An interesting place to look at how the ecoinformatics market is evolving is to take a look at the startup scene in this space.
What’s really interesting about the clean tech and big data space is that innovation happens at all levels – startups, national and state government institutions, cities, large companies, non-profit organizations, just to name a few. People and organizations are working to solve problems at different scales and that drives innovative solutions in all the different clean tech sectors. For example, the Nature Conservancy is doing some really interesting work in looking at how remote sensing and machine learning can be applied to wildlife and conservation. Similarly, cities in California are experimenting with smart meters and social media to improve water conservation.
However, let’s look at startups in the space as surrogates for estimating the market. And as expected, a picture emerges of a few sectors that are being heavily funded.
The CleanTech Group is one of the key players in analyzing the clean tech sector, especially the startup scene. The main startup sectors they identified last year in their work are 1) Transportation, including driverless cars and IoT 2) Renewable energy, with solar energy and energy efficiency taking the bulk of the investment, followed by bioenergy and energy storage systems 3) Agriculture and Food where a number of different technologies and problems are being tackled and 4) Advanced materials or smart materials that are being deployed in a multitude of ways. These sectors combined received approximately 80% of venture capital investment in 2016, which amounted to several billion dollars.
Additional datapoints would be looking at startups that were acquired or went public to try and see how large the market is going to be. Some interesting examples are The Climate Corporation (an agriculture and data science startup acquired by Monsanto for almost a billion dollars) and Opower (an energy and data science startup that went public). All these indicate that we’re looking at multi-billion dollar markets for the different ecoinformatics sectors. And that’s just the 3-4 clean tech sectors that are today’s highly funded darlings…. we’re not even talking about the other 9-10 (see this post) that are going to gain in importance in the future.