Greenstart Hatches Four Startups, Proving Accelerators Work in the Energy Business

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used optical character recognition to take a picture of your utility bill,” feed the data into an online energy dashboard, and help consumers spot ways to lower their bills, he says. But after talking with mentors and their fellow Greenstart entrepreneurs, the Watt team realized that the smartphone process took too much work, and that the end result wasn’t fun enough.

They pivoted—a classic accelerator experience—and decided to build a “game for going green,” in Highsmith’s words. The company provides a Mint-like system that pulls spending data directly from users’ bank accounts and credit card bills. It then “reverse engineers” the information to pull out details about each user’s monthly energy footprint—for example, the mix of fossil fuel, renewable sources, and nuclear power that went into making the electricity they used.

“We are able to get a huge amount of data about what happens on the other side of the plug, and make it really fun and interesting,” Highsmith says. Users can earn points and badges for increasing their clean energy use and lowering their overall energy consumption, and the site uses additional game features like competitions to keep players motivated.

Highsmith says that for, the “firehose” of advice and feedback from the Greenstart mentors and the other teams was the most valuable part of the program. “I thought it was the perfect environment to be around other people in a cleantech hub, so that we could just bounce ideas off each other really quick,” he says. “You talk to people, they give you an idea, there is a little spark of insight here and there. That is where the magic happens for me. Then bringing in the mentors only magnifies that.”

So there you have it: direct testimony that many of the benefits of the incubator model pioneered by Internet entrepreneurs do extend to energy-related startups. The emphasis may be different—with the exception of, the Greenstart companies focused on developing their business models and customer networks rather than iterating their products. But all technology startups face the same core challenges, and are tempted into making similar mistakes. An accelerator is one of the best places for an early-stage company to connect with industry veterans who can help short-circuit that process. (That’s why they’re called accelerators, after all.)

Greenstart’s next session gets underway February 13, and will include five or six new startups, Lowe says. (The spring 2012 companies have already been selected, but Greenstart is soliciting applications for the fall 2012 session.) Below, for your entertainment, is a great series of videos Greenstart created to document its inaugural session.

Gearing up Greenstart from Greenstart on Vimeo.

Greenstart Introduction from Greenstart on Vimeo.

Week One at Greenstart from Greenstart on Vimeo.

Week Two from Greenstart on Vimeo.

Week Three from Greenstart on Vimeo.

Week Four from Greenstart on Vimeo.

Week Five from Greenstart on Vimeo.

Week Six from Greenstart on Vimeo.

Week Seven from Greenstart on Vimeo.

Week Eight from Greenstart on Vimeo.

Week Nine from Greenstart on Vimeo.

Week Ten from Greenstart on Vimeo.

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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