Energy Experts React to Forthcoming Cleantech Incubator from McKinstry

10/29/09Follow @gthuang

The smell of startup incubators is in the air. Adeo Ressi from TheFunded recently announced that his Founder Institute training program for entrepreneurs is coming to Seattle this winter. And next week, TechStars, the seed-stage investment fund with operations in Boulder, CO, and Boston, is holding its annual reunion event in Seattle amid increasing buzz around the potential for similar programs in the Northwest.

While those incubators seek to launch mostly new tech companies, I’ve also been hearing quite a bit from entrepreneurs and investors about the cleantech and green-energy startup incubator announced last week by McKinstry, the Seattle-based construction, consulting, and energy-efficiency firm. The new innovation center will be housed at McKinstry headquarters in Georgetown, and is slated to be complete next spring.

“We are on the forefront of creating some of the most innovative solutions to eliminate energy waste in the built environment,” said Dean Allen, CEO of McKinstry, in a statement. “Now with the Innovation Center we will have the opportunity to quickly advance new technologies that are working toward that goal, as well as partnering with innovative entrepreneurs to bring new technologies to market.”

I haven’t had a chance to sit down with McKinstry yet, but I’ve already heard some strong reactions from the local cleantech community. Here are a few:

Michael Butler, CEO of Seattle-based investment bank Cascadia Capital and a strong supporter of Northwest energy companies, says the new incubator is a “big deal, I think and hope.” He adds, “The Puget Sound marketplace is not creating a critical mass of clean tech companies. We don’t have the ecosystem in place. I am really hopeful that the McKinstry effort can fill some of the void. We are falling further behind other regions, and the window will start closing if we can’t get the ecosystem built.”

Rick LeFaivre, managing director at Kirkland, WA-based OVP Venture Partners, says the incubator “could be very interesting” but that “it’s still early,” and details are still being worked out. “I’ve talked several times to the McKinstry folks about what they want to do and I think it could be very helpful to kick-start cleantech companies in the region,” he says. “A truly effective incubator needs more than access to space. It needs access to capital and business acumen to help the startups develop and get ready for venture financing (if necessary and appropriate). This, of course, is what Accelerator does in the biotech space. I have offered to work with the McKinstry team to help develop this concept, and I’m excited about what it could become. I think back to the two years I spent working with the EnerG2 team [energy storage startup in Seattle] to get them ready for venture funding, and they would have been a good candidate to go into an incubator while fleshing things out.”

Burt Hamner, entrepreneur and founder of Hydrovolts, a Seattle-based water-energy startup, stresses the importance of communication between the people running the new innovation center and local entrepreneurs and financiers. “Incubators can be great things,” Hamner says. But it “depends on how they are set up and their connections.” He says he “must wait and see,” and that in the meantime, it’s important for McKinstry to “inform the clean tech community what they are doing.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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