photo of Beth Hartman

May 18, 2015
Posted by Beth Hartman, Electric Power Research Institute

During Boulder Startup Week earlier this month, the energy track of events highlighted a variety of entrepreneurial opportunities in the industry, both within the city and around the country. Starting with "Energy Entrepreneurship 101" on Monday and concluding with a networking lunch focused on the connections between energy and food, the week was filled with helpful tips for getting involved in everything from solar to electric cars, the internet of things, and social impact.

"Building a company is hard, so you might as well work on a problem that really matters," explained Dave Riess, one of the co-founders of Wunder Capital, at the Energy Entrepreneurship 101 event. This quote clearly captures the importance of working in clean energy, where enormous challenges like addressing climate change are literally essential for the future of civilization. Dave and his fellow panelists Charlie Bloch from Vision Fleet, Brett Jurgens from Notion, and DR Richardson from Vision Ridge discussed a variety of solutions aimed at this problem, ranging from electric vehicles and the new Tesla battery, to solar panels, smart home controls, and the future of the grid. While industry terms like net metering, duck curves, and grid parity came up, the conversation generally remained approachable to an audience interested in learning more about how to get involved in energy entrepreneurship.

The next day at Simple Energy, Hunter Albright from Tendril and Bill LeBlanc from E Source joined company co-founder Justin Segall to discuss energy and the internet of things, focusing on which connected devices may have the most appeal for residential customers. While falling costs are encouraging an increasing number of people to consider products like solar panels and batteries in their home, many more are interested in less expensive technologies such as Nest thermostats and LED lighting. Overall, the panelists agreed that the appeal of connected energy devices is related not only to the technology itself, but also pricing and marketing strategies. Such strategies allow these products to be bundled with other offers such as home security and positioned as a purchase that will bring the customer benefits like comfort, social status, and convenience, aside from just saving a few dollars a month on energy.

Panelists discussing energy and the internet of things at Simple Energy.

Wednesday provided a fun break in the middle of the week, with an energy and adventure track lunch time bike ride led by Quick Left and followed by two networking happy hours, one at West Flanders and one at Shine sponsored by Tendril. Both happy hours were packed, especially the energy nerd event at Shine, and the bike ride was attended by several dozen people despite the cloudy weather!

At the "Energy and Social Impact" panel hosted by the Unreasonable Institute, the discussion focused on how access to clean energy has profound social implications around the world, affecting economic prosperity, climate change, and more. Teju Ravilochan, CEO of Unreasonable, was joined by Skye Bacus from Tersus Solutions and Katie Block from Surna, companies respectively focused on eliminating the need for water in the care and manufacture of clothing, and improving efficiency for indoor commercial crop cultivation. The connection between energy, water, and indoor commercial growing facilities is critical, especially as drought impacts regions of the country like California where water plays an essential role in both energy production and crop cultivation.

Finally, the week concluded with an energy and food networking lunch, where two excellent speakers highlighted the connection between our daily meal choices and energy consumption: Olivia Ahnemann, a producer of the film Racing Extinction from the Oceanic Preservation Society, and Kristen Hess, founder of Compokeeper. Basically, the amount of energy, water, and carbon emissions involved in producing food like beef and milk is vastly greater than most people realize, with Olivia describing how the global livestock industry is responsible for more carbon emissions worldwide than the entire transportation sector combined. How we dispose of our food waste also has enormous implications for energy use, with Kristen explaining that almost 40% of the food grown in the US goes straight to the landfill.

Overall, the week provided a great overview of energy entrepreneurship opportunities in Boulder and beyond, with the introduction to "Energy Entrepreneurship 101" including an overview of the many excellent clean energy incubators supporting amazing early-stage companies like FreeWire, Lucid Energy and SkySpecs around the country. Thanks to everyone who participated and looking forward to another fun week next year!