Cleantech Accelerator Greenstart Launches Design Practice

Every successful start-up begins with a great idea. But, of course, transforming a great idea into a viable business is anything but assured. Fortunately, help is at hand for the most promising enterprises.

Increasingly, entrepreneurs can turn to a growing number of start-up accelerators – organizations which provide seed funding, mentoring, work space and importantly, access to investors – all designed with the purpose of improving  the odds of success, within a very short space of time.

Last fall, Greenstart, an accelerator focused specifically on the clean-tech industry, successfully completed its first program with a small cohort of four start-ups, and this week, they begin a second round with five new companies, and with a renewed focus.

I spoke to Mitch Lowe, Managing Partner of Greenstart to learn more about how Greenstart’s new focus will offer enhanced value to to cleantech entrepreneurs, and how it aligns with the key opportunities in the cleantech industry going forward.

First, just as any start-up goes through rapid iterations to improve its business model, so too has Greenstart. Learning from the experience from the first program, Greenstart has already “tightened” its focus, and in future, will work with enterprises that are specifically at the intersection of cleantech and IT. Also, the introduction of an in-house design practice (the first accelerator to offer one) came out of the recognition during the first program that good design is something which entrepreneurs want, and need, to access.

As Mitch told me, “great design wins,” so they’ve brought on board David Merkoski, formerly of Frog Design, as Greenstart’s Chief Creative Officer. Making design a core practice will allow enrolled start-ups to benefit from design expertise in four key design elements: product, experience, service, and brand.

So, with great design as a lever, what led Greenstart to tighten its focus on business’s that are specifically at the intersection of clean-tech and IT?

Mitch explained that, firstly, accelerators need to specialize in order to bring the right people to the table to mentor the start-ups. And in Greenstart’s case, they see that innovation around a combined specialty of clean-tech and IT is a powerful force in an evolving clean-tech industry, which has already moved beyond its first chapter.

Chapter one was about clean power generation, with the focus over the last decade on how to actually generate energy from renewable sources. This was an expensive and capital intensive proposition, involving big investments, expensive technology and often involved matters of government policy.

But many big changes come in the second chapter we are now in, where software and IT will be critical;  it’s now about the “energy internet.” This involves innovations around using energy more efficiently: how do you move it around? How do you push energy back to the grid? and how do you start making money? As Mitch pointed out, “IT has the ability to unlock the big changes.”

Greenstart sees big changes – and big opportunities – exist, particularly in four broad areas of industry: Smart grids, buildings, transportation and consumer services. Five companies selected from 152 applicants, who are innovating in these areas and who are tapping into the power of IT to unlock the potential, will begin the second 12-week intensive, beginning this week:

Scoot Networks – transforming local transportation.

Growing Energy Labs – enabling advanced communications between energy storage, generation and loads via their ‘micro-utility in a box.’

RidePal – making it affordable and simple for any size company to offer employee shuttles.

SmartGridBilling – intelligently shifting small business and residential energy consumption off peak, selling the shifted watts as a ‘power producer’ to ISOs.

kWhOURS – developing a mobile data collection and management software platform for building energy auditors, reducing the time and cost of performing energy audits.

With these, and many other, start-ups hopeful of building great businesses, I asked Mitch what sort of company could become the Apple, Facebook or Google in the clean-tech space? He predicts it will be, “Someone who shows businesses or consumers how to make money by shifting, or doing something different with energy use….within the next 5 years, that will happen.”

Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.

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