DENVER – Like so many green shoots in a garden, renewable-energy startups are sprouting everywhere, seeking new investors to fund sustainable business plans that seek to produce, store or better utilize clean energy.
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Consider some of the entrants in the 2009 Clean Energy Venture Award contest:
- A Styrofoam substitute made from agriculture waste mixed with a fungus and grown in the dark like mushrooms.
- A new form of lighting that lasts five times longer than fluorescent bulbs and 30 times longer than incandescent ones.
- Silicon nano-wires that could double the energy intensity of batteries and usher in the era of electric automobiles.
- An air-conditioning process twice as efficient as conventional systems, that rescues energy costs by as much as 90%.
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These and 30 other renewable technologies were center-stage last week at the 22nd annual Industry Growth Forum staged by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, located in nearby Golden.
For two days, “greentech” executives made their business pitches to feisty, American Idol-style judging panels composed of venture capitalists.
“I’ve seen a wide spectrum of ventures, with differing probabilities for success” said David Wells of the fabled Silicon Valley venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. “I need to find something that has three reasons why it will work, because the first two won’t.”
Panelists critiqued presentations on the basis of feasibility, strength of management, marketing strategy and potential return on investment.
Some they bluntly sent back to the drawing board.
“It’s difficult to lend into this market today,” said Todd Munson, president of JPMorgan Chase’s (JPM) Colorado region. “They’re pre-profit, but emerging. They all need financial services, however, and I’m happy to act as the eyes and ears for our investment banking team. It’s an emerging sector we’d like to be a part of.”
More than 120 professional investors culled the 34 finalists from 285 entrants.
"It's sort of like a meat market," said Steven Conger, founder of P4P Energy, a Carbondale, Colo.-based company that designs structural supports for vast arrays of solar panels.
(Rob Reuteman is a freelance journalist based in Denver, where he was business editor of the Rocky Mountain News.)