Why GE led a $22M investment round for a smart-building startup

Editor's Note: To learn more about energy-efficient buildings, be sure to check out VERGE@Greenbuild November 12-13.

Ann Hand, the CEO of smart-building startup Project Frog did not begin her career in a green job. As an executive in training with Mobil, she ran gas stations in inner city Philadelphia. “I can tell you about the adjacencies of Kool Menthol and Orange Crush,” she says. She went on to spend about 19 years in the oil industry with ExxonMobil, Amoco and BP, where she lead global marketing around “Beyond Petroleum.”

Now Ann is in charge of Project Frog, a green-business startup which, despite the cutesy name, is serious about shaking up the construction industry. Project Frog aims not only to create better buildings -- buildings that are attractive, energy-efficient and pleasant places to work -- but also to change the way buildings are made. Its structures are “component buildings,” put together from pre-fab kits of parts, shipped by truck and assembled onsite. It’s as if you could buy a building from IKEA.

We’re trying to change the game,” Ann says. “We give people a better-looking building in half the time at the same cost or less.” Better, faster, greener and cheaper is how the company puts it. Which is a whole lot better than just greener.

I met recently with Ann Hand at a clean-tech event in Washington. Project Frog would like to position itself as a technology company, and not as a construction company or an architecture and design firm, although it employs designers, architects and experts in construction. Based in San Francisco, Project Frog has about 35 employees and it has built about 25 buildings, mostly schools, health-care facilities and government buildings.

The company was founded in 2006, and Ann, who is 44, joined as CEO at the end of 2009. Interesting aside: She got the job after meeting Chuck McDermott, a venture capitalist at Rockport Capital Partners, which has invested in Project Frog, at the FORTUNE Brainstorm Green conference.

While Project Frog is small, it has some impressive backers. There’s Rockport, a leading clean tech venture firm based in Boston. And, a year ago, General Electric led a $22 million investment round in the company and bought one of Project Frog’s buildings for its Crotonville learning center.

Photo of Green City. Urban Background. Environment. provided by vectorgirl via Shutterstock

Next page: Cutting costs, boosting quality