Wind Startup Evokes Puerto Rico’s Plight, Wins EvoNexus Pitch Event

San Diego’s Uprise Energy won the audience vote for best presentation at EvoNexus Demo Day, with a pitch that highlighted how its mobile wind turbines could help alleviate the plight of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s apocalyptic devastation. The startup event drew more than 400 people to Qualcomm’s San Diego headquarters late Thursday.

The renewable energy startup, founded by CEO Jonathan Knight and his father, former Knight & Carver boatyard partner John Knight, has developed a 10-kilowatt mobile wind turbine as an alternative to emergency diesel-fueled generators and other power sources. Uprise Energy’s wind turbine is designed “to make good power at low wind speeds,” generating enough electricity to power 10 to 15 homes, or 100 villagers in a remote area.

While the company has only developed a prototype so far, the wind turbine can be “easily shipped anywhere in the world” and one person can set it up in one hour, Jonathan Knight told the crowd. The turbine, mounted on a trailer that can be towed by a pickup truck, is about 60-feet tall when erected. The five blades are each 10 feet long.

mobile power station (Uprise Energy image used with permission)

Uprise Energy mobile power station

After his presentation, Knight said he and his father developed expertise in designing, repairing, and manufacturing wind turbine blades at the now-closed Knight & Carver Yacht Center near San Diego. The boatyard had experience in repairing and building fiberglass and composite boat hulls, and developed a separate wind turbine business from a $3 million R&D grant from the U.S. Department of Energy more than a decade ago.

Knight said he and his father have continued in recent years to optimize their turbine blade designs, and Uprise evolved from those efforts. They wrote their own software to manage the load on the system that controls the rotor speed, he said. The ultimate goal there is to maintain optimum tip speed ratio as the wind changes.

In his EvoNexus presentation, Knight noted that 97 percent of Puerto Rico was still without electricity more than a week after Hurricane Maria destroyed much of the power grid. Shattered utility poles still litter the island. Critically ill patients have died in hospitals that were unable to obtain diesel fuel for their backup power generators, he said.

“Portability and performance are our two main differentiators,” Knight said afterward. “This is a perfect product for FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and a perfect product for the military.”

Uprise Energy CEO Jonathan Knight (BVBigelow photo)

Uprise Energy CEO Jonathan Knight reacts to audience vote at EvoNexus Demo Day

EvoNexus, which operates as a free incubator (with “no strings attached”) for tech startups in San Diego and Orange County, hosts the Demo Day event twice a year. Other San Diego startups that presented at the event:

Accel Robotics. Co-founder and chief revenue officer Martin Cseh said Accel has developed machine vision technology that enables what he called “autonomous commerce.” Accel’s technology enables shoppers to walk into an unstaffed retail store and automatically purchase products without standing in a checkout line or dealing with a cashier—a concept similar to the Amazon Go convenience store the commerce giant is testing. Eliminating retail sales employees represents a $100 billion market opportunity, Cseh said.

CB Therapeutics. By using synthetic biology to re-engineer yeast, CEO and co-founder Sher Ali Butt said the biotech startup can produce non-psychoactive cannabinoids at lower cost and higher quality for use in therapeutic drugs. Such compounds are currently made from hemp plants, which often contain herbicides and other contaminants. Aside from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound in marijuana, Butt said there are 115 other non-psychoactive cannabinoids that constitute a $100 billion a year global market.

Fabric8Labs. Co-founder and CEO Jeff Herman said the company has created ­an electrochemical 3D printer for making solid, full-strength metal parts without costly lasers, vacuum chambers, or metal powders. The technology combines stereo-lithography and electro-deposition in a 3D printer that deposits metals, producing parts quickly and effectively at room temperature and pressure. The system can use copper, nickel, iron, cobalt-chrome, Inconel, stainless steel, and other material.

GigaIO Networks. CEO Alan Benjamin said GigaIO has focused on technology that improves the interconnections in and between data centers. The company’s high-speed technology enables data centers to accelerate such applications as artificial intelligence, parallel processing mesh analysis, the Internet of Things, and data analytics, he said.

MG Therapies. CEO David McMahon said the company has developed in-clinic treatment for people with dry eye disease, also known as Myasthenia gravis. The company’s table top device, intended for in-office use by optometrists, combines three clinical treatments for dry eye disease at a quarter of the cost of the existing market leader.

Sourcify. Founder and CEO Nathan Resnick has developed Web-based technology that eliminates costly middle men as small companies look for manufacturers to produce their products. Resnick said Sourcify allows companies to automate the product development process and identify pre-vetted manufacturers.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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