Startups jockey for investor and corporate cred at VERGE Hawaii Accelerate

Startups jockey for investor and corporate cred at VERGE Hawaii Accelerate

Axiom Exergy
Axiom Exergy, the VERGE Accelerate winner, helps supermarkets cut energy costs by optimizing the energy efficiency of refrigerators.

Sustainability startups at VERGE Hawaii did their darnedest to dazzle 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, presented Tuesday and Wednesday.

Energy Excelerator and GreenBiz picked the pitch competition's judges to give budding sustainability startups exposure to the right people — including investors, corporates and decision makers with expertise in energy and experience working with innovators.

Winners of VERGE Accelerate receive "fast track" access into Energy Excelerator's application process, as well as personal contact with its review team, which moves companies closer to being a part of their 2017 cohort.

“It’s really entrepreneurs we are talking about that will help states like Hawaii to get to 100 percent renewable energy and help address the many sustainability challenges we face,” said Shana Rappaport, director of engagement for VERGE at GreenBiz, on Tuesday. “Even today’s industry leaders once began as emerging startups, and it’s people like you that have the power to help them grow and accelerate.”

Day one

Day one judges included Andrew Beebe, Managing Director, Obvious Ventures; Captain Michelle La Duca, Vice Commander, NAVFAC Pacific; and Murray Clay, Managing Partner, Ulupono Initiative. 

Here are the companies that made their case:

1. Axiom Exergy (Popular Vote Winner)

The problem

Supermarkets face significant energy costs — primarily due to the constant need for maintaining refrigeration. What’s more is many of these refrigeration systems leak, increasing costs for supermarkets even further. Today’s unpredictable energy market and soaring peak demand costs makes life difficult for companies operating in an industry with traditionally low profit margins.

The solution

Axiom Exergy provides turnkey energy-management solutions that reduce operational costs and business risk for supermarkets and commercial buildings with high refrigeration-based energy loads. The company’s technology can turn refrigeration systems into low-cost, cloud-connected energy storage systems with a six to eight hour energy discharge. Using this technology, some supermarkets could realize as much as $25,000 in annual energy savings, which is the equivalent to driving $1.8 million worth of additional sales, the company says.

2. Freser.io

The problem

The seafood industry defines “fresh” catches as being between 14 and 28 days old — largely due to the fact that global supply chains demand fish be sent to distributors and shipped thousands of miles. Under this paradigm, local fishermen have little selling power, which depresses local economies around the world.

The solution

Fresher.io is a mobile marketplace where fisherman can sell directly to buyers, such as restaurants, chefs or supermarkets. This simultaneously allows fishermen to fetch a better price for their catch — helping local communities socially, economically and environmentally — while ensuring that fresher seafood makes it into the bellies of seafood lovers around the world. With the demand for sustainable seafood on the rise, this company’s timing cod not be batter…

3. Impact Bioenergy

The problem

While anaerobic digestion — a series of processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen — has become a tried and tested method of waste-to-energy,  it has yet to scale because waste still needs to be transported to anaerobic digestion facilities. This creates significant energy and financial costs, which prevent many communities from availing themselves of this promising technology.

The solution

Impact Bioenergy essentially brings the anaerobic digester to you through its prefabricated bioenergy units, engineered to allow organizations and communities to practice onsite bioenergy food waste diversion. The company claims this reduces multiple costs and generates a faster ROI than even wind or solar. The technology allows communities and commercial food waste generators to lessen their environmental footprint and conserve local soil resources, while also reducing their waste disposal and energy costs.

4. Skylift Global

The problem

Being a utility lineman is one of the most dangerous professions in the world, with someone perishing every three weeks on the job. Often, despite their fatigue linemen must haul up hundreds of pounds of equipment, which can lead to fatal mistakes.

The solution

Drones! Skylift Global’s specialized drones can lift up to 200 pounds, hovering near linemen so that they can easily and safely access tools while at work. Currently, the only drones available to linemen are used for inspections and can’t carry equipment. Skylift drones can execute any intended movement and change orientation in 3D without losing any performance or stability. The drones also are safe, reliable, and efficient, the company says.

5. SkyCentrics Dream Platform

The problem

Energy storage is critical in helping to advance renewable energy, but existing batteries are expensive. Meanwhile, demand response is becoming a powerful tool for optimizing energy use across the grid, but there’s still much room to improve thanks to the Internet of Things.

The solution

SkyCentrics provides commercial and institutional building owners, operators and occupants a low-cost, easy-to-install and simple to use Internet-of-Things platform that includes WiFi-enabled controls and sensors for sub-metering and energy management, demand response and a slew of other applications. The technology can turn everyday items like water heaters and pool pumps into virtual batteries capable of storing and supplying energy on demand.

6. 10Power

The problem

While the developed world takes energy access for granted, millions in developing countries are forced to live without it — relying on expensive and dirty diesel generators where there’s no grid. This makes many poor regions perfect candidates for solar and wind energy, but a lack of financing has prevented these technologies from taking root.

The solution

10Power provides project development and third-party finance for energy storage and renewable energy internationally to communities that currently lack electricity. The company works with solar installers in countries that lack access to electricity to provide the missing piece for leapfrogging renewables. It currently has two solar installations that power water purification centers providing clean drinking water to a community in Haiti. 10Power says its long term goals are to create a globally scalable model for renewable energy, clean water, gender empowerment, access to technology and ecosystem restoration.

7. Conectric Networks

The problem

Hotels waste a lot of energy when they heat and cool empty rooms. At the same time, hotels can’t exactly force customers to be environmental stewards and turn off air conditioning when they leave the room. Forward-thinking hotels are in quite the pickle, trying to balance environmental sustainability with customer comfort.

The solution

Conectric provides hotels, resorts and condos with sensors that can tell when a room currently is occupied or vacant, and adjust the temperature accordingly. The "Savings as a Service" solution also can reduce construction costs by improving energy design and save over 10 percent of ongoing energy costs for future operators, the company claims.

Day Two

Day two judges included Danny Kennedy, Managing Director, California Clean Energy Fund; Jill Sims, Co-founder & Manager of Demonstration Track, Energy Excelerator; and Margret Trilli, Principal, CIO, Intentional Capital.

8. All Power Labs (Popular Vote Winner)

The problem

Around 3 billion people lack access to productive energy — that is, electricity to power machines and other applications useful for personal and business use. Meanwhile, billions of tons of solid waste are piling up in landfills around the world. And, of course, there’s that whole climate change problem.

The solution

All Power Labs is working to deploy at scale a new type of energy product. The personal scale waste-to-energy appliance is billed as a “PC of energy,” converting waste biomass to multiple forms of power and products. The company says it’s bringing the machine to where the fuel already exists — and where the users and needs already are — rather than hauling the biomass to a central utility for conversion. And this could help fill in the energy voids when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing for solar and wind power.

9. GOmeter

The problem

Drought in California and around the world makes shoring up water supplies more important than ever to cities, but leaks and bursts within aging infrastructure wastes millions of gallons. This water loss also creates high energy costs for municipalities as they attempt to steel themselves against the impacts of global warming.

The solution

In cities such as Los Angeles, pipe bursts happen every day, but even minimal monitoring can aid in prevention. That’s because most pipe bursts occur over years and not over night. GOmeter provides professional-grade water diagnostics that allow anyone with a water meter to become their own water conservation expert. The technology can monitor dozens of buildings each year — effectively hunting leaks before bursts can happen. 

10. Ibis Networks

The problem

Energy is expensive — commercial buildings in the United States spend around $370 billion each year. Although office buildings are unoccupied two-thirds of the time on average, computers, water coolers and vending machines create major plug load, which costs organizations millions of dollars. 

The solution

Ibis Networks has developed a patented solution that plugs into existing electrical outlets and instantly collects energy usage information for every device on the network. Combined with a cloud service and dashboard, the company enables facility managers to identify opportunities for real-time energy and demand reduction, to implement energy management strategies, and to track savings.

11. SimpliPhi Power

The problem

In energy storage, chemistry matters — and predominant lithium-ion battery chemistry using cobalt, while useful for its high energy density, has inherent performance drawbacks. This includes excessive production of heat, chemical instability known as ‘thermal runaway’ and a short cycle life cycle. The next generation of energy storage calls for a new kind of chemistry.

The solution

SimpliPhi Power produces batteries made with lithium ferrous phosphate which, if managed well, may offer greater efficiency and safety than other battery formulas.  Using a proprietary battery management system and architecture, the company provides energy storage for on-grid and off-grid applications for residential, commercial or mobile applications. The company says this could help to build microgrids across the globe. 

12. Smart Yields

The problem

Even as smart technology is creating new possibilities for efficiencies across the economy, many farmers remain in the analog age. Farmers make decisions based on personal experience and gut instinct rather than hard data, which creates many inefficiencies in the agricultural system. A vast majority of farmers run small or medium-sized operations, so it’s difficult for them to invest in modern digital technologies.

The solution

Smart Yields provides a simple, out-of-the-box solution that allows farmers to collect data about their yields. The ground sensor array can help farmers to reduce waste, improve water and energy efficiency, optimize labor and even monitor chemicals — ultimately saving money.

13. Vartega

The problem

The promise of next-gen transportation such as autonomous vehicles, the Hyperloop and even flying cars demands more sustainable, lightweight materials. Carbon fiber is emerging as a promising candidate for meeting the needs of vehicle manufacturers, but there’s a catch — these materials are difficult and expensive to create and recycle, which could create a future waste problem. 

The solution

Vartega has developed a process to more recycle carbon fiber, which it says uses 90 to 95 percent less energy than traditional methods. The company has created alternative technology, processes and equipment to provide low-cost carbon fiber for mass market applications.

14. UtilityAPI

The problem

There is a disconnect between utilities and consumers and emerging clean energy companies, which makes sharing data difficult. Many utilities are stuck in the stone age of information sharing, a barrier to taking advantage of smart technology applications.

The solution

UtilityAPI is an enterprise software company that delivers simple access to energy usage data. It aims to solve one of the biggest soft-cost problems in the industry by serving as a kind of “middle man” between utilities and other stakeholders who could benefit from utility data. The company claims it enables the new energy economy “one data set at a time.”

15. EiP Technologies

The problem

Even as rooftop solar takes off, wind power has been slower to take hold, as it’s difficult to miniaturize. However, the sun isn’t always shining, which makes rooftop wind energy useful for complementing a home or business system. Meanwhile, microgrids typically lack wind turbines due to the high costs of constructing wind towers.

The solution 

EiP Technologies builds wind machines based on a patented direct wind energy conversion system called Electronic Inertial Power technology. This is embedded within a low-speed vertical axis turbine design, which provides energy directly from wind conditions near the urban rooftop. The machine is aerodynamically self-regulating, with only one moving part — the “rotor” that operates quietly at less than wind speed. This system is meant to run even at wind speeds greater than 55 miles per hour, which normally harm conventional wind turbines.

Read about the winners from our 2015 VERGE Accelerate pitch competition here.