Energy Priorities Magazine: Pacific Northwest Cleantech Open Winners: Green Lite Motors, Hydrovolts, LivinGreen MaterialsNov 3rd, 2009 | By admin | Category: News
Washington state Governor Christine Gregoire was the keynote speaker at the final awards gala for her state’s first cleantech business plan competition. About 200 people came to the ACT Theatre last night to see which three startups were selected as finalists. Congratulations to Green Lite Motors, Hydrovolts Inc., and LivinGreen Materials. Winning teams will compete in the National Cleantech Open in San Francisco next month.
Denis Du Bois
October 30, 2009
There was excitement in the air during the Pacific Northwest Cleantech Open awards gala and even more energy during the cocktail reception that preceded it. Entrepreneurs and investors crowded around the semifinalists’ exhibits to see prototypes, while the rest of the crowd snacked, drank, and networked feverishly in the tiny lobby of the ACT Theatre in downtown Seattle.
The six-month coaching process has been as valuable to each of the contestants as the prizes that went to the winners. I saw the founders of the ten semifinalist companies give their 20-minute pitches at an investor forum before the gala. Almost all of their presentations were polished, comprehensive and comprehensible.
The finalists are Green Lite Motors, Hydrovolts Inc., and LivinGreen Materials. All three finalists richly deserved to win.
LivinGreen Materials is perfecting a part of the manufacturing process for a relatively new type of photovoltaics called dye-sensitized solar cells. The startup doesn’t make thin-film solar cells, they just want make them more efficient. When their technology is used in production by other manufacturers, LivinGreen hopes the resulting cells will be 50 percent more efficient and, therefore, about 40 percent cheaper to make. (Read more and listen to the podcast interview with the founder of LivinGreen Materials.)
“We had no idea what we were getting into when we entered,” said Chris Tagge, CEO of LivinGreen Materials. “The support we’ve received from the Cleantech Open has been overwhelming. They gave us a great toolkit,” Tagge added. “The cash will help, too.”
Hydrovolts has developed a fish-safe, in-stream hydropower turbine with a clever “Flipwing” design. Placed in irrigation canals, the turbines can produce renewable energy at about two cents per kilowatt-hour, much less than utility rates. The company has enlisted an irrigation district to test its turbines under real-world conditions. (Read more and listen to the podcast interview with the founder of Hydrovolts.)
“The mentoring that we have gotten has been simply unbelievable,” said Burt Hamner, CEO of Hydrovolts. “The Open offers anyone the opportunity to work with incredible talent in something that no other angel or venture capital forum is doing.”
Green Lite Motors has prototyped a cool, three-wheeled hybrid electric vehicle that combines the enclosed comfort of a car (seats two) with the fuel efficiency of a motorcycle. Tim Miller, President and CEO of Green Lite Motors, says the primary selling point isn’t the compact design, or the smooth leaning turns, or the 100-MPG fuel efficiency of its parallel hybrid drive. It’s time savings. Because the vehicle is legally a motorcycle, it’s permitted in the carpool lane with only one occupant. Miller says no helmet or special license will be required to operate it.
“The Cleantech Open has been intense, but really valuable,” Miller said. “If you can commit the effort to it, you get back out of it exactly what you put into it. I can tell you our plan is way stronger having gone through this process.”
“It’s about the people!” Gregg Semler, Managing Director of Pivotal Investments, told me during the reception. Semler, who was a judge for the Open, believes the key to our economic future is the development of strong entrepreneurial leadership.
“Being involved in the CTO process was a gratifying way to work with great people with a shared commitment — building our regional economy by creating great companies here that deliver clean technology solutions for the planet,” Semler explained. “I’m very proud of the results and I believe wholeheartedly that the winners will help build our region’s reputation as a compelling place to build successful clean technology companies.”
Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire toured the table exhibits of the ten semifinalists and talked with each of the entrepreneurs about their technologies before the ceremony.
“It’s so exciting for me to see what these companies are doing,” Governor Gregoire remarked. “It’s the amazing, entrepreneurial, innovative spirit that we need to capture if we’re going to take these things beyond prototype and make them happen.”
“It’s great to see the Cleantech Open come to Washington state,” added Rogers Weed, Director of the Washington State Department of Commerce. “Governor Gregoire has been a policy leader on climate change and the clean energy transition. This event shows that our entrepreneurial community is also stepping up to the opportunity.”
The Governor’s appearance gave the event an atmosphere of importance. Entrepreneur Jimmy Jia, founder of energy efficiency startup Distributed Energy Management, told me he believes the Open will help to keep Washington at the forefront of the energy industry. “It’s great that the governor sees the importance of the event and supports it,” he said.
“Finalists unveiled at Pacific Northwest Cleantech Open” (Puget Sound Business Journal’s ‘TechFlash’)
“Cleantechies Schmooze With the Gov, Compete for Cash as Three Regional Finalists Go National” (Xconomy)
Interviews with the founders of semifinalist cleantech startups
Everyone seemed excited to see the Northwest giving cleantech the attention it deserves. Rebecca Anderson, a cleantech attorney with Graham & Dunn, told me she found the contestants’ cleantech innovations very interesting. “It’s just what the investment community needs to get excited about Pacific Northwest companies in this sector,” she said.
“What resonated with me was the diversity of approaches,” Matt Price of cleantech venture capital firm Nth Power told me. “It’s not just batteries, or solar, it’s a variety of technologies. Every concept here is a different way of solving a different problem. We’ll need them all — there are no silver bullets.”
Winning teams each receive $15,000 in cash and $35,000 in pro-bono services, and will compete for as much as $250,000 in combined cash and services in the National Clean Tech Open in San Francisco next month.