March 31st, 2011

Insights into the Philly Cleantech Market, Investing, and Best Industry Blogs from @Greenskeptic


This weekend (April 3rd – 5th) I’m going to PV America to cover the show with the Renewable Energy World crew. I’ve never been to Philadelphia before and haven’t learned much about the renewable energy industry in the city. Since I’ve started writing one of the perspectives I’ve most enjoyed has been Scott Anderson’s on The Green Skeptic. What do you know? Scott happens to live in Philly. I decided to reach out to the green skeptic because I enjoy the nice mix of topics and subject matters that he weaves together on his blog all with a single goal, development and deployment of useful and clean technologies that make sense.

For those of you reading from the mid-Atlantic who are interested in the industry, check out the Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic. I’ve never been to any events but I hear they are the place to connect with companies and investors in the area.

I had a lot of fun with the interview and look forward to doing it speaking with Scott again. We talked for about 30 minutes and we discussed a number of topics:

  1. His perspective on the cleantech startup scene in Philadelphia and what it brings to the industry as a whole. Scott talked about 3 unique companies that are doing well.
  2. Scott’s thoughts on making the water issue mainstream.
  3. 6 awesome recommendations on the top bloggers and perspective in cleantech that you should be following to keep up to date with industry.
  4. Lastly, we discussed how to invest in cleantech in the stock market. Remember kids, the first rule of cleantech investing is stay far, far away.

NOTE: The interview was split up into 5 sections for uploading purposes and I outlines each section below so you can get an idea of the discussion. I could not transcribe the whole discussion so if you want to hear you’ll have to listen to the clip. There are a couple minutes if part one where the audio is scratchy but it ends

2ND NOTE: In order to listen to the audio you have to click on the hyper link, it may take a little while to load because the audio files are large.

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November 11th, 2010

From ‘Green’ Dreamers to a Profitable, Respected Supply House


Cambridge Alternative Power Company was founded in 1978 at the corner of Concord and Walden by a dentist, a Harvard Business School MBA, and the editor of the Christian Science Monitor.  The first employee hired by the three principals was Tim Malarkey, a recent college graduate.  The company sold solar panels, wind turbines, and a variety of other alternative energy products.  Jimmy Carter was president and the second oil embargo launched this start-up business into the spotlight of the national media.  They were the ‘Talk of the Town’ in the May 1980 issue of the New Yorker Magazine, and as sales skyrocketed they all started to believe their own media hype.

None of the principals had a business background, so Cambridge Alternative Power Company operated unprofitably for years, running on cash from investors and a growing top line.  Sales peaked in 1985 when a 60% federal tax credit for solar hot water systems made the investment a no-brainer for most homeowners.  They were selling truckloads of solar panels through a well-coordinated direct sales channel.

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August 30th, 2010

Top 5 Reasons Why @RelayRides is Better Than @ZipCar


If you think ZipCar is cool, they have nothing on RelayRides. Some businesses just make sense, and when you hear about them you think ‘DUHHH’ obviously,  ’Why doesn’t this already exist?’ or  ’Why hasn’t anyone done this before?’ RelayRides is this concept.

RelayRides is hot, there’s no question about that, and for this they’ve been getting a lot of good press around Boston and the country from BostInnovation, Cambridge Day, Xconomy, and Mother Nature Network.

I enjoyed Scott Kirsner’s review of his experience using RelayRides for the first time, Driving Thy Neighbors

Car: My Experience with RelayRides.  However, I absolutely, completely, 100% disagree with his conclusion about RelayRides and ZipCar. First, let me state that I’m not trying to start an argument, I just don’t want potential ‘RelayRiders’ to be scared away from the service due to his review. Mr. Kirsner stated he prefers ZipCar for two reasons: convenience and confidence. Here’s the thing: RelayRides is in beta release. Thus, they are still working out the kinks, only have a small number of cars on the road, etc. However, with their business model, there is no question they will be much more convenient then ZipCar, because the cars can be everywhere and anywhere. In terms of confidence, as more RelayRide users start renting their cars, competition will increase between renters. Thus, renters will be heavily incentivized (being able to make up to 7k per year!) to make sure that their cars are in tip top shape.

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August 27th, 2010

From Software to Cleantech: Interview with Paul Berberian CEO of ZettaSun


zettasunThis week’s post is an interview with Paul Berberian,  a successful investor in Boulder, Colorado. He is the President and CEO of ZetaSun, Inc., a concentrating solar business. How many tech/software people do you meet who are also changing the world with clean tech businesses as well? Well, maybe more than you think. Paul is cross-applying his industry expertise in exciting ways into the Clean Tech space. You can follow Paul’s business ventures and high altitude aviation adventures at his blog:

Tell us a bit about your business:

*Zettasun, Inc. is building a new kind of solar panel designed for commercial rooftops.  We use our unique optical and mechanical designs to build a high-concentrating photovoltaic panel that can track  and concentrate the sun over 500 times without external devices.

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June 21st, 2010

Namaste Solar Puts Their Money Where Thier Mouth Is – 2000% Growth in 3 Years [Audio Interview]


Solar, Colorado, Excel Energy, Lauren Coyne

Here’s a little snippet to kick off the the launch of The Green Light Distrikt – Boulder, an interview I did with Lauren Coyne from Namaste Solar about six months ago.

We’ve been kickin’ around Boston for the past couple months and now I’m curious how things are going in other US cities. We’ll do much the same thing that we did in Boston, recruit young cleantech pros that are working in the industry that are interested in joining our community. I’ve been speaking with James Moreau who is going to start writing soon. Stay tuned for his first post, the goal is to get a follow up with Namaste and potentially get some video footage. Also, if you’re in the Boulder area and interested in joining us, contact me.

Here’s the story.

Alteris Inc, a New England based company, was named to Inc 500, 500 fastest growing companies with about 1000% growth. While I was skimming the list I noticed that Namaste Solar had grown over 2000% in the same period, so I was curious about their growth.

Nameste Solar, Nameste, Solar, Colorado

I contacted Namaste and Lauren nicely and quickly responded to me.

Lauren is a co-owner, and in charge of education and community outreach. We had a great conversation, and it lasted about 40 minutes. I had to split the interview into two parts due to the constraints of uploading.

Here’s the interview

Nameste Solar Interview Part 1

Namaste Solar Interview Part 2

For your reference here’s an overview of the questions I asked during each part.

Part 1:

  • How did you get into the industry? What’s your story?
  • How did your experience getting the Colorado state incentives passed give you skills and information that were helpful in landing the job with Namaste?
  • You’ve grown so fast, what was the source of your growth? What challenges has that created for your company and how have you dealt with them?
  • You mentioned that the new incentives were a large part, but it seems like you have grown much faster then the industry and your competitors, what’s the reason for this?
  • What are unique aspects of your business model?
  • Describe the co-ownership model? It seems unique and gives you a clear social dimension do your business, why and how was that business model chosen and how do you keep that structure with growth?
  • How does co-ownership affect the day to day decision making process?
  • Looking to the future, do you plan on expanding into other markets other than Colorado with your current business model?

Part 2:

  • What hiccups do you see in industry growth in Colorado?
  • Has financing of residential systems drastically changed the Colorado market? How?
  • What are you most excited to see happening in the industry in the next 5 years?
  • What advice would you give to people, current graduates, career changers who are outside of the industry looking to get in?
  • You mentioned training and workshops, are there any particular things you’d like to see when going through resumes?
  • Within a solar company, do you see more opportunity on the sales, design or installation side?

Here are some of my reflections and conclusions after speaking with Lauren.

  1. She’s really nice. It was about six months ago that we spoke, but I still remember this.
  2. She has a really insightful explanation into the role of state incentives in Colorado and how the feed-in-tariffs with Excel energy work
  3. They donate 1% of revenue to develop solar on non-profits every year regardless of their profits.
  4. It’s clear that career changers need to stand out from the crowd and do something to show their passion for the industry. If they’re looking to get into the industry just to make money, it won’t make your attractive to companies, you need to be dedicated to the mission.
  5. The largest that stood out is it seems that Nameste Solar put their money where their mouth is. Here are some examples:
  • They operate a low emissions fleet
  • They operate in LEED certified building, zero waste buildings
  • Co-ownership model has clear social impact. At that time we spoke 47 of their 62 employees were co-owners.
  • Donate 1% of revenue, NOT profit

All in all, I want to thank Lauren for speaking with me. I was great to learn about the Colorado industry and I’m looking forward to seeing if James can get some video footage of some of their installations.

What did you think about the interview?