Cleanweb Startups Make Their Debut at Start Demo Day

8/29/13Follow @angelashah

Houston’s prowess in energy has historically been the purview of the major oil companies whose headquarters’ marquees dot the city’s skyline. Efforts to boost startups in the sector are actually fairly new.

But some new momentum is being created. On Wednesday, Start Houston, a startup incubator located in a gritty neighborhood east of downtown, held a demo day for so-called cleanweb startups, cleantech companies that are harnessing the Internet. The entrepreneurs pitched products and services from eco-friendly lighting to a bay station that can manage energy use in commercial buildings to an app that compiles all non-car modes of transportation available in a city. The event is part of a series of monthly demo days Start started hosting this month.

“This puts the entrepreneurs in front of really smart mentors that they normally would not have access to,” says Leah Mayo, managing director of Start, which was founded in June 2012.

Three of the four startups that made their presentations in Start’s EaDo—or “east of downtown”—warehouse came from Dallas, Austin, and North Carolina, along with one which is based in Houston. Each of them has raised between $300,000 and $700,000, and is actively looking for new sources of money.

Mayo says the fact that startups outside of Houston traveled to the city is recognition of both the incubator’s work and Houston’s emergence as a cleantech cluster. And it did seem like a rallying point for the city’s cleantech startup efforts. The event was co-hosted by Surge Accelerator, which houses startups that focus on IT and energy innovations, with its founder, Kirk Coburn, acting as one of the judges.

Blake Burris, founder of The Cleanweb Initiative—which got started in April after receiving seed funding from Facebook, the American Clean Skies Foundation, and others—was also a judge. Burris is based in Dallas, but the group has quickly gone international with communities in 16 countries. “Cleanweb is capital light, quick to market, and scalable via the Web,” Burris says. “If you get the model right, the world is your oyster.”

The startups are in early stages, some earlier than others. Here are quick snapshots of the four startups from Start’s demo day:

Ilumi: This Dallas-based startup sells LED lighting that can be controlled via smartphone. You can set the lights to act as an alarm clock or program them to flash in sync to the music at your next party. Unfortunately, the demo didn’t work, so we were unable to see the lights in action.

Founder Corey Egan says the startup has a deal with a major multi-family housing developer to install its lights, as well as $62,000 worth of pre-sales from consumers. He says Ilumi lights have more lumens than competitors’, which means they’re brighter, and Ilumi doesn’t require a bay station to control them, as compared to the Hue, which is made by Phillips.

RideScout: Founder Joseph Kopser says he was in the military for 20 years, and his presentation made me wonder if he was the world’s most charismatic drill sergeant. His barking presentation, done in a down-home Texas accent, was punctuated with humor, as he tried to drive his point home about why we should use his app to help conserve energy.

RideScout is an app for iPhone and Android devices that brings together bus routes, taxi companies, car companies like Car2Go, and other modes of getting from A to B. “It’s the Kayak for ground transportation,” Kopser says.

He says he secured a deal with a 16,000-strong taxi company in Washington, DC, and is talking to Super Shuttle about incorporating their service into RideScout. The founders have raised $700,000 and are looking for $200,000 more. “I’m a true believer,” Kopser says. “I sold my car—in Texas. I take CapMetro (Austin’s bus service), taxis, and I bike 12 miles to work when I’m feeling pretty froggy.”

Smart OES: The solo Houston startup in the group is still in the prototype stage. It provides hardware and software to manage energy use in commercial buildings. Its “employee energy dashboard” can display this information right down to the employee level, if so desired.

Founder Bryan Guido Hassin says the startup’s small pilot programs have so far reduced consumption by 28,407 kilowatts, the equivalent of planting 811 trees or removing more than 43,241 auto miles from the road. Smart OES wants to raise $800,000.

 Weave Energy: This startup came out of Surge’s latest class and is a business-to-business website that aggregates cleanweb products and services, helping those companies market their wares. But since consumers who use the website to make purchases typically don’t opt out of the sign-in, Weave is creating a community of people interested in renewable energy products. That’s a valuable database as interest in clean energy grows and more businesses enter the market, says Max Webster, a founder.

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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