As part of Ottawa's clean-technology sector, Blueprint is among many companies with emerging innovations that some have touted as the salvation of Ottawa's high-tech industry.
In 2008, Robert Ford, a technology lawyer with the Kanata office of Gowlings, predicted spending growth from government and businesses in clean tech, energy and conservation.
"It's the most exciting thing I see for the future," Mr. Ford said at the time.
Former OCRI president Jeffrey Dale also expressed his belief that widespread interest in clean tech would bring investment into the city.
Four years later, many local clean-tech headlines centre on companies such as Seprotech Systems Inc., which has reported net losses for the past two fiscal years, Iogen Corp., which recently announced 150 layoffs across the country, and Clearford Industries, which has faced financial woes of its own.
It begs the question: Has clean tech lived up to its promise in Ottawa?
Blueprint CEO Greg Tarasco said that while many market-ready clean-tech solutions exist, getting from development to commercialization is the biggest challenge of the industry.
"It could be the greatest technology in the world, but if it doesn't see the light of day, it doesn't do anyone any good," he said.
LACK OF INFORMATION
Ask 20 people for a definition of clean tech and you'll get 20 different answers, Mr. Tarasco said.
Even after concretely defining the industry, convincing people of the need for it doesn't only involve customers - it requires the education of marketers, government, regulators, banks. But the paradox is that it's difficult to communicate a message clearly when that message and the technology is still developing, Mr. Tarasco said.
The heavily regulated industry involves many layers of government evaluating the technology, added Erin Kelly, executive director of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, meaning it takes much longer to get to market than, say, software.
"If you make an app for an iPhone, you don't need 10 layers of government touching it," Ms. Kelly said.
Governments are a key clean-tech client, as the industry often consists of large-scale infrastructure projects such as water treatment. It's difficult to sell emerging industrial technologies, however, to governments still recovering from a global recession.
"(The industry) is totally driven by political will," said Harry Marshall, CEO of Seprotech Systems Inc., a local wastewater treatment systems maker that announced plans earlier this month to sell a majority stake of the company to environmental services firm WESA Group Inc. through a reverse takeover.
"If that political will wavers, so does the industry."
When the economy is on the rocks, the environment takes a backseat, he said.
Thermal Energy International Inc. is a firm that provides energy conservation and emission reduction solutions. Chief operating officer Robert Triebe said that every sale Thermal Energy makes has been based on economics, not the environment.
"Until we're living in Mad Max's world, we're not going to want to invest in things for the good of the environment. It's brutally true," he said. "Everything we install has a great environmental impact, but every single sale was made with an economic base."
Many clean-tech companies look to emerging markets where the infrastructure is either not not yet in place, or may need to be improved as an increasing number of nations begin to regulate their carbon emissions and ecological footprint.
But without government backing from their home country, Canadian clean-tech businesses have a hard time marketing their service to international governments, Ms. Kelly said.
Sometimes, however, all it takes is one client to turn things around.
Last year, the City of Ottawa signed a 20-year contract with Plasco Energy Group to process city garbage into burnable gas - the local company's first large-scale client.
CEO Rod Bryden said that while domestic support is important, there is no "Buy Canadian" policy in place that will force governments to look close to home for technology solutions.
"There's very little hope for a company that relies on Canadians buying it because it's Canadian," he said. To achieve success, the product needs to be priced competitively and perform well.
THE SILVER LINING
Ensyn Technologies, a local firm that produces renewable liquid fuels from wood and agricultural residues, is headed by a man who believes in Mr. Bryden's logic about success, and is optimistic about the world's environmental attitude.
While the industry is driven by economics, that doesn't mean that people aren't concerned about the planet, Ensyn CEO Bob Graham said.
"Society has come so far over the past decade. It really wants to see clean tech succeed," he said. "As long as you compete economically, there's a natural bias in the culture that wants clean tech."
Environmental public policy doesn't hurt either, with Canada, China and the United Kingdom among several countries that financially reward those who use and produce renewable energies.
The desire for a secure energy supply may also work in the industry's favour, Mr. Graham said, instead of having to rely on "hostile nations."
Blueprint's Mr. Tarasco also expressed optimism.
"I'm a full believer in clean tech," he said. "It's going to be a significant part of our future, but it's a long and winding road to get there."
The growing pains of the clean-tech sector are a part of any emerging industry, and its difficulties after a global recession are not unique.
And while many may argue that the environment is not a concern during tough economic times, Plasco continues to benefit from its contract with the city.
"We wouldn't exist if it were not for public policy focused entirely on environmental issues," said Mr. Bryden. "We need to have the confidence to look at least a few years ahead to find out the true abilities of this industry."
OTTAWA CLEANTECH INITIATIVE
Invest Ottawa's Cleantech Initiative focuses on waste-to-energy, green buildings, clean water and the convergence of ICT and clean tech.
Walt Hutchings, Invest Ottawa's managing director for invest and trade, said Ottawa's 250 clean-tech companies are often small, and while they have useful technology, they lack sales experience.
"It's not easy for them to get out there and start selling," he said. "That's where we can help."
Mr. Hutchings said he is using his contact list from his days with Export Development Canada to attract foreign investment and market clean tech abroad in the hope of more businesses opening in Ottawa.