The View from Geekdom: Future of Green Tech Startups Looks Promising

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More than 40 environmentally minded entrepreneurs attended 3 Day Startup (3DS) Green Tech this weekend at Geekdom in downtown San Antonio. The first 3DS of its kind, Green Tech focused exclusively on startup business models based on sustainability, renewable energy, and resource conservation. These entrepreneurs went through a highly selective interviewing process to participate in the program – they had to demonstrate a strong desire to create or work for green tech companies. The basic premise of 3DS is that teams have three days to create a technological service/product to pitch to investors on the final day.

For the first time, three environmental nonprofits went though the program to specifically focus on better revenue models for their organizations.

Sunday evening, those three nonprofits – and four brand new startups – presented the following business models to a panel of judges.

The Solar Bus

Solar San Antonio Executive Director Lenny Sinkin introduces SolarBus SA

Solar San Antonio Executive Director Lenny Sinkin introduces SolarBus SA at the 3DS Green Tech event at Geekdom. Photo by Andrew Moore.

San Antonio nonprofit Solar San Antonio already has a history of helping businesses and residents go solar by working with CPS Energy, solar installation companies and home/building owners to embrace and utilize solar technology and rebate programs.

At 3DS Green Tech, Solar San Antonio Executive Director Lanny Sinkin introduced SolarBus SA, which would travel to schools and large events in San Antonio on outreach missions “bringing solar to the people.”

 

Sinkin wants to model his program after the existing Geekbus program, which focuses on STEM education, and is already in the process of submitting a funding proposal to the 80/20 Foundation.

Green Spaces Alliance Cookbook

green spaces alliance logoSan Antonio non-profit Green Spaces Alliance was created to help San Antonio residents grow community gardens and eat healthier. Intern Nadia Ganoa presented the non-profit’s new cookbook which will feature seasonal recipes based on what farmers are growing around San Antonio.

 

It will feature a planting and harvesting guide, to help residents start their own garden, and will provide information on local farmers markets. Green Spaces Alliance is also working on a mobile app version of the harvesting guide and will be holding garden produce cooking demonstrations to get San Antonians excited about cooking from their own gardens.

The District Games

Courtesy image.

Courtesy image.

The nonprofit San Antonio 2030 District is the local chapter of Architecture 2030 – dedicated to reducing the carbon emissions of new and existing buildings. San Antonio Fundraising Chairman Pegy Brimhall wants to help property owners retain their property value by lowering energy costs, and to that end has created “The District Games.”

This social platform will help get local employers involved with District 2030 so they can find energy saving solutions – such as the use of solar panels – and track the impact of those changes against other businesses that enter the games. District 2030 has 11 property owners signed up so far, and will eventually charge each business a fee for entering the games.

[Read more: 2030 District Points San Antonio Towards Sustainability]

Green Nexus

Presented by Kelly McGill, Green Nexus is a matchmaking startup created to connect green technology startups with investors. The startup will create a profile-based networking platform to help investors assess the risk level of different startups by creating a detailed profile page and rating system for every green startup with a “comprehensive industry specific risk and team assessment.” There will also be a question and answer page for each startup. For revenue, Green Nexus will charge startups for the assessment with three tiers of pricing depending on the level of detail. There will also be a charge to investors after a match.

JSA Energies

Based on a year of research by presenter Shihlin Lu, JSA Energies is a consulting startup designed to help businesses with medium to large workplaces to be more energy and water efficient. The startup will provide energy cost projections, energy and cost saving recommendations, and a real-time energy analytics dashboard for business. The first version of their product will consist of an energy tracking application and water tracking service using installed meters.  Eventually they will partner with experts to make recommendations such as installing more efficient equipment or modifying employee behavior.  The initial energy tracking application will be subscription based and additional revenue will be created by offering leads to retrofit vendors. JSA Energies will also be participating in the Cleantech Open Competition.

Sukhiware

Judges respond to Sukhiware's pitch. Photo by Andrew Moore.

Judges respond to Sukhiware’s pitch. Photo by Andrew Moore.

Presented by India native Rohit Saxena, Sukhiware was created to manufacture and sell eco-friendly bowls and plates made out of pressed and stapled leaves. Saxena got the idea from Indian street vendors, who used similar bowls which could be left on the ground to quickly decompose. Sukhiware has already found a supplier in India, but is also doing research on local foliage to create the bowls out of plants native to the San Antonio area. San Antonio catering company Ming’s Thing has already ordered 50 bowls in advance.

Gaiah

Presented by Alex Maingot, Gaiah is an app that gamifies the process of buying “green” product alternatives by giving consumers a sense of the difference they are making. As consumers buy and log green products, Gaiah will let them know how many pounds of carbon dioxide, or polar bears, they are saving by making that choice. By logging into Facebook, the app will also let you challenge friends for certain eco-goals, such as saving a total of five polar bears. Maingot also will try to negotiate a discount for using the app at local stores like Whole Foods. Gaiah plans to generate revenue by using eco-targeted ads on the product as well as selling their product-sales analytics.

After each pitch, the presenters got feedback from a Judges panel which included Rackspace’s Melissa Gray, St. Mary’s University Professor Suz Burroughs, San Antonio Chief Sustainability Officer Douglas Melnick, and UTSA’s San Antonio Clean Energy Incubator Executive Director Andrew Trickett. Most of the feedback was very positive.

“I think there is merit to all of them and I think they are all really in the starting phase,” Melnick said. “I definitely see that, with the majority of them, there are local applications that would be very beneficial.”

3 Day Startup Green Tech is actually the second of seven industry-focused 3DS events being planned and sponsored by San Antonio’s 80/20 Foundation. Executive Director Lorenzo Gomez originally planned the industry specific events after a phone conversation with Geekdom co-founder Nick Longo last December.  All seven will be run by 3 Day Startup Project Manager Maia Donohue and will include cyber, biomed, education software, and culinary 3DS events as well. Donohue already ran the first event, which focused on the performing arts, on February 21.

“I think we are going to see some really good traction,” Gomez said. “When you hit a niche, people who are very passionate about that niche come out of the woodwork. And that’s what we’ve found just by doing these two (events).”

If the events are successful – attracting a large number of applicants and resulting in viable startups – the 80/20 Foundation plans to repeat the events next year. Industry-specific 3DS events will cost about $15,000-$20,000 each, more expensive than normal 3DS events because they require unique curriculums, additional research, and industry-specific mentors and panelists. It’s a relatively new approach for 3DS, but panelist and St. Mary’s University Professor Suz Burroughs thinks that focusing on specific industries, or “verticals,” could lead to faster startup growth.

“People actually care about these verticals and have experience in these verticals. So I’ll be very interested to see if the experiment the 80/20 (Foundation) is helping out with, if that is going to lead to more companies forming,” Burroughs said. “That is probably much more likely with this format than the university format … I think it would be very exciting to see more companies filling up the Rand Building (Geekdom’s new location) because of things like this.”

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