Northwest Energy Angels Summer Showcase Draws 11 Startups Determined to Make a Greener World

7/22/10

Last week the Northwest Energy Angels—a group of over 45 private investors who have banded together to invest exclusively in cleantech and energy companies located here in the Pacific Northwest—held its annual Summer Showcase at Tesla Motors’ South Lake Union showroom. Founded by Seattle entrepreneur Martin Tobias and state lawmaker Jeff Morris in 2006, the angels provide early-stage capital to cleantech entrepreneurs and connect promising companies with potential investors.

So far, the group has invested more than $3 million in 17 local companies, a sign that it is active and growing—along with the Pacific Northwest cleantech sector. Back in March the Angels hired on local tech veteran Margo Shiroyama as the new executive director, and the group is recruiting new angels, hoping to bring the membership up to 60 by the end of the year.

On Friday afternoon many of the angels joined representatives from local cleantech companies, and green-minded community members at Tesla to mingle, connect, and hear updates from 11 companies that had presented at a prior NW Energy Angels event. Drinks were served in 100 percent compostable plant polymer Greenware. I would be lying if I said a few in the crowd weren’t eyeing Tesla’s bright red Roadster on display in the front of the room. (After the presentations, many signed up for test drives around the neighborhood, though I was not so lucky.) But the combination of compostable cups and fully electric cars sure did set the scene for an event on cleantech business ideas.

One of the more high profile attendees included U.S. Rep Jay Inslee, the Democrat who represents Washington’s first congressional district. Energy Angel Bill Lemon introduced Inslee as our “tireless advocate in the promotion of clean energies.” In his introductory remarks, Inslee urged the companies to develop new clean technologies and move the country and world forward toward renewable energies.

“The future of the U.S. economy is not determined at the Fed, or the White House, or the Congress. It is determined by people like you,” he said. “It is a system that is broken because it is rife with subsidies that support old technologies that have been around for the past hundred years.”

Inslee then outlined his five pillars for the future of clean energy, which he termed his “vision for America.” The steps included creating demand for new technology, increasing energy standards for machinery (including cars, buildings, and gadgets), changing the tax code to provide clean energy incentives for small businesses, increasing federal energy R&D, and leveling the playing field between clean energy businesses and industry old timers like oil and coal.

“These five pillars, I think, have the capability to get us into the international game. And it needs to happen this year—next year is a year too late,” Inslee said. “This is the most exciting thing technologically since we went to the moon,” adding that Seattle and the Pacific Northwest are poised to be cleantech leaders based on our booming regional tech industry. “When there’s a technological transition, Washington shines!” he said.

The remainder of the event was dedicated to a series of short company updates and networking among cleantechies. The presenting companies included a few more established startup success stories, as well as a handful of brand new companies fresh on the scene. Though all of the companies had been represented at prior NW Energy Angel events, many of them have escaped our radar until now. But whether you’ve heard of these startups before or not, if you’re interested in what’s up-and-coming in the Pacific Northwest cleantech sector, take a look at these highlights:

EMME (Beaverton, OR)

Standing for Energy Management Made Easy, EMME develops energy management devices. These are monitoring gadgets for everything from heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment, to wireless power monitors, and power meter breaker boxes—that helps consumers keep track of their home’s carbon footprint, and save money and energy. “It will tell you how much you’re spending on heating, cooling, your refrigerator is spending, your big screen TV,” said Jon Brodeur, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing. “And it will give you recommendations on what to do to save energy costs,” without having to change out any appliances.

EnerG2 (Seattle, WA)

You’ve probably heard of EnerG2, a nanomaterials startup focused on energy storage. The company, which develops ultra-high performance synthetic carbon material for use in double layer capacitors, has had such success in the last few years that Lemon kicked himself for passing up an opportunity to invest. “Boy do I really, really regret it!” he said. Since that missed opportunity, EnerG2 has brought in $8.5 million in its Series A venture investment—which chief operating and financial officer Chris Wheaton joked happened during in the fall of 2008, “nearly financial Armageddon.” Later on, EnerG2 secured another $21.3 million in federal stimulus money. “It completely blew the doors off for us,” Wheaton added. “There’s nothing like success to create more success.”

EnergySavvy (Seattle, WA)

This energy-efficiency focused startup works to help homeowners understand the “miles per gallon” of their homes by helping consumers calculate their energy use and find places they can cut back, make changes, and save both energy and money. Only an eight-person operation, according to Scott Case, the vice president of product management, EnergySavvy has had so much interest from prospective customers they have been struggling to grow fast enough to keep up. The company makes its money by selling referrals to utility conservation programs and energy and retrofitting contractors. Its latest project, Utah Home Performance, a consumer interface for homeowners across the state of Utah, rolled out on July 1.

Farm Power Northwest (Skagit County, WA)

This startup is a very different kind of cleantech company—they’re in the business of manure. Farm Power develops, owns, and operates manure digester facilities that harness renewable energy out of the miles upon miles of backcountry dairy farms across Washington and Canada. The company just received a $1 million grant and, according to company representative Nick Ridgeway, is amidst plans to expand to Oregon. “Not only do they like Oregon’s overall potential, but Tillamook’s abundant supply of manure!” he joked.

Full Circle Farm (Carnation, WA)

Although not necessarily a technology company, Full Circle Farms is in the clean energy space in terms of agriculture, which is a major industrial contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Full Circle combines the tenets of local agriculture—operating its own farms and working with other regional organic farmers to provide produce not available in Washington—with e-commerce distribution. The company brings “the farmers market right to your door,” delivering 7,500 boxes of food to 12,000 customers in Alaska and western Washington every week, according to Full Circle representative Frank Paganelli. The company, which plans to move into new and emerging markets, currently pulls in $15 million in revenues annually.

GR Green Building Products (Burnaby, British Columbia)

GR Green is one of the younger startups on the list. The Canadian company builds high quality green roofing and siding products made out of 100 percent recycled plastic (derived from old grocery bags, milk cartons, and other wasted plastic products) and limestone. “They’re cheap, they look great, and they’re exceptionally green,” said president and CEO Geoff Wensel. GR Green has patents pending in the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe, and a few more selected countries, with hopes of gaining 2.5 percent of the $1.5 billion roofing market. “We have the potential to become a $300 million company in 10 years,” Wensel said.

GCL Solar (Hong Kong, China and Richland, WA)

Though headquartered in China, GCL Solar operates its U.S. research and development center out of Richland, WA. GCL, the third largest polysilicon and water manufacturer in the world, is focusing much of its R&D on next-generation solar technologies, including sapphire crystals, the technology behind LED lights, which chief technical officer John Hamilton called “the next generation of low-energy lighting.” Currently the company has 5.5 gigawatts of solar farms in operation, and is planning to develop another 500 megawatts this year.

Green Lite Motors (Portland, OR)

The only car company represented at the showcase, Green Lite Motors, is developing a vehicle with ability to go 100 miles on a gallon of gas. The compact design of the car, at just four feet wide, allows for a lighter body that stabilizes by leaning like a motorcycle. It’s designed to be easy to park, provide maximum energy efficiency, while being large and fast enough to drive on the freeway. President and CEO Tim Miller showed off the early-stage prototype—which looks like a cross between a Smart car and a golf cart—at the showcase. The company is currently working with angel investors to raise the funds necessary to develop the body design.

Hydrovolts (Seattle, WA)

This company was the first startup to join the cleantech accelerator at the McKinstry Innovation Center when it opened back in May. Hydrovolts develops small hydrokinetic turbines to harness untapped energy from controlled flowing waterways, such as artificial canals. And because of the size of the turbines, they are affordable and easy to ship and install, helping to bring clean water power to rural areas around the world—from irrigation canals here in Washington to rivers in India. The tagline founder and CEO Hurt Hamner boasts is “hydropower in an hour.” Last year Hydrovolts won the National Sustainability Award at the Clean Tech Open, and was awarded $50,000 from the Zino Green Fund. The company is currently in the process of completing its Series A round of funding.

InvenTyS Thermal Technologies (Burnaby, British Columbia)

InvenTyS is an example of one of those cleantech companies that’s slipped under our radar up until this point. The Canadian company is developing carbon capture and storage technologies that will be able to take CO2 from smokestacks and use it for a number of other applications, including oil recovery. “We have a solution to take the CO2 out of coal plants,” said co-founder Brett Henkel, noting that while most energy in the Pacific Northwest is derived from hydropower, many other places could benefit from carbon capture. InvenTyS recently received a $2.2 million grant from the Canadian government and is about to close on a $3.5 million financing round, according to Henkel.

Thea Chard is a correspondent for Xconomy Seattle. You can e-mail her at theachard@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/theachard. Follow @

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