smaller scale driving innovation in the space despite significant challenges and obstacles.  We quickly shared a vision of finding a path to grow the impact of the effort 10 or 20 fold within a Georgia ecosystem that was ripe with possibility.  It was truly an opportunity of a lifetime but required a holistic, system-driven approach driven by a clear strategic vision – and supported by an incredible amount of focus and determination.

Why should there be a Cleantech Innovation Hub in Georgia?

Georgia is making massive investments to grow its manufacturing capabilities in climate technology, and we want a robust ecosystem for climate technology innovation to support it.

On the positive side, we have significant assets and capabilities at our disposal – everything from a strong corporate hub and leading universities to rich natural resources and a robust, diverse workforce.

But we have yet to unlock this innovation potential and there is a significant risk that Georgia will lag its North American and Global peers.  We have carefully studied these gaps – everything from a siloed approach to inconsistent access to investors, customers, experts, and physical spaces to uneven linkage to diversity and equity stakeholders.

We’re poised to unleash innovation, and importantly  in a way that addresses the common challenges of equity and inclusion.  The time for action is now.

Where do you see the Cleantech Innovation Hub participating in the climate space in georgia?

At the core, our region needs a strong innovation engine across the full business life cycle, from a deep pipeline of start-ups through robust scale and deployment.  The Hub can become a critical point of orchestration, not only effectively connecting existing assets, but ensuring that new components are built to address key gaps, including access to Investors, Corporates, and Universities; physical spaces tailored to their needs; and fit-for-purpose platforms for innovation.

We strongly believe that we don’t need to build everything ourselves but rather focus on providing the vision for the overall ecosystem architecture, augmenting existing capabilities and delivering value through strategic partnerships.  We don’t want to reinvent the wheel but rather import best practices from around the globe.  Over the long-term, this structure can create new revenue and investment streams to support the Hub – thus creating a flywheel within the broader ecosystem.

Ultimately, we will be able to judge our success based upon a balanced set of key indicators, including the number of companies grown across the lifecycle, the amount of capital raised, the number of jobs created, and the impact on solving these larger environmental problems.

How can interested individuals engage with the Georgia Climate Innovation Hub?

We are so excited to support the broader community, and we need people willing to engage with time and money. Of course, as a non-profit, we require donations to build initial capacity and we are making great progress on our initial seed round.  But there are many other ways to get involved – everything from joining our mentor pool and providing in-kind services to sponsoring events and leading research projects.

It is critical that we build a strong community across critical stakeholder groups including corporations, investors, academics, non-profits, and diverse community organizations.   We really want as many people as we can to have a voice at the table.  And I can’t emphasize enough the importance of working together.  I like the way that Mary Powell, the CEO of Sunrun, says it – we need “radical collaboration” to solve these critical challenges – this is not about burning things to the ground but rather finding new, creative, and transformational ways of working together.

What is the case for optimism in the climate space?

What makes me optimistic is the tremendous  potential to unleash innovation at a speed and scale almost unrivaled in our history.  We need to think very holistically about this innovation – it is not just about new core technologies, which of course are critical, but also across so many other dimensions including business and operating models, financial and risk enablers, public-private partnerships, and policy – just to name a few.  There are so many technologies that are ready for scaled deployment now and the pipeline of next generation innovations is as robust as it has ever been.  Numerous multi-billion dollar new markets are being seeded today and there may never be another period in our lifetimes where there are joint opportunities to drive such lasting economic and social impacts.

Finally, as a father of three teenage daughters, I see a younger generation that wants to drive transformational change and address the significant challenges ahead – and we all owe it to these future generations to be strong supporters and catalysts for that change!