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Emily-Reichert-Lorax-Assembly“You can make a difference. You may not know what that is today, but keep your ears open as you’re learning, as you’re growing, to how you can make an impact,” Dr. Emily Reichert told students Wednesday morning. Dr. Reichert is CEO of Greentown Labs, a clean technology startup incubator. She encouraged students to think about the environmental problems facing the world today—climate change, energy deficiencies, water scarcity, deforestation, waste management—and the actions they can take to solve them. Dr. Reichert was on campus as this year’s Lorax Speaker for the Earth Day assembly.

At Greentown Labs, it’s “all about teams” and working together. When someone with a great idea forms a coalition of partners, mentors and investors, they have a much stronger foundation than if they were to go it alone.

Greentown Labs was seeded at M.I.T. by four entrepreneurs looking to solve environmental problems with products they could bring to market. The incubator has grown to approximately 40 businesses occupying 33,000 square feet of prototyping and office space in Somerville, Massachusetts, where they keep costs low by sharing resources and professional services. An open space with few walls and free-flowing ideas facilitates productivity, Dr. Reichert says. Regular dinners among the startups’ CEOs help them work through business obstacles they may not have encountered before. “You need that kind of community and exchange to figure these things out.” Bringing everyone to the table, as with a robust classroom discussion, encourages important growth and idea generation.

Businesses that have “graduated” from Greentown Labs have created innovative and practical environmental solutions, such as the first fully-functional airborne wind turbine and an unmanned “robot boat” that records ocean data and analytics. Dr. Reichert encouraged students with ideas for green technology and environmental solutions to talk about their plans early and often. Identifying partners and mentors will help them solidify their plans, grow their networks, and increase their access to resources. Answering a student’s question after her presentation, Dr. Reichert explained that a person’s academic focus doesn’t have to be science or technology for them to get involved in clean tech projects. People with business and entrepreneurial goals help usher important ideas from concept through development. After all, “there are big problems out there to be solved.”

Named for the Dr. Seuss character that “speaks for the trees,” Lorax is a student group established in 1987 that raises awareness of the environment and our responsibility as stewards.