The drive toward environmental enterprise and sustainability is creating an expressway shared by both entrepreneurs and educators.
Entrepreneurs, quite apparently, like the business of green—as in the environment and sustainability. The idea isn't new, certainly, but even as the economy bleeds red, green continues to prevail.
One relatively new company, for example, provides a comprehensive range of energy efficient building services to building owners and facility managers who want to reduce energy consumption and implement a sustainable green building retrofit plan. Another startup focuses on the growing need for innovation, identification and application of clean technologies capable of leveraging renewable energy sources. Still another is a clean technology venture centered on commercializing an innovative patented photo-electrochemical air disinfection technology that completely destroys pollutants in indoor air. And that's only a brief sampling of activity.
Meanwhile, institutions like the University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida, through their business incubator programs, provide a host of valuable resources for developing companies that have eco in mind.
The result: Green has passed the trend stage and just might turn out to be the color of the decade.
With an eye on reducing energy consumption and implementing a sustainable retrofit plan, Orlando-based GreenPath Energy Solutions works with building owners such as federal, state and local governments, commercial property owners, schools and public housing authorities to help navigate the opportunities and risks associated with implementing green strategies. The company was founded by Samuel Graham, a construction industry professional with a passion for developing sustainable energy efficient solutions in commercial buildings.
When he identified a growing market for energy efficiency consulting services, due to the emergence of new government building efficiency laws and rising energy costs, he made his move. The holistic green building solutions are designed to take existing commercial building through the entire retro-greening process, from assessment to energy efficiency implementation to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification to tracking and monitoring services.
Green Solar Solutions LLC, in Lake County, targets residential and commercial customers who seek to achieve long-term cost savings and quality-of-life improvements made possible by clean technologies, including products such as whole-house water efficiency systems, HVAC indoor air quality control, geothermal heating and cooling units, and photovoltaic (PV) solar cells for electrical power. One of the company's most popular innovations is a PV technology that uses rooftop and ground-mounted solar panels to convert sunlight into electric power. This technology can generate enough kilowatts to drastically reduce and often eliminate local utility bills.
With this technology, the company can retrofit existing homes or build systems from the ground up, with customized Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) systems. Its founder, Bobby Rhodes, is a licensed building contractor and Lake County native committed to delivering individualized energy saving solutions.
To help GreenPath, Green Solar and many other companies move forward, the UCF Business Incubation Program was established in 1999. Since then, the incubator has assisted more than 200 emerging companies (including more than 100 current clients) and totaled more $200 million in annual economic output. With nine facilities across Central Florida, the program is a collaboration in economic development among UCF, the counties of Orange, Seminole, Lake, Osceola and Volusia, the cities of Orlando, Winter Springs, Sanford, Leesburg, Kissimmee and St. Cloud, and the Florida High Tech Corridor Council. Not all the support is intended for green companies, but a roster of past and current eco-engaged clients is well represented.
Most recently, UCF has been leading a team that won $1.3 million in a national White House competition aimed at driving technology commercialization and entrepreneurship to support a “green innovation economy.” The team includes the Technological Research and Development Authority, which is another business incubator, and the University of Florida’s Florida
Systems Consortium, which does energy research, education, technology and energy systems analysis. The partners work together to speed the development and commercialization of research in clean technology areas such as solar power, building science, energy efficiency, hydrogen fuel cells and ethanol production. As part of the effort, research centers at universities across the state, along with economic development agencies, incubators and entrepreneur support organizations will participate in an online network to share proven techniques and encourage technology development in cleantech industries. Among the resources the program will offer is a catalog of energy research conducted at Florida universities, a dedicated market research team available to identify opportunities for research while helping with market evaluation and business plan development, and a statewide network of experienced mentors, investors and industry experts that can assist entrepreneurs in business strategy, financing and management.
Venture capitalists are now investing more heavily in later stages of research, making it difficult to find funding for early-stage projects, according to a study by the Kauffman Foundation, which is often referred to as the world's largest foundation devoted to entrepreneurship. The UCF-led project is expected to help bridge that gap.
Similarly in Tampa, the mission of USF CONNECT is to deliver a wide range of business development services to technology businesses throughout the Tampa Bay region and the state, essentially offering a single point of contact for businesses seeking resources such as technology transfer, financing, marketing and management. The organization has a network of local serial entrepreneurs and service providers such as bankers, attorneys and mentors who can provide insight to local entrepreneurs. It also offers relocation assistance in partnership with local economic development organizations. Partners include Enterprise Florida, which is the economic development authority for the state of Florida; Hillsborough and Pinellas counties; and the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg. Since 2005, USF CONNECT has provided incubation for more than 40 companies involved in green and other industries.
One of the beneficiaries is Advanced Technologies & Testing Laboratories Inc. in Tampa, which has turned innovative patented photo-electrochemical air disinfection technology—clean technology—into an effective, nonintrusive method of destroying airborne contaminants. Currently, it's the only air filtration system that can destroy microbial and volatile organic contaminants in air without additional consequences or side effects. The application of devices by the company is focused on providing indoor air quality solutions for hospitals, asthma/allergy sufferers, large commercial and residential buildings, schools and organizations engaged in defense against bioterrorism.
Another beneficiary is Tampa's EngenNano Technology Inc., a company involved in the research and development of devices for energy harvesting and solid-state lighting. The company uses research to develop efficient products based on concepts of nanotechnology. For the uninitiated, nanotech refers to materials, devices or other structures that are ever so minute.
Yet, know this: Green entrepreneurship is anything but small.
USF Earns Recognition
Whether students completing USF’s graduate entrepreneurship program pursue green businesses and other startups, their future appears bright. According to The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine, the program ranks No. 19 nationally.
The program is ranked third among public universities in the Southeast and is the only Florida university included in the 2011 rankings, which reviewed more than 2,000 colleges and universities. The ranking criteria examined the percentage of graduates who had started a successful business, the number of official organizations and clubs offered to current students, and the availability of internships and externships. USF ranked No. 25 last year.
“We’re thrilled to again be recognized as one of the best in the nation by The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine,” comments Bob Forsythe, dean of USF’s College of Business. “But it isn’t just this ranking that’s so exciting; it’s the knowledge of what we can achieve when we work in an interdisciplinary way. The Entrepreneurship program is part of the College of Business, and it’s a collaborative effort with the College of Engineering and the College of Medicine. This type of collaboration is the way of the future, and it’s what we’re trying to achieve throughout USF.”
Lower Energy = Lower Costs
The cost of operating an average building, including the amortized construction cost, is roughly $15 per square foot per year. The cost of employees in those buildings is on the order of $315 per year. If you increased the productivity of the work force by 5 percent--by improving the work environment--the resulting annual savings will exceed the annual cost of the building ownership and operation.
Cost of Building Per Year:
$15 per square foot
Cost of Employee Per Year:
$315 per square foot
5 Percent Productivity Improvement:
$16 per square foot
The bottom line: Reducing energy consumption and facility environmental impacts help to increase worker productivity and, ultimately, save money.
Source: GreenPath Energy Solutions, Orlando
Did You Know?
Energy consumption in commercial buildings is an expensive component of the costs of building maintenance. Experts, in fact, say that energy equals approximately 27 percent of the life cycle cost of a building, compared to 11 percent for construction cost. To illustrate: One 68,000-square-foot building using today's conventional heating and cooling system dumps 674 tons of carbon per year into the atmosphere.
Source: Greensleeves LLC, Winter Springs