Lynelle Cameron, director of Sustainability at Autodesk, the 3D design and engineering software company, talks to Louise Bateman about the company's Clean Tech Partner Programme, a scheme that is helping start-up clean technology companies to get to market faster and more cost-effectively.
Q. Many of us will have seen or experienced the games and films that have been brought to life using 3D design software produced and licensed by Autodesk. But increasingly you are helping cleantech projects get off the ground. Can you tell me more about this side of your business?
A. We provide design
software for anything built on the planet, so plenty of people have been using our technology, but we didn't have a focused programme for cleantech projects before. It was just part of our regular manufacturing
Essentially, what we are able to do is build a 3D model in a computer so you can simulate, test and analyse how that design is going to work in that environment.
The film and games business is actually a much smaller part of our business than manufacturing, but we utilise the same technology. A film like Avatar
, where James Cameron can, in real time, try things out for his galactic visualisation, that same technology is being used in the cleantech process – so you can very quickly visualise something and prove it can work. It enables you to make mistakes digitally, which enables you to get to market faster.
A year and half ago, we launched a programme to help cleantech start-ups. Q. This is the Clean Tech Partner Programme. What is it and why did you launch it?
About three years ago I joined the company and we had a look at all the industries we go after. I thought that perhaps we had missed an important industry and that was cleantech.
A huge part of our role is simplifying and enabling design – whether that is for green buildings
, spaces or manufacturing. In the context of sustainability, cleantech is an incredible force for change, driving us towards a sustainable future.
California was a big hotbed for cleantech – these companies were hungry for sophisticated design technology, which we could bring.
The Clean Tech Partner programme was designed to equip early stage cleantech partners with a suite of digital prototyping software almost free, which would enable them to get to market faster, innovate and reduce cost. The package provides up to $150,000 worth of software for only $50 for up to five licenses of six different industry-leading software applications.
The programme is about us trying to accelerate the sustainable world – this idea of fostering innovation among cleantech companies. Q. So does it form part of Autodesk’s own sustainability programme?
A. It is a key piece of our sustainability programme because a lot of what we are doing around sustainability is equipping cleantech companies with better tools to bring their products to market, but, in addition, doing co-marketing
with these companies, showcasing them at investor conferences.
And we are also learning from them and how they use our tools – it's a win-win situation.4. You’re targeting Europe in particular to partner with cleantech companies through your programme. How does the UK figure in this?
Significantly. We launched the programme in Europe six months ago and we have a lot of data about where cleantech companies are based – and Germany, the UK and the Nordic countries are where we are focusing at the moment.Q. Can you tell me about some of the green technology projects in the UK helping to tackle environmental challenges your software has had a hand in?
A. There are two that come to mind and for which we have pretty detailed case studies. One is Magnomatics [a spin-out from the University of Sheffield], which makes magnetic gears for wind turbines, hybrid vehicles and marine propulsion systems.
Another is Green Ocean Energy, which is behind a 300-tonne wave energy device. As a start-up, building a physical prototype was out of the question, so we were able to provide the digital technology to get it to market. [Autodesk technology] provided the proof of concept and also enabled investors to visualise the concept.Q. How successful has the programme been so far and what are your forecasts for this share of your business going forward?
A. We’re not sharing those numbers publicly, although we had goal of 100 in the first year and we met that.
In terms of the cleantech market, we don’t have specific numbers to give in that regard, but the research we are reading is that the sector has an 18 per cent compounded annual growth rate – which leaves other sectors far behind. We see this as a very significant market opportunity.6. Your programme is clearly helping cleantech start-ups design, visualise and simulate projects before they build them, but surely the real challenge at the moment for these companies is raising investment and a funding for R&D. How can Autodesk and its programme really help with this challenge?
A. What we are trying to do is help these start-ups use the technology and that helps them get in front of investors and also enables them to innovate and get to market faster.
Then, of course, there’s the main benefit of taking the cost out of the system.
We also partner with venture capitalists, so they can offer this to their investors.Q. What is Autodesk doing to address its own environmental footprint?
We are software company, so we have a relatively small environmental footprint. Our approach is to try and set best practices by linking to our software.
One of the things we have done is come up with an entirely new methodology for setting carbon reduction
targets. We’ve made that methodology open source and it is going to be built into the tools offered by [business management software company] SAP.
We have also reduced the carbon emissions of our operations by 30 per cent in last year.
Facilities are also focus for us. We think of Autodesk as a 'live-in lab’ to test our tools. We have lots of buildings all around the world, so we can work out very quickly what works and what doesn’t.
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Related content:Green designRenewablesRelated links:usa.autodesk.com