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On the VERGE

The next-gen cleantech entrepreneurs

Adapted from the VERGE Weekly newsletter, published Wednesdays.

I’m writing this week from the Cleantech Open Global Forum in sunny Los Angeles. It’s a high-energy environment, with about 70 startup teams in energy, transportation and circular economy from around the world, showcasing their latest and greatest technologies, connecting with potential investors and partners, embodying the kind of passion and persistence we increasingly need as we transition to a clean economy — or so these entrepreneurs hope.

The event is taking place at the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator’s (LACI) La Kretz Innovation Campus, which is unlike any facility I’ve ever visited. A fully renovated 60,000-square foot building in the heart of the dynamic Arts District, it’s the hub of Los Angeles’ new cleantech industry — a place where entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists and policymakers come to collaborate, promote and support the development of clean technologies and LA’s burgeoning green economy.

The 3.2-acre campus, owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), features R&D labs, a prototype manufacturing workshop, a training center and event space, in addition to LADWP laboratories. It’s also putting into practice many of the technologies its occupants are working to bring to scale — featuring a 175-kilowatt photovoltaic solar canopy, greywater filtration, bioswale and microgrid systems, all in the heart of LA’s Cleantech Corridor.

Over the course of the week, entrepreneurs have been engaging a broad spectrum of programming, all designed to support them in evaluating their technologies, refining their business plans, increasing their market readiness and connecting with potential partners, advisers and customers.

There’s a noticeable absence of large companies and utilities — both of which should be tracking closely the exciting, potentially disruptive technologies these entrepreneurs are bringing to the table. While the event isn’t designed for those stakeholders per se, I did have a chance to connect with Erik Steeb — who’s held leadership positions with both LACI and Cleantech Open, and is running the Incubate Energy Network out of EPRI — and had some words of advice for companies and utilities thinking about how best to work with startups:

It’s very easy to kill these startups if you start engaging them, want to deploy and then take forever to make decisions and get to the pilot stage. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.
"We have this funny phrase: Death by pilot or death by demonstration. It’s very easy to kill these startups if you start engaging them, want to deploy and then take forever to make decisions and get to the pilot stage. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good — test these things in the market quickly, see where the issues are, focus on iterating and integrating and figure out how we can deploy these technologies as quickly as possible."

With that, it’s time to get back to the innovation showcase, scouting prospects for our VERGE Accelerate program and watching the next round of startup pitches. Before I do, I leave you with thumbnail descriptions of the six companies that make up this year’s CTO Global Forum Finalists:

  • Radical Plastics has developed a novel technology for the manufacturing of economically attractive, ecologically friendly, soil biodegradable plastics. The technology involves the use of a naturally-occurring byproduct from industrial processing which otherwise accumulates in the environment as waste.

  • Social Solar is driving urban clean energy adoption where consumers, channel partners and energy suppliers all win. Through the combination of their algorithms with machine learning capabilities, Social Solar’s utility bill web app makes it much easier for customers to opt for renewables.

  • Sepion Technologies is creating batteries capable of powering electric vehicles for up to 400 miles, relieving consumer range anxiety, redefining electric mobility and decarbonizing transportation. Sepion’s membrane technology is retrofittable, providing near-term benefits for today’s lithium-ion batteries and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for long-duration grid-storage batteries.

  • YouSolar’s solar plus battery system is a diesel generator replacement used for backup or primary power. The system eliminates power quality problems from the grid, delivering uninterrupted and predictable power through automated energy management by learning customer consumption patterns.

  • SANOS Nutrition is working to transform agriculture and feed the world without the need for more acres, more water or more fertilizer. The startup’s yeast-based amino acid balancers are highly digestible and its patent-pending process is at the intersection of proven fermentation and novel genetic tools.

  • South 8 Technologies has developed a breakthrough Liquefied Gas Electrolyte for electrochemical energy storage devices, including lithium batteries and electrochemical capacitors. Its patented technology allows for a substantial increase of energy, improved safety and exceptionally wide operating temperatures, offering a unique solution for a variety of transportation, grid storage and aerospace applications.

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