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GE's Immelt aims to spark, scale clean tech's 'slow fat rabbit' ecosystem

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GE CEO Jeff Immelt said the company is looking to create a clean tech ecosystem that can accelerate the adoption and commercialization of products ranging from Wattstation electric car chargers to appliances and other infrastructure.

General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt said the company is looking to create a clean tech ecosystem that can accelerate the adoption and commercialization of products ranging from electric car chargers to appliances and other smart infrastructure. However, Immelt said that large companies like GE need to work with startups and Silicon Valley VCs to make it happen.

"We want to make clean tech the reality," said Immelt.

Immelt's comments, delivered in San Francisco, came as GE launched a $200 million venture fund to collaborate on clean tech innovation. "We don't think we can invent everything ourselves," said Immelt. "Clean tech is just going to happen and I'm quite convinced this is a great big market. It's going to be a great big system with multiple suppliers."

Indeed, the venture investment can accelerate the ecosystem. In this ecosystem, GE sees itself as an integrator that can help commercialize complete clean tech systems ranging from water infrastructure to smart grids. Meanwhile, Immelt said GE is aiming to work more closely with entrepreneurs.

Also:

"We've seen tremendous growth in clean tech over the last five years. We plan to keep investing. It's about growth and competitiveness. You can have a competitive industrial base and grow while reducing global warming. It's a space where big and small companies need to work together."

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The general theme for GE is to take advantage of open innovation much like the model deployed by the likes of Procter & Gamble with a little of the zest provided by the X-prize. "We actually want to build businesses out of this," said Mark Little, director of GE Global Research, speaking on a panel with a bevy of venture capital partners such as Ray Lane, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Immelt also urged Silicon Valley to think about commercialization of energy and noted that it's a different game than IT. VCs talked about being a bridge between GE and the Valley's entrepreneurial DNA.

Add it up and GE sees clean tech as a massive market. "This is not some soft initiative. It's a real business with real impact on customers," said Immelt. The talk from Immelt highlighted the mix of clean tech and business. After all, Immelt is coming to clean tech from a business perspective. GE on Tuesday also rolled out Wattstations for electric vehicle chargers (right) as well as a communications device called Nucleus to aggregate energy consumption information.

Among a few clean tech slides presented by Immelt:



Bottom line: Clean tech and industrialization may be the same thing.

"Clean tech is about industrialization," said Immelt. And like the industrial evolution it helps to have employees, customers, partners, research institutions, government and policy on the same page.

Lane highlighted the issues that have kept clean tech from scaling. "There's no lack of innovation. The question is opportunity. Many times our entrepreneurs run into scale issues. They don't know how to scale this to the complexity [necessary]," said Lane. "This is a slow, fat rabbit. If we do things not even best-in-class, but average, we'll reap immense benefit."

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Larry Dignan

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan is editor-in-chief of SmartPlanet and ZDNet. He is also editorial director of TechRepublic. Previously, he was an editor at eWeek, Baseline and CNET News. He has written for WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, New York Times and Financial Planning. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Delaware. He is based in New York but resides in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure