Is Speed the Key to Success?

Is Speed the Key to Success?

One of my startup buddies, a founder of seven companies, once said this:

“When I was 25, I founded my first company.  My grandmother, bless her heart, told me congratulations, you’ll be profitable in 4 years.  I said, ‘Oh no, you don’t understand, we are going to be wildly profitable in our first year.’  What did she know?  She was a schoolteacher.  She smiled.  After all, she founded 2 schools, her husband founded a couple of companies, and her parents were angel investors in the Roaring 20s, decades before angel investing had a name.  It is embarrassing how much closer to the mark she was than my forecast.”

Why does it take so long to become funded and profitable?  Usually, he says, because startups focus on the wrong things.  Most focus on not having enough money to finish their amazing technology.  And money is almost always a problem.  How to get money?  His favorite rule is “Nothing good happens until you get in front of a customer.”  

He says the best way to success is to find a way to make this kind of pitch for money:  “I have a great team, we have customers for the tech we already have and know how to build, but we need money to grow faster”.  In simple terms–Team, Tech, Traction–are the keys and getting them fast is vital to getting venture investment.  He says, “If you are stilling mulling the same problems nine months from now, you are dead.”  

I hear him, but as I have said before, I think this means venture capital is very hard to get for a cleantech startup.  There are many reasons why building something physical and getting traction for it in the market inherently takes longer than creating a software product.  As a result, software companies tend to look much more attractive to VCs.   There is a need to find other routes to get to the Team, Tech, Traction metrics than venture capital–or cleantech startups need to be predominantly focused on software solutions.

Still he is a clever dude and worth heeding.  His advice is in a slide presentation he calls “Startuplandia”.  Click here if you want to take a look.

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.

First CleanTech Meetup Draws a Crowd

First CleanTech Meetup Draws a Crowd

If your last Thursday evening involved kicking your feet up and hitting the hay early, I’m sorry to say you may have missed out on something better! But don’t worry, here’s your chance to get the scoop.

Last week, CleanStart, in partnership with Sacramento State’s College of engineering and Computer Science and BlueTech Valley, kicked off the 2018 CleanTech Meetup series at The Urban Hive’s midtown location.  Energy consultants, lawyers, college professors, startup founders and engineers of all kinds gathered together to talk Tech.  

The event featured three speakers:

Ezra Beeman of Empower Energy in Davis, took the floor first to talk about his new product ElektroBank, a home energy storage device using lithium batteries.  The smart device is unlike other home batteries in that it’s automated software can interact with grid prices to eliminate usage during peak times and give customers a faster payback. The product will come to Australia first due to optimal economic conditions, and enter California after with about a 12-month lag. Tesla’s Powerwall may want to watch out!

Next, Sac State mechanical engineering Professor Rustin Vogt captured the audience with his Tiny House project. Armed with the brainpower (and labor power) of nearly twenty engineering students and one interior design student, Professor Vogt and his team entered the SMUD Tiny House competition in 2016 and built a zero net energy home on wheels. All nearly from scrap and only 184 square feet, the house traveled 3,000 mi. to Denver and back last year after being invited to the 2017 Solar Decathlon. Plans for the house now include a STEM outreach program to educate students on behavior and energy usage. When will we see Tiny House part two? Professor Vogt says we may just be “a bit of capital seed funding” away. Check out his presentation here.

The Meetup’s final speaker, Bob Bruns, rounded out the evening with his website that can optimize your solar potential and calculate the power and payback of your solar project before you install the panels. Bruns says homeowners using the common strategy of south facing panels without a battery assistant will be punished as electricity prices rise. By changing the direction of panels and unveiling common misconceptions on behavior use, the Solar Panel Optimizer site can help you secure the fastest payback time and help you ensure your investment is worthwhile before you start spending.  Check out his presentation here.

More than just intriguing presentations, the CleanTech Meetup provided over an hour of networking and connection among Sacramento’s CleanTech community. The more we learn about each other, the more we can share ideas and resources and the better off we become. So if you missed this round, don’t fear because we are just getting started! Keep an eye out to register for next months Meetup focused on Biomass.

Check for our up coming events on our event calendar!

Our Next Cleantech meetup! is on “Waste Conversion: BioMass, BioFuels, BioChem” will be on Febuary 27th. Get discounted tickets right now!


Kate is a recent graduate of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and has a strong background in entrepreneurship and global politics. After helping launch an AgTech startup on the central coast, Kate is back in her hometown looking to take her experience into the world of Cleantech and help grow the Sacramento region.

Blockchain and Bitcoin

Blockchain and Bitcoin

A Brief History of Cryptocurrencies

Bitcoin is not all that new and has existed since 2009.  The technology it is built on has roots going back even further. In fact if you had invested just $1,000 in Bitcoin the year it was first publicly available, you would now be richer by $36.7 million.  The internet has exploded with “information” on cryptocurrencies and it is hard to get a comprehensive and clear picture of what is going on.  In addition, there are any number of cautions that this is an area ripe for fraud, collapse, and disappointment.  On the other hand, some like Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan have admitted they dismissed cryptocurrency too quickly.  It is wise to be aware of the risks.

A Chronology of How it All Started

The first conceptualized BlockChain technology application emerged in 2008 as a form of cryptographically virtual currency, Bitcoin. An anonymous person or a group called Satoshi Nakamoto published a whitepaper “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System (1)” describing Blockchain as a distributed generate ledger managed by an open-ended decentralized database system.


In 2009 the Bitcoin software was made available to the public for the first time and “mining” – the process through which new Bitcoins are created and transactions are recorded and verified on the blockchain – begins.

Initially it was not traded, only mined.  It was impossible to assign a monetary value to the units of the emerging cryptocurrency. In 2010, someone decided to sell theirs for the first time – swapping 10,000 of them for two pizzas. If the buyer had hung onto those Bitcoins, at today’s prices they would be worth more than $100 million.  Unfortunately, that likely did not happen.

Some initial success with Bitcoin spawned some competitors. These alternative cryptocurrencies generally try to improve on the original Bitcoin design by offering greater speed, anonymity or some other advantage. Among the first to emerge were Namecoin and Litecoin. Currently there are over 1,000 cryptocurrencies in circulation with new ones frequently appearing.

In late 2013, Vitalik Buterin addressed a few hurdles within the Bitcoin’s system and proposed Ethereum. He further proved that the BlockChain technology has a broad-spectrum of utilization rather than merely virtual currencies. Nowadays, Ethererum (2) has become the most well established decentralized software platform that enables distributed applications (3) (DApps) to be built and run without any downtime, fraud or control from a third party.

By 2014, the first fraud and theft was unveiled.  Perhaps unsurprisingly for a currency designed with anonymity and lack of control in mind, Bitcoin has proven to be an attractive and lucrative target for criminals. In January 2014, the world’s largest Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox went offline, and the owners of 850,000 Bitcoins never saw them again. Investigations are still trying to get to the bottom of exactly what happened but whatever the story, someone dishonestly got their hands on a haul which at the time was valued at at $450 million dollars. At today’s prices, those missing coins would be worth $4.4 billion.

ICOs:  The Parallel to IPOs

Initial Coin Offering (ICO) (4) is a crowdsale event when a company raises money to fund its blockchain project or DApp. The company first decides a fixed supply of tokens used for future services or products (only if the project succeeds) and then sells a predetermined amount of tokens to its intended audiences in exchange for Ether, Bitcoin, and occasionally Fiat money. But if the project fails, the tokens become worthless.

The benefit of fundraising via ICO is that project developers retain 100% of a company’s ownership while the process is not strictly regulated when compared to IPO. On the other hand, investors will be rewarded by either trading on the initial price momentum or holding for an increased value in the long run.

As of the second half of 2017, the amount of money raised by early stage start-ups via ICOs has surpassed early-stage venture capital funding for Internet companies. Meanwhile, both entrepreneurs and investors have become skeptical and believed regulators would soon step in due to a high number of scams (5).

Distributed Apps in Energy

According to a survey conducted by ESMT in late 2016, 69% of the 70 respondents were aware of Blockchain in the energy industry, but only 13% of the respondents had already implemented their experiments with the technology. Also, surveyed energy professionals believed that Blockchain could be utilized to both process optimization and improving market platforms.

The first energy ICO was completed on October 6th by Power Ledger. According to Coindesk (7), the Australian blockchain startup raised $17 million in the token sale and collected roughly 27,820 Ethers, 1,050 Bitcoins, and 6,120 Litecoins from more than 15,000 supporters. Power

Ledger’s solution (8) is a trading platform using Ethereum’s software. The platform enables consumers to sell energy to their peers without the need of a trusted third party. The white paper also refers the technology that allows consumers to monetize their excess energy in much the same way as Uber and Airbnb allow people to monetize their cars and spare room.

Final Thoughts

We believe the Blockchain technology will become disruptive in the energy space the same way as it has done to payment, logistic, cloud storage, etc. Meanwhile, ICO has become a popular methodology enabling entrepreneurs to bootstrap. Yet given the early stage of the technology development, there are still many inconsistencies and risk factors. For example, identifying blockchain application is critical since blockchain is not the solution to everything in the world. Secondly, once after an ICO, a company with a low-security level can become extremely vulnerable from cyber attacks.

Currently cryptocurrencies are relatively unregulated.  This is not likely to continue, as the trend continues as shown in the chart above and as more and more cases of fraud and abuse are uncovered.  The amount of money involved in the cryptocurrency world–over $500 billion–and the huge returns are very likely to attract those that will try to exploit the situation.





Qidong is a CleanStart Associate who follows new technologies that can connect with his passion for sustainability, education and economic empowerment. Helping CleanStart and clean tech startups in the Sacramento Region, he is looking to help positively impact the world. He recently graduated from UC San Diego and has a B.S. in Managerial Economics. His multicultural background helps companies approach problems from new the region.

Profile: Frontier Energy

Profile: Frontier Energy

Would it surprise you to hear that a company founded less than two years ago is coordinating top California infrastructure for zero emission cars, helping build some of the most energy efficient housing in the nation, and changing the way restaurants do business?

We certainly were impressed.

Frontier Energy, founded in 2016, describes itself as a “new company with a long history”, and we quite agree.  Made up of five companies in seven U.S. offices, Frontier Energy’s diverse expertise pulls from nearly 150 years of collective industry experience. While the strengths of each company differ, they all have one goal in mind: to drive growth with a positive environmental impact.

Frontier Energy’s Building Research and Energy Consulting division (formerly Davis Energy Group and CDH Energy) specializes in zero-net energy building design and equipment. In 2015, they helped engineer Woodland’s Mutual Housing at Spring Lake project, which became the first certified zero net energy rental housing in the U.S. and won the World Habitat United Nations award in 2017. Frontier’s current projects include the Liberty community, a sustainable community that will add a potential 1,500 homes to West Sacramento, and the next phase of West Village student housing at UC Davis.

Meanwhile, Frontier Energy’s Commercial Foodservice division (formerly Fisher-Nickel) is committed to optimizing restaurants and commercial kitchens. From cleaning filters to replacing appliances to adjusting the temperature of the water heater, they help restaurants drastically reduce utility bills that tend to be 5-7 times higher than similar-sized businesses. Frontier Energy operates and staffs the Food Service Technology Center in San Ramon.

Beyond consulting across food and housing projects, Frontier Energy here in Sacramento specializes in power and transportation. In the quickly changing world of zero emission vehicles, Frontier Energy’s Transportation and Power division plays a key role in moving infrastructure and technology action plans forward. Frontier Energy (formerly BKi) has been operating and staffing the California Fuel Cell Partnership in West Sacramento since 1999. Right now, Frontier Energy is helping implement hydrogen stations throughout California and across the country, and coordinates with international hydrogen and fuel cell programs.  You can see the locations and current operational status of hydrogen stations on the CaFCP station map, which is powered by an open-source software system that Frontier Energy developed.

Chris White, who leads marketing and communication for Frontier Energy, said the company is unique because it has found a way to “leverage decades of company strengths and experience to work on cutting-edge technology.” Thirty years ago, a now Frontier Energy company shipped one of the first electric vans to the U.S. from England to study it. Today this company is stretching its knowledge from Sacramento to New York with plans to grow. CleanStart is looking forward to its progress both in the Sacramento region and beyond.

To learn more visit Frontier Energy’s website at


Kate is a recent graduate of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and has a strong background in entrepreneurship and global politics. After helping launch an AgTech startup on the central coast, Kate is back in her hometown looking to take her experience into the world of Cleantech and help grow the Sacramento region.

Worldwide Clean Energy Investment Hits $333.5 Billion in 2017

Worldwide Clean Energy Investment Hits $333.5 Billion in 2017

Worldwide Clean Energy Investment Hits $333.5 Billion in 2017

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) just released its most recent detailed data for the global clean energy sector. These data show the sector is still pretty strong although the big growth areas are shifting to China and other parts of Asia.  See the Press Release.

BNEF has become the go-to open source for this kind of information, as others no longer make it available, except to subscribers.

The 2016 total includes all project finance, corporate finance, and venture investment.  The peak year for this activity was 2015 with $360.3 billion in investment.  US investment was $56.9 billion, about even with 2016.  China grew 24% to $132.6 billion, more than double the US record.

Venture capital and private equity investment fell 38% to $4.1 billion, the lowest level since 2005.  The biggest deals were in China and India.

There were clearly favored technologies as just three target segments for investment got 95% of the total.  The largest was solar at $160.8 billion accounting for 48% of the total.  Wind was second at $107.2 billion.  And Smart Energy–including smart grid, energy efficiency, battery storage and electric vehicles–was third with $48.8 billion.

Biomass, alternate fuels, fuel cells, geothermal, small hydro and everything else accounted for $16.9 billion.

For more, you can download the entire report here.

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.