Four New Energy Stars: A Greenstart Demo Day Preview

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these small utilities,” he says. “We collect the existing data, we pass it through our very sophisticated predictive analytics and optimization algorithms, and we show the operator what they need to do.”

These algorithms were originally developed at Stanford as part of the university’s planned $438 million overhaul of its campus energy system. Gupta obtained an exclusive license to commercialize the technology. Root3, which has raised $450,000 in seed funding from Greenstart and friends-and-family investors, has now spent seven months generalizing the software and moving it to cloud-based servers, where customers will be able to access it for a monthly subscription fee.

The software doesn’t actually control a campus’s energy systems, although that may come in the future. For now, it just feeds operators advice about which systems to activate and which to shut down based on weather predictions, historical usage patterns, and other factors, Gupta says. The University of Chicago is Root3’s first beta test site. “After running the beta for a month they saved nearly 10 percent on their energy costs,” Gupta says. “They recently converted to being a full customer, and we have three other sites that have signed up. So, out of the 22,000 central-energy plants in the U.S., we have 21,996 to go.”


If you had to sum up the company in three words, you’d say that Liquid is “Airbnb for bikes.” But while Airbnb certainly helped to pioneer the sharing economy that Liquid is now building upon, it’s not a perfect analogy, says co-founder Will Dennis. For one thing, the matching problem is harder for bikes. Apartment owners who use Airbnb tend to know way in advance that their place will be available during a given week. Bike owners might want to rent out their bikes for an hour, or a day, and might make the decision at the last minute.

“There’s more predictability with apartments, or even cars,” says Dennis. “So we are learning that our system has to be a little bit smarter and a little bit more flexible.”

Liquid—which was known until last week as Spinlister—got its start in early 2011 when Dennis, a student at the University of Southern California, decided to spend the summer in New York City. “I wanted a bike while I was there and I didn’t see any options other than buying and reselling on Craiglist,” he says. “At the same time, all these other collaborative consumption marketplaces were emerging, like Airbnb and Getaround. I said ‘I’m sure there’s something out there for bicycles,’ but I didn’t see anything.”

Dennis and his technical co-founder Jeff Noh, a Berkeley graduate, coded up a website and launched their bike-sharing service in New York and San Francisco on April 1. In September, they went national. “We now have 550 bikes available for rent around the country,” Dennis says. “What’s beautiful about our business model is that it’s infrastructure-light and location-independent. Anyone who wants to list a bike in Liquid, if it’s a good-looking bike at a reasonable price, we can make that live.”

Dennis says he thinks Liquid will appeal to three main types of renters: People who have friends visiting and want to rent a bike for them; serious cyclists who want to get in a ride while on a business trip; and travelers who want to explore a city by bicycle. The site offers a diverse range of bikes, from a $5/day cruiser up to a $130/day titanium cyclocross bike, and rental periods can vary from hours to weeks.

Liquid earns money by charging 25 percent commission on each rental, split between the owner and the renter. (On a $100 rental, in other words, the renter would pay $112.50, the owner would get $87.50, and Liquid would keep the difference.) That share is enough for Liquid to cover insurance and payment-processing fees, “and ideally become a profitable and successful business, which is good for everyone in the system,” Dennis says.

The main problem Liquid is trying to solve—and the inspiration for the name—is the illiquidity of the bike market. “There are 100 million bikes in the U.S. and over a billion in the world, but only about 0.3 percent of them are being ridden on any given day, so there is this huge oversupply,” Dennis says. “At the same time, you see rental shops and public bike-sharing systems that are very expensive. We help people find a higher-quality bike at a more affordable price.”


If you’d like to install solar panels on your roof but you don’t want to shell out the cash that would be required, some new options have come along in the last few years. Companies like SunRun, Solar City, and Sungevity will install a system on your home at their own cost then either lease the equipment to you, or sell you the power it produces. But to Nick Yecke, there’s a big catch with these kinds of offers. “The price of panels has dropped by about 50 percent in the last two years, but lease payments have stayed the same,” he says. “Homeowners aren’t seeing the value of these reduced costs. As panel prices come down, traditional ownership starts to make more sense.”

Making it cheaper and more convenient for homeowners to own their own rooftop solar installations is what Yecke’s company Kiwi (known until recently as PV Power) is all about. This week the company is introducing a product called the “JuiceBox” that combines four components and services that Yecke says DIY solar owners would otherwise have to find on their own.

The first is software that helps a homeowner figure out whether installing solar makes financial sense for them, and if so, how many panels will fit on their rooftop. Second is the equipment itself: panels, racks, and … Next Page »

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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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