Northwest Energy Angels Summer Showcase Draws 11 Startups Determined to Make a Greener World

Last week the Northwest Energy Angels—a group of over 45 private investors who have banded together to invest exclusively in cleantech and energy companies located here in the Pacific Northwest—held its annual Summer Showcase at Tesla Motors’ South Lake Union showroom. Founded by Seattle entrepreneur Martin Tobias and state lawmaker Jeff Morris in 2006, the angels provide early-stage capital to cleantech entrepreneurs and connect promising companies with potential investors.

So far, the group has invested more than $3 million in 17 local companies, a sign that it is active and growing—along with the Pacific Northwest cleantech sector. Back in March the Angels hired on local tech veteran Margo Shiroyama as the new executive director, and the group is recruiting new angels, hoping to bring the membership up to 60 by the end of the year.

On Friday afternoon many of the angels joined representatives from local cleantech companies, and green-minded community members at Tesla to mingle, connect, and hear updates from 11 companies that had presented at a prior NW Energy Angels event. Drinks were served in 100 percent compostable plant polymer Greenware. I would be lying if I said a few in the crowd weren’t eyeing Tesla’s bright red Roadster on display in the front of the room. (After the presentations, many signed up for test drives around the neighborhood, though I was not so lucky.) But the combination of compostable cups and fully electric cars sure did set the scene for an event on cleantech business ideas.

One of the more high profile attendees included U.S. Rep Jay Inslee, the Democrat who represents Washington’s first congressional district. Energy Angel Bill Lemon introduced Inslee as our “tireless advocate in the promotion of clean energies.” In his introductory remarks, Inslee urged the companies to develop new clean technologies and move the country and world forward toward renewable energies.

“The future of the U.S. economy is not determined at the Fed, or the White House, or the Congress. It is determined by people like you,” he said. “It is a system that is broken because it is rife with subsidies that support old technologies that have been around for the past hundred years.”

Inslee then outlined his five pillars for the future of clean energy, which he termed his “vision for America.” The steps included creating demand for new technology, increasing energy standards for machinery (including cars, buildings, and gadgets), changing the tax code to provide clean energy incentives for small businesses, increasing federal energy R&D, and leveling the playing field between clean energy businesses and industry old timers like oil and coal.

“These five pillars, I think, have the capability to get us into the international game. And it needs to happen this year—next year is a year too late,” Inslee said. “This is the most exciting thing technologically since we went to the moon,” adding that Seattle and the Pacific Northwest are poised to be cleantech leaders based on our booming regional tech industry. “When there’s a technological transition, Washington shines!” he said.

The remainder of the event was dedicated to a series of short company updates and networking among cleantechies. The presenting companies included a few more established startup success stories, as well as a handful of brand new companies fresh on the scene. Though all of the companies had been represented at prior NW Energy Angel events, many of them have escaped our radar until now. But whether you’ve heard of these startups before or not, if you’re interested in what’s up-and-coming in the Pacific Northwest cleantech sector, take a look at these highlights:

EMME (Beaverton, OR)

Standing for Energy Management Made Easy, EMME develops energy management devices. These are monitoring gadgets for everything from heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment, to wireless power monitors, and power meter breaker boxes—that helps consumers keep track of their home’s carbon footprint, and save money and energy. “It will tell you how much you’re spending on heating, cooling, your refrigerator is spending, your big screen TV,” said Jon Brodeur, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing. “And it will give you recommendations on what to do to save energy costs,” without having to change out any appliances.

EnerG2 (Seattle, WA)

You’ve probably heard of EnerG2, a nanomaterials startup focused on energy storage. The company, which develops ultra-high performance synthetic carbon material for use in double layer capacitors, has had such success in the last few years that Lemon kicked himself for passing up an opportunity to invest. “Boy do I really, really regret it!” he said. Since that missed opportunity, EnerG2 has brought in $8.5 million in its Series A venture investment—which chief operating and financial officer Chris Wheaton joked happened during in the fall of 2008, “nearly financial Armageddon.” Later on, EnerG2 secured another $21.3 million in federal stimulus money. “It completely blew the doors off for us,” Wheaton added. “There’s nothing like success to create more success.”

EnergySavvy (Seattle, WA)

This energy-efficiency focused startup works to help homeowners understand the “miles per gallon” of their homes by helping consumers calculate their energy use and find places they can cut back, make changes, and save both energy and money. Only an eight-person operation, according to Scott Case, the vice president of product management, EnergySavvy has had so much interest from prospective customers they have been struggling to grow fast enough to keep up. The company makes its money … Next Page »

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