Company Profile: Terzo Power

Company Profile: Terzo Power

What do the Dave Matthews Band, Fluid Engineering, and regional clean tech have in common?  Terzo Power, an El Dorado Hills startup. It turns out their CEO was a special projects manager for the band but now has switched to building a clean tech startup in El Dorado Hills.  As noted in a recent SBJ article, “Founded in 2014, Terzo Power is a six-employee company whose primary focus is creating energy- efficient, compact hydraulic power units with “smart” pumps which can be controlled electronically. The technology can be used for industrial purposes, such as stationary plants, or mobile uses for off-road vehicles in agriculture, construction or mining.” This is a good example of a strategy to focus on an overlooked niche market to get a foothold and then expand. Small individual hydraulic power units are very inefficient. Terzo‘s new design for these units improve efficiency by over 80 percent, and reduce the size, weight, and cost of these systems, while improving safety and environmental impacts.  They have been successful in getting a $4 million grant to create a demonstration unit.  They see a $400 million market at least.  It is really cool.  If you want to learn more, click here.

“If we’re successful I do believe we can help save the world. With the grant money, our goal is to develop a proof of concept to improve a hydraulic power unit’s efficiency by over 80 percent, and reduce the size, weight, and cost of these systems, while improving safety and environmental impacts.”

-Michael Terzo, Founder & CTO, Terzo Power Systems

Terzo Power Systems has spent over $1M in their first-generation prototype development and market research and distribution architecture. This places them in perfect position to capitalize on the nearly $4 Million in competitive grant awards from the California Energy Commission and achieve rapid market penetration during their go-to-market phase.



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Douglas Curley is the former editor in chief of Comstock’s magazine.

Thomas Hall


Gary Simon is the Chair of CleanStarts Board. A seasoned energy executive and entrepreneur with 45 years of experience in business, government, and non-profits.

The Biggest Branding Mistake Made by Startups

The Biggest Branding Mistake Made by Startups

by Aaron Heinrich

Having worked with companies of all sizes over a 20-plus year career, I can honestly say I’ve seen a thing or two. While this hasn’t included the examples shown in the various Farmer’s Insurance commercials, like dogs that slip cars into gear, hamsters crawling up a driver’s leg or a goat attacking its reflection in a new car, the outcome hasn’t been too dissimilar.


While bad decisions and their results aren’t confined to startups, the need to make good decisions early on is most important for them because they have so little wiggle room to get things wrong. And the one thing I’ve seen most of them get wrong has nothing to do with bad concepts, finances or partners/staffing, although there’s plenty of that, too. It has to do with creating a convoluted and even incorrect brand position and narrative. In other words, how they describe what their company does.


That seems like a small thing, but not when you think about how many times a startup will be asked, “so, what does your company do?” Potential investors, partners, and employees all want to know the answer. If that answer meanders through a plethora of jargon, tech speak and obfuscation, you could be finishing that conversation, relationship and opportunity quickly and into perpetuity.


Tech startups or startups dependent on a significant amount of technology to deliver their app/ product or service are the most likely to make this mistake. Not because the founders of these companies aren’t insanely brilliant. It’s because they, like most founders, get so close to what they do, they can’t help but describe it in terms of how it works as opposed to the end benefit they’re providing or the big problem they’re solving. This gets exacerbated by the amount of time they end up spending to fix the tech elements of their company rather than spending much time thinking about how to communicate that in a concise and compelling manner.


But that’s a dangerous thing to let go for too long.


We’ve been working with a company called C’reer for nearly a year now, and what they do is help high school students answer the question “what do I want to be when I grow up.” That’s they’re first response. That’s the problem they’re solving. Providing a free, easy and mobile way to answer that question is their value proposition. But here’s how they could have answered it.


“We’ve created a mobile app that has a 3 to 5-minute interest assessment based on an industry recognized test called the Holland Assessment. We take the results of that assessment and create a list of interests. Those interests are then matched to careers. Then what we do is…” You get the idea.


It’s not that the additional detail isn’t important, but you don’t lead with it. You’ve got to assume that you have a minute or two to get anyone’s attention and keep it. Why waste it on extraneous information that won’t get you the next five minutes…or more.


Short of going through an exercise to hone the best way to position your company and establish its value proposition, ask yourself why you started the company in the first place. There had to be a problem you identified as needing a solution, either because you and your friends and family were experiencing it or you discovered it through another means. Write that problem out then work through that language until you can get it into the shortest most meaningful sentence possible. The result should get the person who posed the original question to ask, “Really, how are you doing that?” Then you can go into more detail and the rest gets easier from there.

Discover more from Aaron Heinrich and other experts at CleanStarts Ramping Up Revenue — Sales Strategies for Early Stage Tech Companies.

Learn methods to increase you sales traction at this interactive workshop through the following parts:

  1. Defining Your Brand
  2. Sales Life-Cycle
  3. Traction and Growth Hacking
  4. Pulling


Aaron Heinrich is a brand communication expert and strategist with over 25 years of experience helping companies and organizations create enduring brands and solve communication issues. He is the co-founder of Big Brand Theory, a consultancy that provides external brand communication, internal employee and leadership communication and organizational communication counsel, strategy, and support.

Profile: Athena Intelligence

Profile: Athena Intelligence

Athena Intelligence  is a Sacramento startup creating AI software to identify the actual cost of resource usage on agricultural land. The idea formed nearly a decade ago when founder David Sypnieski started selling to farmers and realized data driven decisions didn’t seem to exist. For the past decade, David has worked to find out why Agriculture didn’t adapt to new technologies to take advantage of data.  He saw that no one had a complete data picture. So he worked to combine the plethora of data sources to reveal the resources land was actually using; finding real cost and externalities might not be the same between adjacent farms.

“Land, food, water, and energy is Earth’s essential data and the foundation to the global economy.  Yet it goes mostly unused in economic considerations.  Athena believes by democratizing this data, a smarter and more intelligent alignment between people, planet AND profits can be achieved.”

-David Sypnieski

The goal of Athena Intelligence is to enable farmers, food companies and consumers have a data driven collaboration. The cost of overuse of water is not readily recognized by the farmer or consumer till it is too late. Currently, there is no system available that makes it easy for a grower to aggregate all their data to use for analytics, or report to an increasing number sustainability and compliance reports. Food companies struggle with being able to blend their own processing data with their supplier data and integrate it with public resource data to inform on the risk to their supply chains either from shifting climate and evolving resource scarcity.  All the data is scattered across multiple agencies and “silos” in different formats, that is what David has been working on for the past 7 years. Creating Athena Intelligence to automate the gathering, organizing, and presenting of data. Bringing the data together is the first time anyone has put together this data on water, soil, and the local environment.  As the amount of data grows Athena Intelligence has been able to model not only the future but past resource usage and conditions.  

Athena Intelligence has enabled Campbell Soup to streamline core data sets from growers internally while creating a data driven collaboration with growers to plan for future risk and opportunities. Growers will be able to see how decisions affect their long term profitability and value of their business. Athena Intelligence has partnered with Microsoft and UC Davis to automate the Athena platform and are working to scale up Athena Intelligence to prepare for more contract by the end of the year.


Thomas is the Executive Director of CleanStart. Thomas has a strong background in supporting small businesses, leadership, financial management and is proficient in working with nonprofits. He has a BS in Finance and a BA in Economics from California State University, Chico. Thomas has a passion for sustainability and a commitment to supporting non-profits in the region.

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Insights on Early Stage Startup Financing from Silicon Valley Bank

Insights on Early Stage Startup Financing from Silicon Valley Bank

John Lee, a VP with Silicon Valley Bank who focuses on lending to early stage companies, gave a nice talk on Tuesday to a group of about 50 at UCD’s Venture Catalyst. SVB is one of the more creative banks in lending to startups, so getting Lee’s perspective on what they are looking for provided some useful insights.  The overall theme seemed to be that SVB likes to get to know the team and its venture investors before lending, so that when the inevitable work-out of a loan facing default occurs, SVB feels it is dealing with reasonable people who will all help out.  

This led to a question on the Bank’s view of lending to crowdfunded companies.  It was not so welcoming.  Basically, the Bank saw the potential of dealing with hundreds of small investors if a loan got in trouble as not being desirable.  This seems like an opportunity, given the rising popularity of crowdfunding, for someone to come up with a way to deal efficiently with a group of small investors in a company that found itself in trouble on a bank loan.  A good opportunity for a clever innovator.  As it stands, it appears the only way out for such a company is a new round of crowdfunding to avoid using a bank term loan altogether.  This would push a crowdfunded company inevitably toward being a fully public company so it can access a larger and larger “crowd” as it needs more funds.  Something all those considering equity crowdfunding should keep in mind.

On the other hand, if a company crowdfunds pre-orders for its product, SVB would be willing to use a letter of credit or “asset-based lending (ABL)” as an option, probably more than any bank would consider.

CleanStart will likely invite Lee back to talk to a larger audience of early stage companies who could learn from his presentation.  He also said that in such a case he would also bring someone from their team that specializes in lending to clean tech and sustainable companies.  Watch for an announcement on this.

Thomas Hall

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Gary Simon is the Chair of CleanStarts Board. A seasoned energy executive and entrepreneur with 45 years of experience in business, government, and non-profits.

HaneyBiz: Gary Simon Interview

HaneyBiz: Gary Simon Interview

“Nothing good happens till someone writes a check”

Check out Mark Haney’s interview of CleanStart Chairperson Gary Simon from July 22nd.  Listen to them discuss CleanStart, when clean tech companies should go after funding, how to listen to customers and stakeholders, and the changes Sacramento has gone through over the past 30 years.

Look for other Entrepreneur interviews at The HaneyBiz Project, iHeart Radio Talk 650 KSTE, and Facebook Live.

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