October 20, 2017

Contest promotes clean energy innovation in Vermont

To encourage climate-conscious entrepreneurs through a nationwide competition, the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund and associates are offering an opportunity starting in December for 12 entrepreneurs or startup companies from all over the country to participate in an intensive three-month program called Accel-VT.

According to the Accel-VT website, winning applicants will “help solve the challenges related to the monitoring and control of distributed energy (e.g., storage, electric vehicles, solar, community-scale wind, combined heat and power) to improve their value while providing safe, reliable and affordable electric service to all customers.”

“All the electric utilities, including Washington Electric Co-op, are helping to fund and sponsor this — I would call it — this innovation center, this entrepreneurial effort,” said Patricia Richards, general manager of the co-op, which serves 11,000 customers with 100 percent renewable energy.

Richards said the goal is to encourage some fresh thinking “about how we might do things differently to save money, save electricity and just improve overall service, cut carbon emissions.”

“If someone can think up some new way to do stuff, we’re open to hearing about it,” she said.

Geoff Robertson, director of business assistance at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, said utility representatives and other corporate partners will serve as mentors to the companies selected to participate.

Accel, which is a business accelerator course, is based on the Village Capital curriculum model that helps participants analyze their ideas among themselves with the additional goal of attracting investors.

The course will be held in the Burlington area, for four days each month for three months, starting in December.

Accel-VT foots the bill for participants’ travel expenses, lodging and meals. At the end of the course, the companies will select two winners among themselves. The winners will each receive a $25,000 prize to continue development of their projects.

Robertson said one critical area that could be improved is how utilities manage and avoid the use of peak loads. He said during peak demand utilities often have to rely on nonrenewable sources of energy at a higher cost.

Green Mountain Power will host one of the three Accel-VT sessions at its Colchester headquarters, said utility spokeswoman Kristin Carlson, who serves on the Accel-VT advisory board.

“From GMP’s perspective, our whole focus is getting as much innovation and entrepreneurship as we can in Vermont to benefit our customers,” said Carlson, who will also serve as a mentor. “So, Accel-VT is a great way to do that because it provides … a formal process for these entrepreneurs to have good ideas take hold in Vermont.”

On its own, GMP sponsors a similar competition mentoring five companies and allowing them use of the utility’s headquarters space for a year.

“If you’re interested in innovation, if you’re interested in the cutting edge of what’s happening in energy, come to Vermont, work here, have a free space to work … and (stay) connected to things happening in the real world,” Carlson said.

She said last year’s winning entries came from Brooklyn, Vermont, Canada and Virginia.

In addition to making green, energy-saving ideas a reality, Robertson said he hopes the nationwide competition convinces entrepreneurs “that you can start and grow or move and grow a company here in Vermont, period.”

He said Vermont has many of the resources a company needs “to “grow and flourish” without having to go to Boston, New York or Silicon Valley.

Winners of the Accel-VT competition will be announced Nov. 10. (The deadline for applications was Oct. 20).

 

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