Inc. Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year, Kevin Surace of Serious Materials, at the State of Green Business Conference

Serious Materials, a green building materials company focusing on energy efficiency retrofits, raised $65 million through venture investments during the down economy–an anomaly in the current economic state.  The building industry in general has been in the tank for the better part of two years.  However, as Joel Makower pointed out in his ‘state of the green economy‘ introduction to the State of Green Business Conference, green building has been the only bright spot in the entire building sector in the past year, and Surace’s company is a giant in the making. 

When asked how his company has been so successful in raising money, Surace pointed out the obvious market-driven demand that is changing the game for building product manufacturers.  It’s about reframing the issue as a long term, holistic solution to a current problem. While VC investments fell for clean tech in terms of the total dollar figures invested in 2009, overall number of investments increased over 2008, according to the State of Green Business Report for 2010 put forth by GreenBiz.  Surace’s company was one of the darlings of the clean tech VC sector this year, and business is good for Serious Materials.  But it wasn’t always that way.

Serious Materials started as a company manufacturing products to soundproof vehicles.  But the business evolved, “by listening to customers,” says Surace.  “We followed the marketplace, and here we are.”

The best ROI on energy efficient retrofits and green building products is–by far–energy efficient windows.  As Surace points out, you can increase the efficiency of buildings by 60 percent overnight by upgrading windows.  “They say that heat goes out the window,” Surace said.  “And it’s true!  The heat REALLY does go out the window.”  As Surace points out, these kinds of retrofits have less than 10 year paybacks, with many incentives providing up front assistance.  “It’s your money,” he says.  “You used to give it to the gas company, and now you can put it in your pocket.”

Scott Cooney is reporting live from the State of Green Business Conference in beautiful San Francisco, CA.  3p readers should check the day’s program and send any questions for upcoming events to Scott at Scott [at]

Scott Cooney, Principal of and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill, November 2008), is also a serial ecopreneur who has started and grown several green businesses and consulted several other green startups. He co-founded the ReDirect Guide, a green business directory, in Salt Lake City, UT. He greened his home in Salt Lake City, including xeriscaping, an organic orchard, extra natural fiber insulation, a 1.8kW solar PV array, on-demand hot water, energy star appliances, and natural paints. He is a vegetarian, an avid cyclist, ultimate frisbee player, and surfer, and currently lives in the sunny Mission district of San Francisco. Scott is working on his second book, a look at microeconomics in the green sector.In June 2010, Scott launched, a sustainability consulting firm dedicated to providing solutions to common business problems by leveraging the power of the triple bottom line. Focused exclusively on small business, GBO's mission is to facilitate the creation and success of small, green businesses.