It’s crazy that Alaska is more than twice the size of Texas but its largest city has only 304,000 people. It’s isolated from the rest of the country. Due to its weather, terrain and lack of adequate infrastructure, Alaska has the highest cost of energy in the nation behind Hawaii. And it has the third highest per capita consumption of energy in the nation!
It seems ironic that Alaska, known in the lower 48 for its oil pipeline, would now be promoting alternative energy. We like to say, “If you want to make a change, put a buck on it!” Well, in their case, the price of oil fell to a point that, while the rest of the country enjoys a growing economy, Alaska is suffering from a deep recession.
We recently had the opportunity to Keynote for the Alaska Small Business Development Center’s 1st Annual Vitalize Alaska Conference, a two-day event. We attended the Demo Night for the Launch Alaska business accelerator, and caught up with its managing director, the former executive director of the Alaska BCDC, Isaac Vanderburg. Isaac is a graduate of the Energy Executive Leadership Program at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, CO, and the Energy Innovation and Engineering Technologies Program at Stanford.
Can you say “Opportunity”? Isaac Vanderburg can! “Alaska is the ideal place for an alternative energy start up today!” he declares. His launch Alaska has been cobbled together by various public and private funds to provide an incubator for businesses that solve Alaska’s energy problems. “It’s a great place to prove your concept and get some traction,” says Vanderburg.
Due to Alaska’s small, concentrated population, the folks at Launch Alaska can readily introduce you to the important gate keepers and government decision makers necessary to help you gain access to funds and the market itself. Beyond coaching and connections, this year Launch Alaska has invested up to $75,000 in each of their startups.
Outside the narrow “Rail” belt between Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska has hundreds of tiny villages on mini-grids powered by very expensive and polluting diesel fuel. Most of those villages are under the auspices of the Alaska Native Corporations, powerful organizations motivated to buy alternatives. At the current prices they are paying for energy, even a 20% savings is attractive.
Vanderburg says, “We are looking for ventures in the post-launch stage who want to scale their revenue to validate their businesses.” Alaska has up to 250 independent mini grids. “We have access to the heads of all six utilities in the state,” he adds.
This year’s cohort of four start-ups competed before the Demo Day audience. They presented their concepts, progress, and investment opportunities. The popular winner, BoxPower, is a classic example of what Vanderburg is looking for: an ideal alternative energy solution for Alaska.
We met with its 25-year-old founder, Angelo Campus. Angelo has developed a mobile solar power plant with batteries, back up and software all packed in a self-contained shipping container. He has one in operation in Puerto Rico, one in Upstate New York and is shipping three more to a customer in Alaska this month. He also has Letters of Intent for several more Alaskan projects next summer! Unlike similar solutions that take five to10 employees two to three weeks to install, BoxPower can be assembled and producing power within four hours!
Angelo says, “Even though my manufacturing facilities are in Grass Valley, California, I was accepted into last year cohort at Launch Alaska. They helped me with a $75,000 investment, got me through the Alaska entitlements, and introduced me to the buyers we needed to prove our concept and gain traction in the market place.”
Big state, big energy costs, and big consumption – Alaska has it all! Small population, small microgrids, and small barriers to market access – these, too, Alaska has. This is why Isaac Vanderburg is broadcasting: “Calling all De-Carbonators, Alaska wants you!”