NWEN Investor Forum Yields Five Startup Finalists and a Winner, Hydrovolts

I stopped by The Big Picture, a cozy movie theater and lounge in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, to catch the end of the Northwest Entrepreneur Network’s First Look Forum yesterday. The concept of the retooled event was to showcase only companies that had not yet pitched to an organized angel group or VCs. These are startups based on bleeding-edge ideas, and their founders got coaching for the event from accredited investors like Bill Bryant of Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

“These are backable founders who will keep the trains running even during this downturn,” said Rebecca Lovell, the newly-hired executive director of NWEN. “We have a great cross-section of really coachable entrepreneurs. Every one of them is going to do something entrepreneurial.”

The afternoon started with 12 companies (selected from more than 50), offering everything from cleantech to consumer products, making three-minute pitches to an audience of investors and entrepreneurs. Five finalists were selected by an audience vote: Divvy (sharing and lending website), Hydrovolts (water-based energy generation), Posture Wings (a bra that improves posture), Redmond Experimental Corporation (robotics education), and Valu Valu (online pricing, which Xconomy reported on here).

The grand prize—again voted on by the audience—went to Hydrovolts, led by Burt Hamner, who is known for directing the Tacoma Narrows tidal power feasibility study in 2007. The concept is a new kind of hydropower turbine that generates electrical power in rivers, streams, canals, and other places with fast currents. Hamner’s team has built a prototype, and is planning to put turbines in irrigation canals in Eastern Washington this summer. The company is based at WRF Capital’s offices on Eastlake Avenue in Seattle. (We identified several hydropower companies trying to do similar things in British Columbia in this cleantech cluster story earlier this month.)

Probably the most important takeaway for all the companies involved is just hearing lots of constructive criticism from the community, when they’ve been heads-down developing their product for months. “We promised entrepreneurs they’d get feedback, and that’s what they got,” said Lovell. She said the recurring themes from investors were “how to build out your team, and how to go from 0 to 60 more quickly.”

Kim Emmons, manager of research and information services at WRF Capital, added that she saw a lot of barriers to entry among the finalists. Not too surprising, given how young these companies are. We’ll be watching to see what they do next.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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