Greenstart’s Second Batch of Startups Has “Digital Cleantech” Focus

5/8/12Follow @wroush

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recreate the software for the iPad, which he says is the preferred mobile platform for 70 percent of the company’s customers. Merkoski “worked with us to rip our Windows app down to the ground and redesign it,” Davis says. “He alone would have been worth doing Greenstart.”

RidePal

If you live in San Francisco or the peninsula, you’ve seen the giant WiFi-equipped private buses that prowl the local streets and highways. They’re full of employees from big companies like Google and Genentech, who see providing transportation to and from work as an important perq that helps employees minimize the stress, cost, and carbon emissions from commuting. Nathalie Criou is a former Google employee who used to enjoy riding one of those buses herself. “Then I left Google [and had to start driving to work] and my life collapsed,” she says. Now that she’s CEO of her own startup, she wants to bring the same luxury bus experience to other workers.

In Silicon Valley “recruiting is the number one thing that gets in the way of growth, and commuting is the number one thing that gets in the way of recruiting,” Criou observes. Her startup RidePal pairs companies that want to ease their employees’ commuting pain with existing transportation companies and their fleets of private buses. “We connect butts with seats,” Criou says. “But we do more. We handle route planning, billing, and scheduling. We are an end-to-end commuting management company.” Using RidePal, she says, “companies can stand out and attract the best talent for a fraction of the cost of running their own [commuting] program.”

RidePal is already used by 15 Bay Area companies and it wants to deploy up to 200 buses across the region, then expand to 20 other cities with concentrated pockets of professional activity and residences. “We will be the Virgin America of commuting,” Criou says. “Now is the time to reserve your seat.”

Scoot Networks

You’ve probably heard about the successful bike sharing programs in cities like Montréal, Copenhagen, and Paris that are now being tested in U.S. cities such as Boston. For a few dollars, you can rent a bike for a one-way trip between one docking station and another. Scoot Networks wants to try the same thing, but with smartphone-activated electric scooters.

Scoot Networks CEO Michael Keating (in red). Photo courtesy of Greenstart.

If you’re a Scoot Networks member and you need a scooter for a shopping trip or other expedition, you bring up the Scoot smartphone app, locate a nearby station with an available scooter, and reserve. When you get to the station, you snap your phone into the vehicle’s custom smartphone dock, which turns the scooter on, and away you go.

The startup will pilot its system in San Francisco. If just 1 percent of the 1.5 million trips that occur within San Francisco were completed via Scoot, says founder and CEO Michael Keating, the startup would become “a very profitable little business, with $33 million in revenue, $20 million in costs, and $13 million in earnings.” The business could then expand to other cities, “bounded only by urbanites’ frustration with their current mobility options.”

Smart Grid Billing

Companies like EnerNOC and Comverge do a big business in “demand response,” that is, aggregating big commercial industrial customers who agree to cut back their electrical usage during times of peak demand—thus saving utilities from having to build more generating plants. Companies get paid just for joining demand response pools, but it’s a bonus that’s never been available to the little guy. Smart Grid Billing is developing Internet-connected electrical plugs that will open the demand-response business to small and medium-sized businesses—starting with golf courses.

Smart Grid Billing CEO Henrik Westergaard. Photo courtesy of Greenstart.

“There are a lot of golf carts in the United States,” says founder and CEO Henrik Westergaard. “And they all come in off the course at 4 or 5 o’clock and get plugged in to recharge at 6 o’clock, which is right in the middle of peak demand.” If recharging operations could be intelligently shifted to a time when wholesale electricity prices are lower—say, the middle of the night—country clubs could save a bundle.

Smart Grid Billing’s special outlets communicate with the company’s servers in real time over the Internet. “We know exactly when a device is trying to draw power and can look at grid conditions and decide whether that load should be delayed,” Westergaard says. Thanks to recent ruling by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, small companies like his can collect money from utility system operators for shifting demand, and pass most of the savings directly to customers. “Customers don’t have to do a thing,” he says. “We provide the hardware and software at no cost and share the revenue generated. It’s a very simple sales process.” The startup plans to take its system live across 10 golf courses over the next three months.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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