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Archive for October, 2013

Behold, the LED baby!

Well, technically, the LED toddler…

If you haven’t seen it already, some guy decided that he wanted his kid to be a glow-in-the-dark stick figure for Halloween. It’s cute, slightly creepy, and then cute again:

Whenever it’s a holiday, I go in search of the latest green trend… and usually it is a botch. Sometimes it’s something off (see tofurkey) or something manipulative (like this Christmas-based green ad), but generally speaking, I never seem to quite find what I’m looking for, even if I’m more entertained this way (last July 4th I learned of “safer” armor piercing bullets). So this Halloween, dear reader, you get LED baby. It may not be a green costume, but it’s at least greener than Clark Griswold’s Christmas.

Apparently they’re selling these LED costumes, too, so next year we’ll have an army of glowing stick figures.

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Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home), industrial water purification (biofilm removal), and reduced water pumping costs.

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, dairy waste, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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cleantech open logoSpiroFlo qualified as a semifinalist in the 2013 Cleantech Open—a global competition to accelerate green technologies—for its application in reducing pumping costs and providing water/energy efficiency to green communities. This blog covers what changed from last year.

The ‘too long, didn’t read’ (TL;DR) version of this three-part series: If you’re willing to put in the work and ride out the flaws of a growing volunteer organization, the Cleantech Open is a great process for startup companies to connect with customers, refine their business plan, and get exposure in the marketplace… but the final regional judging experience still sucks.

Last year, I had a blog series on what to expect at each stage of the Cleantech Open (CTO). In going through the process a second time, this time I’m noting what changed and what stayed the same. As per usual, this is just the opinion of one big mouth fella in the Rocky Mountain region.

So what’s different?

I already noted the positive reasons of why we went through the Cleantech Open again, and despite any qualms I may note, I’m still appreciative of the overall value of the CTO experience. I could make a numbered list like last the last blog, but most of the intentional changes are minor and positive, whereas most of the unintentional changes are rooted in deeper structural issues or they’re things that can’t be helped:

  • There were less technical issues and more support (aided by help at the regional level). However, somewhere along the way, we seemed to get skipped on random emails. It wasn’t an issue that got resolved until late in the process.
  • Overall, the CTO stuck to deadlines this year, save delaying the initial application deadline (which seemingly every organization like this does—people like to try and enter things last minute).
  • The business clinics, though still a positive experience, were worse this year. Some of the help noted that it was missing some of its oomph, but like many aspects of the CTO, it’s based on the volunteer support.
  • They added a panel of sustainability mentors this year. That way you could connect with different people on your needs. This was a strong area before that got better. However, despite claims that sustainability is 20% of your final judging grade, it still doesn’t feel all that important.
  • The worksheets—which are designed to summarize your business and prepare judges for your presentation—were opened back up for one more round of editing before final judging. This was a good move as it allowed for one more round of growth.

So there you have it. Most of the changes are positive, and the CTO is still looking to improve their process. The easiest place they can start is with final judging, but as that’s a deeper issue, I’ll cover that next time.

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If you have any questions or comments, please email me at blog (at) spiroflo (dot) com

Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home), industrial water purification (biofilm removal), and reduced water pumping costs.

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, dairy waste, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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cleantech-open-logo1SpiroFlo qualified as a semifinalist in the 2013 Cleantech Open—a global competition to accelerate green technologies—for its application in reducing pumping costs and providing water/energy efficiency to green communities. This blog shares SpiroFlo’s summary thoughts in going through the accelerator. Up first, what stayed the same.

The ‘too long, didn’t read’ (TL;DR) version of this three-part series: If you’re willing to put in the work and ride out the flaws of a growing volunteer organization, the Cleantech Open (CTO) is a great process for startup companies to connect with customers, refine their business plan, and get exposure in the marketplace… but the final regional judging experience still sucks.

Last year I had a lot to say about the CTO (when we went through as our established oil and gas company, Vortex Tools). This year we went through the process as a startup water company—SpiroFlo. I haven’t said much this time around, but I will now. Given that I’ve gone through the accelerator twice, I believe this gives me a decent sense of what’s working and what isn’t.

In sitting down to write this out, I’ve realized I’ve gone quite long, so I’ll upload my thoughts in three parts. As usual, this is just the opinion of one big mouth fella in the Rocky Mountain region.

Up first, here’s what stayed the same:

1a. At its core, the CTO is still made up of caring people who want to connect businesses to knowledge and networks that will help them succeed

There were a number of people I name-dropped as helpful last year—add Dick Franklin, Jeff Lints, Dale Zink, and many others to that list—and several continue to be involved year after year.

1b. The CTO lives and dies by the quality and commitment of its volunteers

Last year, we were assigned a generalist mentor—ideally, someone who is a sounding board and connector for your business—but he didn’t really have the time. This year, it seemed like the CTO took longer to assign mentors, but they were a better fit for the teams. Alas, many CTO volunteers are still in-between jobs, so when they do get back to making a paycheck, this gig can get dropped.

In addition, when things do go awry, the standard deflection line for many of the CTO higher-ups is “We’re a volunteer organization”; instead of saying, “That is a problem; let me see what I can do.” Still, most of the volunteers are what help make the process worthwhile.

2. Webinars are still boring

Each Tuesday for 10 weeks, you sit at your computer and listen to experts chat on a variety of business needs for a few hours. Alas, for me, a computer screen equals work time, so it’s easy to get detoured by business needs. Also, did you know there are distractions on the internet? I mean, there are these pictures of cats with grammatically incorrect captions under them! Amazing!

Circa 2006 (though the first lolcat dates back to the 1870s... seriously)

Circa 2006 (though the first lolcat image dates back to the 1870s… seriously)

Finally, it’s hard to be engaging when it’s just your voice and a series of slides, and frankly, most of the speakers just don’t recognize the oomph you need to put in to make the medium succeed. Add in accents and technical difficulties (although there were far less this year), and despite my understanding that webinars are still the best way to rally hundreds of people from all over the country to one virtual place, it’s an unengaging way to receive info.

3. There are still growing pains

The CTO is on its way to being a global organization, and while it’s not there yet, it seems like they’re stretching to get there in a hurry. Once they arrive, I think the status will help them pull in more volunteers. Until then, you can feel the gaps. It also doesn’t help that there are several green organizations—NREL, CCIA, Rocky Mountain Innosphere, Energy Fellows Institute, and local university grant/competitions—all tapping the same niche of people.

Finally, both years the CTO has tried to implement something last-minute and it hasn’t worked: In 2012, it was YouSeeU—a site that lets you upload/watch your presentation and receive feedback—but it didn’t return for 2013, as most teams didn’t use it. This year it was LaunchPad Central—a site that helps you keep track of progress in your business strategies and customer interactions. While I’m not a fan of how the site inflates their numbers, overall, the structure is valuable. However, the CTO didn’t require LaunchPad Central in each region, and this option seemed to lose favor, especially as teams grew concerned that the competition might be able to check their progress. With this in mind, I doubt it’ll return next year.

4. Everyone’s after something

Don’t be shocked; if you’re participating as a team, you’ve got an angle, too. As noted, the core of the CTO wants to see you succeed, but there are people angling for jobs, sponsoring companies want to transition you into a paid client (and when they’re a good fit, we’ve obliged), and more than one organization wants a little too much information so that they can get government funding. Lines can get blurred, but you learn to say no.

We said no to surveys from the CTO and the local Chamber. Even if I wanted to give out all that sensitive business information, my boss would sledgehammer my computer and pack my stuff. After two years of not getting responses from the South Metro Denver Chamber—despite them offering one-on-one help then me requesting it—I can tell you that it feels like they’re in it for the funding (they get paid per team they help, or really, paid per team that fills out their paperwork). I’ll give the Chamber credit though: they are helpful when you’re part of the group standing in front of them.

Up next: What changed in the 2013 iteration of the Cleantech Open.

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If you have any questions or comments, please email me at blog (at) spiroflo (dot) com

Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home), industrial water purification (biofilm removal), and reduced water pumping costs.

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, dairy waste, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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CSU went with a ram — the most fearsome of mascots

Vortex Tools talks about the Natural Gas Symposium and how the Colorado flood affected oil spills in the area.

This week I attended the Natural Gas Symposium at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

It was a bit of an odd crowd—there was a table full of anti-fracking retirees (especially as there’s a moratorium, Fort Collins Initiative 2A, to ban fracking for five years this November), a slew of locals who attend everything, then larger companies and politicians.

I should say former politician, singular, as several were stuck in DC with the partial government shutdown. In fact, a government worker told me that with the shutdown, government holidays go away, too, so if the shutdown had gone on, they would’ve been required to show up to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Anyway, former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, now that he’s retired (and I’m guessing paid per appearance), is everywhere these days, but he opened up the Symposium—read: a fancy word for a series of 75-minute speaker panels—with a discussion with the CEO of General Electric and the CEO of Noble Energy. Pretty fancy for a free conference.

I’ve had a couple of posts on the Colorado flood lately—how it didn’t help drought levels and how the oil and gas industry seems to be unfairly targeted in catastrophe situations—but I heard an interesting comment at the Symposium: one of the speakers noted that, with the deluge of water, the oil from damaged wells was essentially washed away.

It’s kind of like filling up a tenth of a glass with grape juice, then running it under a faucet. It doesn’t take long for the juice to dilute out. Sure, oil has more impact than grape juice, there isn’t a sink drain in nature, and maybe you’ve even heard that good ol’ notion that oil and water don’t mix—it isn’t just a metaphor, people—but right now, a) there are larger issues to address in the aftermath of the flood; and b) we’re stuck waiting for most of the oil to show up to treat… if it does.

However, I think the flood damage, coupled with the negative impression people have of oil and gas in Colorado, could lead to the fracking ban passing in November.

Let me be clear: I don’t like everything about fracking, and I don’t think it will exist in its current form in five years, but if you completely ban the practice, you basically shut down new oil and gas activity. While there are plenty who are happy with this notion, they’ll be surprised at the huge hit to the local economy. One Fort Collins council member went so far as to say that anyone who signs their name to the fracking ban should put up x amount to cover the financial loss. Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry will just move their operations to other states until it switches back.

Good luck getting the rest of the states to do the same, by the way. Call me crazy, but they might even welcome the revenues that Colorado would shoo away by passing 2A.

I think there’s a need to curb some of the energy use of fracking—especially as the industry is not required to reuse all that fracking water they then pump underground—but let’s talk compromise rather than local industry amputation.

A common statement I heard is that the oil and gas industry is not opposed to regulation, just bad regulation. Good regulation is necessary for safety, and when there isn’t enough, you get the kind of political move we’re seeing coming now.

However it goes, we’ll get a prediction of what 2014 will look like for Colorado oil and gas in November.

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Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home), industrial water purification (biofilm removal), and reduced water pumping costs.

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, dairy waste, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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Vortex Tools looks at the damage done to and from the oil and gas industry during the Colorado flood, as well as why this industry is often unfairly targeted during catastrophic events.

Last time I wrote about the Colorado flood and how it didn’t help the reserve levels in Lakes Mead and Powell (short version: it’d have to flood like that for nearly a year to make up the decades of drought).

Although the 24-hour news cycle went rampaging off to the latest event, there’s still massive amounts of cleanup to do in Boulder County. A woman I know has a fiancé in Lyons (an hour-and-a-half northwest of Denver). They don’t have power there and won’t restore it until the water is out and everything is dry. With limited access, workers (and residents) can’t even get in to start the process. It’ll likely be Christmas before it’s done.

Christmas. Three-and-a-half months after the initial flooding. Could you survive that long without going home or to work?

Now here’s what didn’t happen: No one logically grilled the builders of these homes and businesses for these structures getting overwhelmed by a raging body of water that unexpectedly shows up once every thousand years. No one logically went after road makers and bridge builders when they literally broke off from the force of the flood.

Why? Because most sane people get that you can’t build around rare, catastrophic events.

Sure, it’s an engineer’s dream to build a structure that would hold up to Godzilla or Mothra (clearly not both, that’d be nuts), but it’s not feasible or affordable on a widespread level.

Yet the oil and gas industry isn’t afforded that same understanding.

I get it. I work on the green side of oil and gas: reducing the environmental impact of flares and harmful CO2 vapors, recovering 10 times more natural gas liquids than conventional methods, etc., but being around the unreasonable brand of environmentalism long enough, I know their thinking. I hear the comments on how the U.S. should quit our oil addiction (coupled with an image of an evil, yet delightfully ripped Uncle Sam jamming a needle full of crude in his arm).

Oh yes, he will wear (patriotic) white after Labor Day

Oh yes, he will wear (patriotic) white after Labor Day

This is where I start asking for items—smart phones, glasses—that wouldn’t be possible without the plastic made from oil and gas. I offer to take a sledgehammer to the plastic parts of their Priuses and mountain bikes so that they can remain principled, but thus far, no one has taken me up on the offer or allowed me to pawn off their iPhone.

Still, there’s a valid question as to the damage done to and from the Colorado oil and gas market as a result of the flood.

These are actually some scary stats: Thus far, 43,000 gallons of oil have been reported to be in or near the South Platte River. As 20% of the fields in the Wattenberg Basin have yet to be examined, other problem areas will likely arise. Before the flood hit, oil and gas companies in the area raced to shut in nearly 1,900 oil and gas wells to prevent damage both to their production and the surrounding areas. Noble Energy is reported to take a hit of $7 to $17 million from lost production and flood damage, but the final tally is not yet in.

Officials from the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission think that, with the flood and road damage, it’ll take about 90 days to repair—so pretty much the same reparation timeline that everyone else is forced to work with.

This is the type of pain point no one wanted (save the types of people who never want to see a good catastrophe go to waste). Everything in the area got affected by the flood, and yes, everything includes oil and gas. So why are they specifically targeted?

Because no one likes a dirty industry making money.

The perception of the oil and gas is that it’s a rich industry. Sure, it makes billions, but the overall net profit margin is low because it also spends billions to capture those values. Of the 215 total industries, major integrated oil and gas comes in at #114 with 6.2% net profit margin. Drilling and exploration does better at a 9.9% (placing at #60), but overall, oil and gas is not the flush industry that should be hit up before all others with more taxes and fewer subsidies. If there is such a slot, it belongs to Closed-End Fund Equity with an 81% net profit margin.

Still, some are using the damage from the flood to move against the oil and gas industry: “Researchers from the University of Colorado studying how to limit the natural gas industry’s impact on the environment and communities are collecting soil samples along the river looking for evidence of benzene, a carcinogen, and benzene compounds, left behind by the spilled oil.”

If you’re going to play around in a fantasy land of no negative consequences in moving away from the energy resources generated by oil and gas, you might as well project how much time and money could’ve been saved from not flooding, but this is the reality we get to deal with.

Sigh. Looks like I’ve got some university Priuses and mountain bikes to smash.

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Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home), industrial water purification (biofilm removal), and reduced water pumping costs.

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, dairy waste, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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