Entrepreneurs strut their solutions at VERGE Accelerate

SaLisa Berrien, CEO, of COI Energy Services, on the VERGE 17 stage
SaLisa Berrien, CEO, of COI Energy Services, on the VERGE 17 stage.

Sustainability startups at VERGE 17 sought to impress a live audience of business leaders, government officials and investors — as well as a global online audience — in hopes of winning the VERGE Accelerate Showcase.

VERGE Accelerate elevates early-stage entrepreneurs with solutions that address market opportunities across any one of the eight VERGE Tracks: city and regional resilience; next-gen buildings; grid-scale power; connected transportation and mobility; renewable energy procurement; smart infrastructure; distributed energy systems; or the circular economy.

Day one

Day one judges included Evelyn Bolden, director of Corporate Partner Sustainability at Cox Enterprises; and Sheeraz Haji, managing partner of Zipdragon Ventures. Here are the companies that made their case.

1. Mogol

The problem

Traffic sucks. Vehicle emissions take a negative toll on public health and the environment, and commute times are absurd. The United Kingdom has developed an active traffic management system that works really well, but it’s really expensive.

The solution

Virtually all new cars feature digital screens, and the vast majority of drivers use smartphones or other GPS systems to navigate. Mogol’s Connected Traffic Management (CTM) platform connects directly to the dashboard of both driven and driverless vehicles without expensive infrastructure, enabling traffic managers to communicate directly to vehicles and improve congestion and safety in their regions.

2. Katz Water Technologies

The problem

Flaring at oil and gas well sites wastes billions of dollars of natural gas, and oil and gas production creates eight barrels of contaminated wastewater for every barrel of oil. This "produced water" is typically placed on disposal trucks for transportation to disposal well sites. The trucks cause air pollution and road congestion. Disposal well sites can cause aquifer contamination and have been linked to earthquakes.

The solution

Katz Water Technologies offers energy and water recycling at oil and gas production sites by way of thermo-distillation inside a heat exchanger. The technology reduces or even eliminates energy costs. It uses wasted energy at well sites for water purification, and redeploys that water for agricultural purposes and other beneficial ends. Katz uses a circular economy business model at the well site, providing produced water purification for oil and gas producers for less than they currently spend on disposal.

3. Symbiot Technology (Popular Vote Winner)

The problem

When homes are vacant, they continue to burn electricity. This is true if occupants are away at work during business hours, and more so for homes that are only periodically occupied, such as vacation rentals.

The solution

Symbiot Technology’s cloud platform connects homes’ electrical circuitry to vacation rental booking calendars to ensure that the home is only using energy when someone is staying in it. It also enables large energy-consuming items, such as electric hot water heaters, air conditioners and underfloor heating, to become connected devices irrespective of their brand or age. The system can yield 25 to 40 percent energy cost savings. Symbiot’s ultimate mission is to automatically reduce energy demand in every home around the world by 40 percent.

4. COI Energy

The problem

Utilities wish to improve their engagement with customers, particularly at a time when grid defection is growing. They also need to optimize capacity use, improve building energy performance and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The solution

COI offers technology solutions to electric utilities that help improve the energy performance of small- to medium-sized businesses and industrial and commercial clients. COI focuses on eliminating energy waste by optimizing energy behaviors with the ability to monetize energy assets for use with demand response, energy efficiency and renewable energy markets. It aims to expand customer engagement with utilities from the current eight minutes per year to two minutes a day.

5. Autocase

The problem

By 2030, energy demand will double, and water demand will exceed supply by 40 percent. Irreversible and severe climate change looms. Buildings account for 40 percent of U.S. energy use and 45 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. We need to build better.

The solution

Autocase developed a technology that enables every architect, engineer and project owner to build the greenest possible structure within their budget. The software uses triple-bottom-line, cost-benefit analysis to combine project specifications with industry-validated data to measure the value of net financial, social and environmental impacts affecting all stakeholders. It allows users to automatically cost-justify smarter building and infrastructure designs for their clients, investors and communities.

6. Bioplastic Recycling

The problem

As more compostable containers and packaging have become available, commercial composting infrastructure has failed to keep pace, and thus compostable have still have been ending up in landfills. Meanwhile, recycling is driven by the value of the end market, and there is little value in most plastics. Indeed, there is no current end market for PET cups and clamshell containers.

The solution

Bioplastic Recycling’s products are designed for multiple disposal options, including recycling and composting. The company takes current PLA products, such as utensils and cups, and recycles them into a variety of resins ready for manufacturing. It has a similar process for bioplastic waste. The company is giving value to recycling by creating the technology to upcycle plastic into garbage bags, sunglasses, souvenir items, furniture, 3-D printing filament and more.

Deepinder Singh, CEO of 75F, on the VERGE 17 stage

Deepinder Singh, CEO of 75F, on the VERGE 17 stage,

Day two

Day two judges included Matt Petersen, CEO, Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator; and Marilyn Waite, senior manager, Village Capital.

7. Lilac Solutions (Popular Vote Winner)

The problem

Fossil fuel dominates transportation fuels. While EV sales are increasing by about 40 percent per year, market penetration is only at 1 percent. Nevertheless, lithium prices have doubled since 2014. To achieve full vehicular electrification, we need to increase lithium supply by a factor of 50. Most lithium is extracted from brine resources, underground saltwater deposits. Conventional lithium extraction uses large evaporation ponds that are enormous, expensive and landscape-scarring. It takes two years to process the brine, recovering only about 40 percent of the lithium.

The solution

Lilac’s ion exchange technology eliminates evaporation ponds, reduces processing time to one day, doubles lithium recovery to 80 percent and expands the scope of exploitable lithium resources. Lilac can expand production at existing projects while limiting environmental impact, and can extend production into new countries, including the United States and Canada, both of which have massive, untapped brine resources.

8. CurbMyClutter

The problem

The disposal of used electronics and apparel has become a major cost burden and environmental hazard for municipalities. Ten percent of today’s waste stream is textiles and e-waste, and most goes to landfills. Almost all current textile and e-waste recycling takes place at drop boxes, but convenience is critical to achieving higher recycling rates, and nothing is more convenient than curbside pickup.

The solution

CurbMyClutter enables haulers and municipalities to communicate with customers via text message to collect and recycle electronics and apparel. Advanced routing technology can build optimized pickup routes, inventory management can identify the highest value markets and relationship management with the largest and most innovative markets. CurbMyClutter licenses its software to municipalities to enable efficient collection and recycling of used electronics and apparel. The end user schedules collection with a simple text.

9. 75F

The problem

Buildings waste energy and cause productivity loss. Building controls are flexible but difficult to use optimally. Controls programmers design bespoke solutions for every single job, which is antiquated and cumbersome. This makes the installed cost for building controls in new construction five times what it should be. Less than 4 percent of U.S. buildings have control systems, and most facility managers don’t know how to use them.

The solution

75F designed a system that non-specialized technicians can deploy in a fraction of the time. They tested the technology with 8- and 9-year-old elementary school students, who successfully installed 75F systems after watching a video explaining how to do it. The 75F system controls indoor air and environmental quality in every room and yields 30 to 50 percent energy savings. No more bringing a sweater to the office in high summer, and no more baking in the conference room in the dead of winter.

10. Renewal Mill

The problem

Traditional food processing generates tremendous waste. Indeed, tater tots were invented to deal with the substantial quantities of potato left over from French fry production. In the United States alone, $6 billion worth of food products are thrown out each year. Forty percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted, yet 13 percent of U.S. households are food insecure.

The solution

Renewal Mill sees food production byproducts as raw inputs waiting to be used. The company uses drying and milling technologies to transform ingredients into shelf-stable products. It started with the pulp of legumes and nuts left over from non-dairy milk production, from which it makes a high-fiber, high-protein flour that goes into pantry items, including pancake mix and pasta. It continues to expand its inputs and product offerings. A sustainable food system to Renewal Mills is one that brings more healthful food to more people using fewer resources.

11. RosettaBlock

The problem

Building equipment management is a complex, clunky, expensive, time-intensive process. The industry landscape today consists of practices that haven’t been modernized for decades, data that are collected but not properly analyzed and tens of thousands of pieces of hardware and software that fail to adequately share vital information with one another. 

The solution

RosettaBlock’s mission is to simplify equipment management by reducing all of the associated paperwork and processes to a single click. It simplifies information acquisition and task delegation for facilities managers through a single interface. The monetary savings can be substantial. The cost of failure of a conference room is estimated at $300 an hour, a generator at $1,600 an hour and a vaccine fridge at $500,000 an hour. These costs can be eliminated with RosettaBlock’s streamlined system.

12. watt-r

The problem

Globally, 663 million people do not have access to a clean water source. The burden of collecting water falls disproportionately to women and children, limiting their access to education and their ability to contribute to their family subsistence, as several trips per day are usually needed. This is, at its heart, an infrastructure problem, but traditional water infrastructure is expensive.

The solution

Watt-r is a flat-pack, ultra-low cost solar mobility device for the bottom of the pyramid that allows a person at walking pace to do the job of about 50 people. The device would allow a person to carry 250 liters of water while charging cell phones and other electric devices, all for about $1,000. It’s infrastructure in a box. The company’s research shows that each vehicle could generate $10 per day, revenue it plans to share with a local partner — hopefully a woman — through a pay-as-you-go system.

13. The Renewal Workshop

The problem

The apparel industry is a linear system. It takes, makes, uses and dumps. Clothing manufacturers don’t want the products they make to come back to them, but they do anyway in the form of returns, damaged shipments and so forth. Warehouses are brimming with returned apparel, and because there exists no real infrastructure to deal with this, the majority of this product is shredded and sent to landfill. Often, nothing is wrong with these items other than a missing button.

The solution

The Renewal Workshop was developed to deal with apparel waste, and to create a circular economy for the apparel industry. The company partners with clothing manufacturers to collect and repurpose all of their returned, damaged and excess inventory. It sorts, cleans, repairs and certifies garments to the original quality of the original brand. It also collects valuable data on product quality and integrity, and quantifies the environmental benefit of extending the life of that product. Anything the company can’t renew becomes valuable feedstock for its global network of textile recyclers. 

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