By LAURA LOREK
Founder of Silicon Hills News
Rohit Saxena and Eric Nordstrom with Sukhiware, biodegradable bowls and plates from leaves.
Growing up in India, Rohit Saxena often used biodegradable bowls and plates made from leaves.
When he moved to the U.S., he couldn’t believe how many disposable paper and plastic dishes get tossed into the trash and landfills every day.
Saxena’s team at 3 Day Startup Green Tech in San Antonio last weekend, came up with a solution: Sukhiware, biodegradable plates and bowls made from a variety of leaves, like banana leaves.
Sukhiware and three other green tech startups pitched ideas Sunday night along with three nonprofit organizations to a panel of judges, investors and others at Geekdom at the Weston Centre. Sukhiware even created samples and brought them to show at their presentation. For market research, they met with local restaurateurs to find out if they would use the products. They came away with a pre-order for 50 bowls.
“The need is so obvious,” Saxena said. He showed a picture in his presentation of the streets of San Antonio littered with trash following the Fiesta Battle of the Flowers parade.
The first 3 Day Startup Green Tech began Friday night with individuals forming teams around ideas and the nonprofit organizations working on entrepreneurial projects. During the program, some of the teams brought sleeping bags and tents and camped out. It’s like an entrepreneurial bootcamp. They met, shared meals and snacks, pivoted, did market research, built prototypes and pitched their ventures all in one weekend.
“I’m surprised the green tech tribe is as big as it is,” said Lorenzo Gomez, executive director of the 80/20 Foundation, which funded the program and plans to finance a series of thematic 3 Day Startups targeted at particular industries. It did a 3DS on the performing arts industry in February and four of the six teams are still pursuing their ideas, Gomez said. The next 3 Day Startup is in May on Cyber security.
“You get super passionate people participating,” he said.
As a result, more targeted and better ideas come out of the industry-specific 3 Day Startups, he said. The goal is for these teams to take their ideas and run with them, Gomez said. The 80/20 Foundation plans to give scholarships to some teams to enter the CleanTech Open, a national accelerator that runs the world’s largest business competition for clean tech entrepreneurs.
Jeremiah Donohue, project manager for 3 Day Startup Green Tech
Thirty people participated in 3 Day Startup Green Tech, most came from San Antonio but a few people drove in from Austin, said Jeremiah Donohue, its project manager. Four successful entrepreneurs also volunteered as mentors to help the startups throughout the weekend.
“This was the first time we brought nonprofits and individuals together,” Donohue said. “A lot of the nonprofits had a lot of experience. So there was this great collaboration and cross pollination going on.”
The nonprofit organizations want to find sustainable sources of new revenue for their organizations, Donohue said. The program helps them to think like entrepreneurs.
Lanny Sinkin, executive director of Solar San Antonio, presenting SolarBus SA
That was the takeaway for Lanny Sinkin, executive director of Solar San Antonio
“This is a wonderful service for nonprofits,” Sinkin said. “It’s addressing a critical need.”
When Sinkin arrived at 3 Day Startup Green Tech on Friday, he attended a special session geared to nonprofit organizations. He came away with 17 ideas. He took those back to his staff and they ended up with 26 ideas. They eventually narrowed it down to one idea, the SolarBus SA, geared after the Geekbus, an educational bus focused on teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Math applications to students.
The SolarBus SA is an education and marketing vehicle for Solar San Antonio. The bus will run on biodiesel or will be an electric bus that can hook into a solar charger, he said.
Solar San Antonio needs to raise $100,000 to make the project a reality.
And the opportunity for solar in San Antonio is enormous, he said.
Bexar County has 600,000 residential rooftops. Forty percent of those can install solar panels. At a cost of $10,000 per rooftop, that’s a $2.4 billion business, according to Sinkin.
Green Spaces Alliance pitching its cookbook and app tied to locally grown food
Another nonprofit organization, Green Spaces Alliance, pitched a cookbook with an affordable collection of seasonal recipes with ties to locally produced food from community gardens. It also wants to create an app for consumers.
During its market research, Green Spaces Alliance found almost everyone they interviewed had some issue with getting fresh local produce to his or her plate.
“Some people love to garden but they don’t know how to cook,” said Nadia Gaona with Green Spaces Alliance. “Others love to eat, but they don’t know how to grow their own food or where to get fresh local produce from.’’
The Green Spaces Alliance cookbook would also include stories about local gardens and gardeners, Gaona said. The organization works with 38 community gardens and 200 gardeners in San Antonio. The book would also include seed paper inserts to pull out and allow people to plant in their own gardens. The app would include seasonal guides on what to plant and when.
The third nonprofit organization to present, San Antonio 2030 District, which launched in January, focuses on getting property owners to use its palette of services to reduce energy costs. It has 11 property owners signed up so far, said Pegy Brimhall.
Its goal is to launch the District Games, a program with gaming strategies and competition among property owners in the downtown areas, to reduce energy costs and improve efficiency. Right now, 1,100 property owners are in the district and the goal is to get them all signed up to participate in the District Games, Brimhall said.
“We want this to be scalable,” she said.
After successfully building the platform in one district, the goal is to roll out the program citywide, she said.
The team behind 2030 District
The 2030 District participated in the 3 Day Startup to diversify its funding support into more entrepreneurial activities, Brimhall said.
“I’m an entrepreneur,” she said. “I wanted to get the nonprofit to start thinking that way. Just because we’re a nonprofit doesn’t mean we can’t generate revenue for ourselves.”
One of the startups, Green Nexus pitched an online matchmaking service for green tech startups and investors.
“The number one problem that green tech startups have is finding funding,” said Kelley McGill with Green Nexus.
Existing sites such as AngelList don’t provide enough information to investors for them to assess the risk level of the startups, McGill said. More than 1,000 startups are currently listed as green tech startups on AngelList, she said.
The team behind Green Nexus
The Green Nexus team of Umair Khakoo, UT Austin, Miles Lilly, St. Mary’s University and McGill of Trinity University all met at 3 Day Startup. They want to make it easy for investors to find the best green tech investments by providing an assessment of each startup by experts. That assessment will create an overall view of the risk level of the startup, McGill said. The team also plans to apply for the CleanTech Open
JSA Energy proposed a real time energy analytics dashboard to monitor buildings to save energy and money.
Shihlin Lu with JSA Energy with her team’s “Gold Red Bull Award” for Good Citizenship
Buildings constitute 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption.
Its energy dashboard and smart meters could help a commercial building owner save $1,700 a year in energy costs and cut carbon emissions by two-thirds, said Shihlin Lu, University of Texas at San Antonio junior studying environmental science.
It’s also applying for the CleanTech Open.
“This is the second 3 Day Startup I’ve participated in but I was really excited that it was focused on clean energy and sustainability,” she said. “I don’t think I would have accomplished this much if it wasn’t so focused.”
The team behind gaiah met at 3 Day Startup Green Tech and came up with an idea for a gamification app to reward consumers for buying green products and doing good deeds to benefit the environment. It makes money from direct ads to green consumers, product analytics and through the sponsorship of micro challenges to motivate people to do good things for the environment.
The gaiah team of Alex Maingot, Nic Jones, Michelle Kafir, Eduardo Bravo plans to apply for the CleanTech Open and to continue to pursue the idea.
The green products market is a $500 billion market, Maingot said. Today, 108 million Americans identify themselves as buying green products. The startup is looking for a $100,000 investment and a mentor to bring their app to the marketplace, Maingot said.
During the program, the gaiah team went to the Farmer’s Market to talk to people about their idea. And they talked with a chef who owns two restaurants and buys ingredients locally. They got a lot of positive feedback.
Alex Maingot pitching gaiah
Suz Burroughs, director of the Harvey Najim Center for Business Innovation and Social Responsibility at St. Mary’s University, served as a judge for the pitching competition.
The teams pitched some great ideas, she said.
“I love challenging the teams to think bigger and to not ignore their blind spots,” Burroughs said.
One of the issues a lot of nonprofits have is an aging supporter base so the more entrepreneurial they can become, the better able they are to be self-sustaining, she said. But some of the teams underestimate how much it’s going to cost to bring their ideas to market, she said.
“I’m always really fascinated by how inexpensive people think it is to develop big platform technologies. They are like oh yeah, it costs $10,000 or $50,000 and I’m like where are you shopping? There are always these gaps.”