Saturday, January 27, 2007

Clean Energy & Business

Once it hits the market, it takes off…

Clean Energy
Green for Clean
By Mary Beth Barber

Joe Lichy, a microprocessor designer who moved from computers to solar cells, laughs off the origins of his company as a classic cliché. The original design for a silicon-efficient solar cell was drawn on a napkin in a San Jose pizza parlor, the first prototype built in his garage. While he worked with microprocessors by day, evenings and weekends were spent tinkering with solar cells.

The computer chips he designed used the concept of cooperation — multiple chips working together — and his innovation has resulted in big bucks for his former employers. Lichy applied the same design concepts to solar cells, built a prototype and placed it on the roof of his garage. One of his initial prototypes was successful enough that Lichy started thinking about his own solar-cell company based on the patented design. NuEdison, the company he started, is rapidly moving from concept to reality, in part due to a new Sacramento competition.

A local initiative called CleanStart offers fledgling entrepreneurs a chance each year to make an elevator pitch about their “green” business and compete to win prize money for their business plans. This fall marked the debut of the annual PowerUP! competition from CleanStart, with Lichy and his company NuEdison taking the $25,000 first prize.

The New New Thing

“We wanted to bring clean-energy entrepreneurs out of the woodwork, and we wanted to draw sponsors to this effort,” says J.D. Stack, program manager for Economic Development and Commercial Services for SMUD and a judge of the CleanStart PowerUP! competition. “You know the saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’” says Stack. “Well, it takes a network to grow a company.”

This network is an initiative of the McClellan Technology Incubator and the Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance, and the contest is designed to encourage the region’s company executives to improve their business plans, sharpen their presentations and seek assistance and guidance from mentors, advisers, workshops and other resources provided by the program. PowerUP!’s location requirement allowed entries from Reno to the Bay Area and everywhere in between, with the caveat that the winner would need to be located in the Sacramento region in the near future. A grand prize of $25,000 for first, $15,000 for second, and $10,000 for third doesn’t hurt.

For the competitors, there is more to this competition than just the chance to get some walking-around money and bragging rights. There’s also the chance to share war stories with other members of this early-stage fraternity.