‪Launch Alaska selects four energy startups for 2018 program

  • Launch Alaska program manager Alyse Daunis and managing director Isaac Vanderburg helped select four energy startups for the group’s 2018 cohort seeking innovative energy solutions for Alaska. (Photo/Naomi Klouda/AJOC)

Four energy companies were selected in a competitive process to participate in Launch Alaska’s 2018 business accelerator in Anchorage.

They will complete an intensive four-month program beginning March 26 at the downtown Boardroom, a shared working space for innovators. In the program, they receive mentorship, business training, business services, and $75,000 in exchange for equity in their companies.

The 2018 group is BoxPower, Carter Wind, Correlate and Omega Grid.

This is the third class or “cohort” to enter the accelerator program, which has as its goal to build Alaska into “an innovation and entrepreneurial hub.” The 2016 and 2017 cohorts worked on diverse business plans from drones to baby food to security measures against identity theft. This year’s group will focus on solving problems with energy generation.

Isaac Vanderburg, managing director of Launch Alaska, said they received about 27 applicants from Alaska and around the nation. This year’s process called for a highly involved vetting system that required a look at the companies’ financials, market, business models and more interviews as well as more pitches.

“All are from out of state, but have reasons why they need to be in Alaska,” said Launch Alaska program manager Alyse Daunis.

”With the highest cost of electricity and some of the highest per-capita energy consumption in the U.S., Alaska is hungry for energy innovation because of the out-sized impact that energy costs have on residents’ pocketbooks,” Vanderburg and Daunis wrote at the end of their selection process. “Participation in the cohort provides a unique opportunity for a company to test its technology in remote and harsh conditions.”

Launch Alaska wanted to attract energy startups to allow a more intense focus on that industry-need in the state. Over the past year, Vanderburg and Daunis worked on recruiting efforts and conferences that focused on energy startups and issues.

Vanderburg brought further attention to Launch Alaska and the state through articles published in the journals Microgrid Knowledge and GreenBiz. He also completed the Energy Executive Leadership Program at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colo., in 2016.

“We’re super happy about getting them here. There are lot of people who said ‘you’ll never be able to attract energy startups to Alaska’,” Vanderburg said. “It has a clear value proposition for Alaska. At the same time, we are now recognizing the opportunity in the food, water and transportation markets as well, in what’s known as the energy-food-water-transportation nexus.”

The idea that those four things are related means solving a problem in one will help solve a problem in another, Vanderberg said.

Over the next three years, Launch Alaska plans to fund at least 30 innovative companies that can leverage emerging “Arctic Tech” to meet Alaska’s local energy, food, water and transportation challenges. At the same time, they will look toward extending their impact to remote communities throughout the world.

These companies are in the 2018 cohort:

BoxPower of Grass Valley, Calif., provides innovative infrastructure solutions to off-grid and under-served markets worldwide. It has developed the world’s largest containerized hybrid renewable energy system. The company designs and manufactures custom, modular, off-grid energy systems for any application, with the goal of bringing their technology to the 1.2 billion people worldwide without grid electricity.

Carter Wind from Witchita Falls, Texas, plans on filling a gap between large and small wind turbines. They are a manufacturer of next generation wind turbine technology that is self-erecting and designed for ease of utility. The company distributes micro-grid power generation applications in the most remote, extreme environments.

“This should be interesting for a lot of our rural utilities,” Vanderburg said. “A lot of the large wind turbines are just too big for our rural communities.”

Correlate, from San Francisco, is a virtual energy manager for businesses that leverages an artificial intelligence platform to create, deploy and manage low-cost custom strategic energy programs. This reduces the risk of investments and increases energy savings. They work with large energy users such as the military to help bring down costs.

Omega Grid of Chicago offers a peer-to-peer “blockchain,” which is a decentralized accounting system for transactions between multiple energy parties. It is an energy platform that removes the revenue risk of distributed generation of utilities, encourages energy investment by property owners, and enables access to lower rates for everyone. Their primary customers are the utilities.

“We look forward to working closely with these innovators to begin solving some of the state’s most intractable problems — leveraging emerging technologies like AI (artificial intelligence) and blockchain to address energy cost and deployment challenges. Alaska can and should be a hub for innovative solutions to meet some of the most pressing global challenges,” Vanderburg said.

The energy companies each are required to work on an Alaska problem as part of their participation in the accelerator. Stakeholders, military and orporate partners helped Launch Alaska discern the energy issues they would like to see tackled in the state.

“We recruit companies to work on those. Every company that comes into the acceleration is providing an economic benefit to the state,” Vanderburg said.

Launch Alaska, now in its third year, has grown in its own organizational structure since it was founded in 2015. Vanderburg manages the $3 million fund that invests directly in the accelerators’ cohort companies. He previously served as the director of the Alaska Small Business Development Center.

Daunis works with startups to rapidly develop, find product-market fits and connect with other founders, mentors and partners. She is a skilled ecosystem builder, organizing and mentoring for startup weekends, hackathons, innovation sprints and other entrepreneurial events. Her MBA is in global, social and sustainable enterprise from Colorado State University.

Launch Alaska would like more companies to be homegrown, to get Alaskan entrepreneurs to a point they are competing with their peers in Boston, Chicago and Austin, for example.

“We have a high bar to become a world class accelerator that companies what to be part of and, at the same time, build out the local ecosystem. We’re just kind of raising the tide for everyone,” Vanderburg said.


Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected].

02/21/2018 - 11:15am