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Posts Tagged ‘envrionmentalism’

Vortex Tools shares a video of a natural gas flare in North Dakota.

One of our key U.S. oil & gas markets is the Bakken field in North Dakota where, currently, they’re burning off (or flaring) 30% of their natural gas. In the aftermath of the 2012 election, flaring will be regulated down in the upcoming years. As Vortex Tools has a solution that increases and captures the natural gas liquids energy entrained in the gas, the flare burns smaller and cleaner, allowing oil & gas producers to increase their profits while remaining in compliance with environmental regulations.

This brief video, taken by one of our partners in North Dakota, captures the jet engine sound coming from the flare (without Vortex):

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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) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

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, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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SpiroFlo looks at recent data that notes, despite a 0.75-degree temperature increase since 1880, global temperatures have plateaued or been in decline for most of the last 70+ years.  

A little while back, I mentioned how even green circles are moving away from the term ‘global warming.’ This didn’t surprise me, as the term is as flimsy and definable as ‘green’ – meaning you can seemingly make it mean whatever you want. Numbers, however, they’re a little trickier to finagle:

According to August 2012 data jointly issued by the Met Office’s Hadley Centre and Professor Phil Jones’s Climatic Research Unit, global warming stopped in 1997.

(Well, guess that partly explains why my wrestler tan never quite came in.)

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Global_warming_graphic.png

That giant thermometer would make things easier…

While there’s a detailed article from the U.K.’s Daily Mail* on the matter, here’s what the data says and doesn’t say:

  • From the start of 1997 to mid-2012, there was no discernible increase in aggregate global temperatures (a period of 15 years thus far).
  • However, global temperatures did rise from 1980 to 1996 (a period of 16 years).
  • Prior to 1980, global temperatures were stable or declining for 40 years.
  • Climate scientists are now in a debate about the value of the data. Professor Jones notes that he and his colleagues did not understand “the impact of ‘natural variability’ – factors such as long-term ocean temperature cycles and changes in the output of the sun.”
  • That said, he also stated that the 15-year pause period is too short to draw conclusions and he remains convinced that decade-long data will show an overall rise in global temperatures from 2010-2020 (there was already a fair amount of press on 2010 being a warmer year, even if the overall trend is negligible).
  • Professor Judith Curry disagrees, stating that, based on this data, using current computer models to predict future warming is “deeply flawed.”
  • “Since 1880, when worldwide industrialisation began to gather pace and reliable statistics were first collected on a global scale, the world has warmed by 0.75 degrees Celsius.”
  • The data does not deny the impact of CO2 emissions on the environment or that a period of global warming might resume. However, it does suggest that the situation is not as dire as many have claimed.
  • Regardless, costly initiatives are still in place to reduce CO2 emissions.
  • Part of the reason gas bills are still increasing is due to “ ‘green’ subsidies being provided to the renewable energy industry, chiefly wind.”

While the article notes that press on the study was quiet, it doesn’t note why. Professor Jones and colleagues are the ones tracking the data, updating computer models to predict the warming, and then angling for the implementation of law and policies to prevent the mass warming reality. So, for the data (and therefore the basis of the computer programs) to be different than expected, suddenly the impact of this green movement is on the line.

For as aggressive as the green movement has been to establish credibility, that same aggressiveness works against them when the numbers (not the opinions) aren’t so clear-cut.

Other points to consider:

  • Professor Jones dismissed the value of the continuing 15-year plateau as being too small, yet still believes that a warming prediction of the ten-year period of 2010-2020 will be significant. No time like the present or unproven future, I guess.
  • The 16-year period of warming from 1980 to 1996 is the basis for much of the dire predictions, yet Jones does not dismiss it as being too small or insignificant in the big picture. Jones also had no comment (quoted at least) on the value of stable/declining temperatures from 1940-1980.
  • If you think about the time periods mentioned above and the blame placed on people for having too many CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use, some of the increases and decreases should be swapped. Additionally, if there is global warming from 2010-2020, a period where we’re seeking to limit CO2 use more than the periods before, doesn’t that data again work against Professor Jones’ theories on the source of global warming? Then again, doom saying has to be current if nothing else.
  • While climate scientists are realizing there are more factors to consider, this acknowledged variability on analyzing data still hasn’t shifted the majority of climate scientists to acceptance of other theories, namely those who reject the notion of people having major impact on the environment (with the belief that cooling and warming go in cycles).

CO2 emissions do have some impact. I think that’s the reality of being alive: You affect and effect things, environment included, but there’s more impacting the earth than just us. While we can play a part, thus far, regardless of what strong-arm talking heads say, the repercussions of that part are still debatable.

EDIT: Rebuttals to the article have popped up. See here.

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*Thanks to super fan Julia for sending the article along.

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) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

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, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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Vortex Tools qualified as a semifinalist in the Cleantech Open—a global competition to accelerate green technologies—for their application in turning harmful CO2 waste from oil and gas wells into recovered high-value energy. This series of blogs was designed to chronicle our experience going through the 2012 Cleantech Open as a reference point for future applicants. Every post — as well as the top five best and worst things the Cleantech Open has to offer — is listed below.

After five months and now 10 posts on the Cleantech Open (or clean tech open if the search engines are slacking), it’s time I get back to things that are ongoing, like my disdain for Captain Planet. Before I go, however, here’s a post of the top five best and worst parts of the Cleantech Open, as well as every post of what to expect from each section of this green business accelerator:

Top Five Best Things in the Cleantech Open

  1. You get your money’s worth: Despite the initial cost, with the extensive networking, volunteer services, and yes, free swag, you’ll get more value than what you put in. Based on time input, though, that’s a whole other angle. For more on this, see posts I and III below.
  2. Rapid education for new small business people: If you’ve just started a company or you just have an idea, the Cleantech Open is for you. Established companies should stay away. For more on this, see post III, IV and VII below.
  3. Excellent business clinics: Currently these are only in the Rocky Mountain region, but with the caliber of support and the expertise of the specialists, they should be expanded to every region. For more on this, see post IV below.
  4. Cleantech Open volunteers genuinely want to help every team succeed in business: With the networking alone, you’ll start to connect to some of the right people (though networking is always a numbers game and you never know its true value until later). More than that, however, Cleantech Open volunteers want to see innovation succeed. For more on this, see post II below.
  5. Win or lose, your company messaging will improve: Whether it’s your elevator pitch, legal needs, target market or customer connections, the Cleantech Open will point you in the right direction. For more on this, see posts III, IV and V below.

Top Five Worst Things in the Cleantech Open

  1. Very disorganized; needs more staff support: This was the true constant in the Cleantech Open. If they want to grow, they need to invest in the proper infrastructure, but those costs could well change its value. For more on this, see posts I, II, IV and VI below.
  2. Not all regions and personnel are created equal: Whether it’s the amount of finalists, the engagement of personnel, or what state you’re in (in proximity to where the regional events are held), your experience can vary. Call up past semifinalists in your state and check. For more on this, see post III below.
  3. The worksheets are frustrating and have little value (especially to an established company): Whether it’s meaningless deadlines, shifting requirements, or the sheer amount of busy work (especially with the webinars) for a product that doesn’t have that much value in the Cleantech Open or the business world, the worksheets — at least with their current form and emphasis — are a waste of time and effort. Additionally, much of the education materials throughout default to the lowest common denominator, meaning the more basic info you know, the less you learn. For more on this, see posts IV and V below.
  4. Some judges will continually miss the value of your product: People mess up and have biases, and since the judges in the Cleantech Open are no different, it doesn’t matter what you say, some will miss or misconstrue what you present (even if those worksheets were supposed to help ease that problem). This can happen as early as the application phase or as late as final judging, but it will happen. For more on this, see posts I, VI and VII below.
  5. Final judging bias overrules overall competition effort: Although the Cleantech Open says overall competition participation is important, it feels more like you can shrug off the first 80% of the competition and hope to hit the judges niche at the end. Rather than sending on the best teams, it feels like they send on the teams that safely fit the Cleantech Open mold. For more on this, see posts VI and VII below.

Process Posts: What to Expect from the…

I. Application

II. National Conference

III. Regional Academy

IV. Webinars (part one) and business clinics

V. Webinars (part two), worksheets and mock judging

VI. Final judging and the awards ceremony

VII. Final thoughts on the Cleantech Open

Misc. Posts on the Cleantech Open

VIII. Five insights to the current state of green energy in the U.S.

IX. Vortex Tools clip from 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) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

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, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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Vortex Tools qualified as a semifinalist in the Cleantech Open—a global competition to accelerate green technologies—for their application in turning harmful CO2 waste from oil and gas wells into recovered high-value energy. This blog covers Vortex Tools’ final placement and all the things we couldn’t (or shouldn’t) have said along the way.

After nearly five months, the 2012 Cleantech Open has wrapped. In writing these final thoughts, I wanted to give it some time so that I’d be fair. Inevitably, if you win, it’s hard to not come across as wearing rose-tinted glasses, and if you lose, it’s hard to not come across as sour grapes. As this entry is long (and I’ve covered the complete process over a half-dozen other entries), I’ll post a complete summary soon.

Throughout the Cleantech Open, I’ve tried to be fair about both the good and the bad, even if it’s just my opinion. Hopefully this blog is no different:

1. Vortex Tools Placed As a Runner-Up in Both Categories 

In getting picked as runner-up in both sustainability and the overall competition, we had two avenues to mercilessly threaten the winning teams to get to the national finals, but for all the horse heads we left on pillows, no one dropped out to allow Vortex Tools to go on. As both these runner-up nods indicate that the Cleantech Open thinks somewhat highly of our product, we should be satisfied, right?

Well… we’re not. Before I get the “you’re just disgruntled because you didn’t win” line, let me explain:

Let’s get ready to rrruuuuumble! 

2. The Best Teams Did Not Win

Bear in mind, throughout this process, you will connect with many other teams. If you’re like me, it’s possible to enjoy people, but still be objective about their strengths and weaknesses. Of the three teams picked as finalists in the Rocky Mountain region, one was clearly the favored pick, as they won both the finalist slot and the sustainability slot. This threw off the other teams in the region — as we thought there were four finalists, not three — but upon questioning this, we were told that the Cleantech Open judges like it when the same team wins both categories, as it shows that a winning team can also be sustainable. It should be noted that this is a 2012 rule update (in previous years the same judges divided these categories).

As sustainability is supposed to be 20% of your final grade, I figured each of the finalists would have a strong sustainability component, but all of them seemed surprisingly lacking, especially as several other teams excelled in this area. Worse than that, the sustainability finalist was a terrible pick. I’m not saying this just from my viewpoint, but also by the stated Cleantech Open guidelines. At mock judging, the sustainability judge told us that sustainability was graded based on a triple bottom line, meaning that the technology has to provide a profit, as well as benefiting both people and the planet. We were also told that Vortex led in this category, because as of the mock judging stage (as in two weeks before the competition was over), no other team had incorporated sustainability into their presentation. That’s right: in a green competition not one team save Vortex had green benefits noted in their presentation. Seemed pretty nuts to me, too.

I won’t list the finalists’ names (as that would be unfair to them based on what I’m about to say), but of the three winning teams in the Rocky Mountain region:

  • The favored team didn’t show up to several “required” events, but was a shoo in as they’re a safe pick, had won prior green competitions, are involved in academia and nanotechnologies, but not in-revenue (all Cleantech Open soft spots). One of their team members noted that the Simon Cowell judge knew him from another competition and was excited to see him again (not surprisingly, this was one of the few teams that judge didn’t grill). Most judges would understand the need to remove bias and recuse themselves, but I’m assuming the Cleantech Open doesn’t have the support for that kind of personnel switch. In the end, it just serves to note that the green world is as much of an insider’s club as the good old boy industry agendas they despise. It’s okay; networking is that way of the world. We’ve benefited from it as much as it has hurt us.
  • The second finalist is easy to pick apart, but as they worked hard and are a different take on what clean tech means, I’ll actually give kudos to the Cleantech Open for selecting a great long shot pick.
  • The final team though — that’s the one that highlights all the issues with the Cleantech Open judging: This team struggled throughout the process, was unprepared several times (but allowed to fix things after deadlines), and didn’t even finish their final presentations. As a result, I have a hard time believing they came out ahead of most of the other semifinalists. For as harsh as that may sound, consider this: Even the leader of this team was surprised at being picked as one of the winners.

So if there were better teams in the Rocky Mountain region, how did we get these three finalists? 

3. Cleantech Open Biases Come Out Late in the Game

As far as the 2012 Rocky Mountain region is concerned, there were certain obvious biases (covered above), but there also seemed to be judge opposition towards in-revenue companies and dirty industries (oil and gas, clean coal, biofuels, landfilling, etc.) — regardless of how much innovative companies improve these areas. I say this because most of the best teams in the Rocky Mountain region fell into at least one of these categories and didn’t win. Every team that won hasn’t sold anything yet.

At the beginning of the competition, we thought we had a chance to do well in our region, but not at the finals for a couple of main reasons:

1) This is a clean tech competition: Inevitably, we figured we’d run into the kind of green crowd that hates that we work in the oil and gas industry, even if we’re trying to improve it. Do you really see a clean technology competition picking an oil and gas company as their winner? As crass as an example as it may seem, it’d be like a mainstream beauty pageant picking a plus-sized model as their winner. It should be possible — as beautiful is beautiful regardless of size and there are a variety of factors in those competitions (like the verbal horror of the question and answer sections) — but in the end, whether it’s stated or not, we all know what they’re looking for.

2) Chevron was the main sponsor: Yes, you read that correctly: one of the six supermajor oil and gas companies was the largest corporate sponsor of the Cleantech Open in 2012. While some might think this should have improved Vortex’s chances to win, large “dirty industry” companies promote green activities to A) keep a pulse on innovation; and B) improve their image. Again, with the latter, there’s no way they’d pick and oil and gas company to win a green competition. Everyone would assume it was rigged by sponsor dollars.

Even with these factors in mind, Vortex figured we’d enter to network and prove that the oil and gas industry can do better environmentally (reducing CO2 emissions) while doing so economically (increasing oil vapor and natural gas liquid recovery for greater profit). Up until the final judging, we thought we were wrong about these initial assumptions and the aforementioned biases, but it was really disappointing to be proven right in the closing days.

As a clean coal company won the Rocky Mountain region in 2011 — but got ripped apart at the national finals — we thought we had a chance, but it turns out the only reason that clean coal company went to the finals at all was because one of the safe companies took the prize money and immediately dropped out of the competition. You can bet your pocket lint that little payday flub got fixed this year. As a result, the biases we noted above have remained consistent over several years.

4. Come On, Are You Sure You’re Not Just Bitter?

With this much criticism, I imagine a number of you must be thinking: “Why don’t you just say you should have won?”

Okay, I’ll say it: Vortex Tools should’ve been one of the finalists.

Angry cat: More socially acceptable than I am in this situation

It’s one thing if we say it — we could easily be delusional about how good we are (watch the tryouts for any talent show on TV) — but the problem is others were saying “Vortex should win,” too. This includes some of the other semifinalists, the volunteers who helped teams with their messaging, and even Cleantech Open personnel. When Vortex didn’t win and the wrong company did (above a field of stronger competitors, not just us), the Cleantech Open personnel said things to us like, “I don’t know what happened”; “I don’t get it, but we have no pull on the judging team”; and bluntly: “You should have won.”

As I’m as direct in private as I am publicly, Vortex discussed this with some of the more open Cleantech Open personnel. One high up volunteer told us, “You only lost by half a point” (hence the runner-up status in both categories) and that we were leading the competition until late in the day. The problem is that two of the teams who beat us presented early and the last one was the weakest team. As genuinely supportive as the Cleantech Open is to each company throughout (and even after) the process, there are still hidden standards and expectations for their winners.

Final judging should not be able to override what was a good process, but as of this year in the Cleantech Open, it does. Pick the wrong judges and they’ll send on their bias rather than consistent teams. In the end though, it’s their competition; they can judge it however they like. However, people also have the right to judge the way they judge — especially when they don’t follow their own guidelines — and we’ve come to the conclusion that Vortex’s runner-up nods were given as platitudes for a dirty industry team that wouldn’t be allowed to win a clean tech competition.

I’m guessing that I’m not the first person to feel this way, but if the Cleantech Open doesn’t want a repeat of Vortex Tools in the future, it needs an update. The easiest ways I see to do this are A) have pre-revenue and in-revenue companies compete for different finalist slots; B) place “dirty” technologies in their own category that they can actually win; and/or C) rewrite the entry rules so that a team like Vortex can’t slip through the initial process.

Inevitably, whatever the Cleantech Open is at this stage — a small business accelerator, a positive image shift for large sponsors, or a way to feel good about supporting small green startups  — it’s not a business competition.

5. The Bottom Line: Knowing What We Know Now, Vortex Tools Wouldn’t Have Participated in the Cleantech Open

It’s safe to say that Vortex got more out of the Cleanteach Open than we put in. There are many good parts, including:

  • Lots of networking opportunities
  • Several great Cleantech Open staff volunteers, including David Talon, Rex Northen, Cindy Jennings, Jerry Healey and Jennifer Mayes
  • Excellent business clinics (every region should have these); and
  • The ability to improve your marketing message, especially with volunteer companies like Posit Partners involved

So then… what’s the problem?

The problem is that you can do all the above with far less commitment. You can be intentional about networking; you can work with business clinics and marketing groups more specifically (even if you have to pay for their services, they’re worth it); and guess what? Usually it doesn’t take a four-month commitment and you don’t get all the bad we’ve covered either.

Early on, we knew the Cleantech Open would be a hefty commitment, but we chose to dedicate the resources. This meant working early/late and on our vacations. It meant that as a company already selling a patented and proven technology into growing markets, we had to spend our resources carefully, so to get a late game bait and switch from the Cleantech Open feels like a rip off.

I will say this: If you’re just starting a business (pre-revenue), the Cleantech Open is worth it. You’ll get a rapid business education, technology development, market help, a level of credibility for your company, extensive networking and many other good things. As a company actually doing business, however, we got a basic business education we already knew and are far beyond, resources we could get elsewhere more efficiently, and the final jab of watching weaker teams stumble into awards with less effort.

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In the next (and final) Cleantech Open blog, I’ll provide links to every Cleantech Open blog I’ve written as well the top five pros and cons of the process. If you read all of this entry, you get an e-high five. 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) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

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, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

 

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SpiroFlo looks at a clip from the first Presidential debate where the candidates discuss ending tax breaks for oil and green energy.

Last night, President Obama and republican candidate Romney debated a number of issues. One of the most quotable lines, however, came from Mitt Romney on President Obama’s decision to put $90 billion or “fifty years worth of (tax) breaks” into green energy, namely solar and wind. Romney cited such failures as Solyndra and Ener1. Tesla and Fisker (and their flaming car) also got lumped in as implied wastes of money.

The real zinger from Romney to Obama: “You don’t just pick winners and losers, You pick the losers.”

Of course, this was couched as being a friend’s opinion, not Romney’s. Early in the clip, Obama confirms that he believes that the 100-year oil tax breaks should go: “It’s time to end it,” he said:

However frustrating you consider these opinions, you can take comfort in knowing that you probably have more control over these politicians than moderator Jim Lehrer did last night.

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Colin McKay Miller is the Vice President 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) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

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, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

Read Full Post »

Vortex Tools qualified as a semifinalist in the Cleantech Open—a global competition to accelerate green technologies—for their application in turning harmful CO2 waste from oil and gas wells into recovered high-value energy. This series of blogs is designed to chronicle our experience going through the 2012 Cleantech Open as a reference point for future applicants. Today’s blog: What to expect from the webinars and the business clinics.

Last time I shared what to expect from the regional academy. This time, I’m covering what to expect from the 10 weeks of webinars and the business clinics that show up at the halfway mark. As usual, these are the opinions of one participant going through the process in 2012.

First off, Vortex is not yet done with the webinars, so this blog is designed to cover the first half of this process. Basically, every Tuesday for 10 weeks—save one bye week late in the sequence (meaning there are nine webinars total)—you’ll spend a few hours sitting at your computer. Hosted by the University of Phoenix, you log on and listen through your computer or phone while watching the presenter slides, essentially on a shared screen. You can ask the presenter questions by typing in a chat box—as the microphones of listeners are muted—as well as sending technical questions to the host.

Oh, and if you think that you’ll just turn on the webinar and do something else without anyone noticing, you’re wrong. I did a five-minute speaking slot on grant writing, and when you’re logged in as a presenter, there’s a list of who isn’t paying attention. They do not announce this feature. Make no mistake about it: You’re graded on everything; don’t think you can coast here.

Given the differing time zones, some regions get better slots, but in Colorado, the webinars go from 3:30 to 6:30 (MST), with a 15-minute break after the first one-hour-and-45-minute session before wrapping with the second one-hour session. (The webinars are recorded and available for viewing if you can’t make it live, but they’re not always uploaded fast, and as of this writing, one of the week four videos is still missing.) If you’re like most people, that time frame won’t be the easiest slot to work with, and you probably have a full-time job along with everything else that pulls on your schedule. This brings us to point one of what to expect:

1. You Get Out What You Put In

Early on in the process, Vortex sat down and figured out if we should really invest in the Cleantech Open as an established, in-revenue company, and if so, with how much effort. Upon seeing the time requirements of the webinars, we had this debate again. We’d spoken with another semifinalist company from a year ago, and upon asking what they got out of the Cleantech Open, they said, “Nothing.”

Given that we got a fair amount out of the national conference and the regional academy, we thought this was strange, but soon figured out this company didn’t actually do anything with the Cleantech Open. Like a few companies each year, they were selected as a semifinalist and then proceeded to do nothing, so they got nothing. In realizing the time cost and that there is a lot of effort involved with the worksheets, we decided that if we were going to stay in the competition, we’d have to go all out, even if the requirements are painful to aspects of our business at times. (If you haven’t noticed, it’s taken a bite out of my ability to regularly update this here blog.) As a result, we’ve gotten a fair amount out of the Cleantech Open, and we think we have a decent shot of making the finals, but there have been bumps along the way:

2. Technical Difficulties

This is the biggest gripe you’ll have about the webinars (and it’s similar to the issue of disorganization that’s been consistent throughout): technical issues.

By Kmashaye5220 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

From what I understand, 2012 is the first year the Cleantech Open is working with the University of Phoenix on these webinars, so while I expect a bump or two along the way, with the same issues popping up week after week, my grace has long since run out. At first I thought these issues reflected poorly on the University of Phoenix, but it seems the issues lie more with the Cleantech Open. Don’t get me wrong: the volunteers are kind and work hard; there are just not enough of them and too many things they can’t control.

The first week, the audio didn’t work at all through the computer, so you had to dial in. If you’re like me where you’re often out of the office and your home phone has long since gone the way of the dodo, three hours on a weekly webinar won’t do any favors for your cell phone bill. While there wasn’t a repeat of this incident, the computer audio cutting out for 30-45 seconds is common.

Additionally, there’s always background noise: a bird tweeting, some bighead conducting a business call for 20 minutes, random cussing, etc. Notice how I said above that listener microphones were muted? This means that it’s always one of the presenters who isn’t speaking at the time and hasn’t muted his/her phone or computer mike. Again, this is every single week. Next year, the Cleantech Open needs to give their webinar presenters basic training on how to mute their microphones and act professionally. Right now, it’s hard to value their expertise with this consistently happening.

Finally, that 15-minute break I mentioned above: well, it gets cut. A lot. Do I even have to say this is bad form? It gets replaced by testing presenter connectivity; by going long on question and answer sessions; and by unscheduled announcements. As a result of this, there isn’t a webinar that’s gone by that I feel couldn’t easily be 30-45 minutes shorter. I’m sure that there were plenty of times that the program popped up that I wasn’t paying attention, as most people aren’t wired to stare at a computer presentation for three-plus hours straight.

3. The Lowest Common Denominator Factor

As mentioned in the regional academy post, the knowledge and training you have going in, as well as how far along your business is, will shape what you get out of the Cleantech Open. A lot of the material continues on in the topics covered at the regional academy: the business model canvas, determining and navigating your market, sustainability, legal issues, and creating your management team, etc. As you can probably tell, for an established company, a lot of these topics have long since been addressed and early-stage thoughts don’t really apply, but I will say that these webinars help highlight all the areas where we do things right, all the problems we know about but haven’t fixed, and the places where change is possible. Every business, no matter how established, should have this kind of reflection time.

Remember, many of the companies in the Cleantech Open aren’t much farther than the idea stage, so unfortunately, everything gets boiled down to the lowest common denominator: presentations get simplified for the everyman; the same awkward, low-brow questions get asked every week (and yes, some of them stop just shy of asking the experts to do their work for them); all of which can be very frustrating for savvy or established companies who hope for a lot more depth. One guy, in a moment of frustration at the business clinics, declared the process a coarser version of bovine scatology. I won’t go that far, but it’s disappointing to feel held back by people who aren’t even sure if they’d like to try their hand at this whole small business thing.

However, since I’ve mentioned the business clinics, I’ll mention that they have far more strengths than weaknesses:

4. The Business Clinics are Different Than Announced, But Well Worth It

At the midway point of the webinars, you’ll attend classes for three days (8-4: Monday through Wednesday). If you’re in Colorado, you’ll attend these classes in person. Like all the other training sessions, you’ll be receiving far more information than your poor, little head can handle, but you’ll be well fed while you’re at it.

In addition to the public classes where you go deeper on many of the topics covered already, you’ll have several one-on-one meetings with experts donating their time. These people have expertise in a number of areas including business management, engineering, legal advice, etc., and we were very impressed with how well the Cleantech Open volunteers matched up these experts with our needs (for example: all of them had oil and gas connections/experience).

One of the engineers we were matched up with spent most of the hour arguing with us on the validity of the Vortex technology–not uncommon with engineers, as, for them, old textbook standards can trump real-life innovation–and this experience of going off-topic was common (albeit usually less combative with the other experts). I imagine if we were just starting out as a company and needed more help, the conversations wouldn’t have gone this route, but these off-topic treks served us well and the networking strength of the Cleantech Open remains a positive standard.

Another thing you’re supposed to do is bring rough drafts of your worksheets to go over with the experts during your one-on-one sessions, but this didn’t happen (at least not for us). Finally, there are a number of beneficial resources you’ll get out of the business clinics, but as these affect the latter part of the webinars/competition, I’ll delve into those in the next blog. I will say this: If you’re not volunteering and connecting with the resources available to you, you’re not only hurting your chances in the Cleantech Open competition, you’re missing out on some great perks for your business.

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In the next blog, I’ll cover the second half of the webinars as well as what you can expect from the worksheets. If you have any questions or comments, please email me at blog (at) spiroflo (dot) com

Colin McKay Miller is the Marketing Manager 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) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

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, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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Vortex Tools qualified as a semifinalist in the Cleantech Open—a global competition to accelerate green technologies—for their application in turning harmful CO2 waste from oil and gas wells into recovered high-value energy. This series of blogs is designed to chronicle our experience going through the 2012 Cleantech Open as a reference point for future applicants. Today’s blog: What to expect from the multi-day regional academy.

Last time, I shared what to expect from the one-day national conference. This time, I’m focusing on the subsequent regional academy. As usual, these are the opinions of one participant going through the process in 2012.

If your company gets accepted to the Cleantech Open, at least two members of your team need to attend the 3-4 day regional academy (either in San José, CA, right after the national academy, or in Boston, MA, one week after that). If you’re not close to either state, the west coast academy (in San José, CA) makes the most sense in terms of budgeting flights / hotels. As Vortex Tools attended the one-day national conference in San José, we stuck around for the regional academy.

As covered in the national conference post, you’ll get to network with hundreds of companies—some large and established, some the success stories of tomorrow, many that will go belly up—and get your name out there more. For new and established companies alike, a chance for this type of vast networking is a welcome advantage. There’s the standard bit of disorganization, too—mostly in technical difficulties, presentations not starting on time, and materials not being available on the wiki—but these are fairly minor points and are the types of issues you can expect when you’ve got hundreds of people together.

However, here’s what to expect that hasn’t been covered before:

1. You’re Getting Your Money’s Worth

Early on, I covered the elephant in the room question: Is the Cleantech Open a scam?

Part of my answer was that you won’t fully know the value of the Cleantech Open until after the national conference and the regional academy, so I’ll delve into that more here:

First of all, this year, Autodesk gave every company in attendance a free copy of their design software. Although I don’t think it’s worth the $10,000 price tag—when really, software is worth what a company will pay for it—it’s certainly worth more than the expenses you’ll accrue thus far and it’s a valuable creation tool. Additionally, Autodesk met with and individually trained Cleantech companies on their software after the conference wrapped.

By Peter VDW (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsAfter that, you’re receiving a fair education. The chair for the Rocky Mountain region said that the regional academy is like drinking from a fire hose. That’s accurate. The days are long and filled with a slew of info that you can’t possibly digest all at once, but hey, they feed you well while you’re at it.

2. Your Knowledge Will Shape the Value You Get From the Presentations

We were in a long room with two screens on either side of the stage and three microphone stands out in the crowd. Although your  table mates will stay the same—which seems strange to me, as I thought they’d mix us up—your table location will change each day. If you get a table way off to one side, you’ll see how easy it is to disengage from the presentations. Likewise, if you get a table in the center, even though it’s hard to see the screens, you’re essentially forced to stay engaged with a presenter 15 feet from your face.

There were presentations on sustainability, patent law, marketability, business plans, mock pitches, investor pitches, etc., and I can tell you that you can’t judge a presentation by its subject matter. In fact, the more creative the presentation format by the Cleantech Open, the worse and less informative it was. However, dynamic presenters like Steve Blank were well received, and the Cleantech Open agreed to send all participants a copy of his book when it comes out.

Make sure you get up and participate at the microphone at least a couple of times over the weekend. There are people who will go up every time (and frankly, hog the mike), so make sure you don’t wait when the crowd is invited to participate. Throughout the three-day academy, you’ll have a chance to work on your business model canvas (an earlier version of a business plan) and your elevator pitch. Get up there and get grilled by the presenters. You’re missing part of the experience if you don’t.

Overall though, how far along you are in your business and what you already know from experience will shape how much you get out of these presentations. Which brings me to my next point:

3. Not All Companies are Created Equal…

As stated before, one of the best things about the Cleantech Open is that they’re technology neutral. Whatever your company, whatever stage you’re at in your business, they want to see you grow and accelerate from where you’re at.

What you’ll find at the regional academy is companies in various stages of development. Vortex’s table mates were right out of college with an idea. Vortex Tools, well, we’re quite a ways along as a business, with having sold over 1,500 tools into worldwide markets, but there’s always room to grow. Wherever you’re at as a company, as long as you’re within the confines to enter the Cleantech Open, they’ll help you along.

4. …And Neither are the Mentors

Mentors are a big part of the Cleantech Open process, and they can also be one the greatest sources of frustration depending on what your expectations are.

When Vortex started in the Cleantech Open, we assumed that the generalist mentor you’re assigned early on would be able to answer questions about the process, but this was not the case, as our mentor was as new to the process as we were. (Don’t believe anything you read about multiple generalist mentors either—you get one.) As our mentor has a full-time job as a venture capitalist, he wasn’t available to come to the national conference and regional academy like other mentors. This meant that we lost out on a networking avenue, but some companies didn’t even have an assigned mentor yet. In talking to those companies, they had less-than-favorable view of the Cleantech Open at that stage.

That said, since the regional academy wrapped, we’ve received a lot of input from our mentor via weekly calls and worksheet feedback, but I’ll get into that in a later blog.

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In the next Cleantech Open blog, I’ll describe what you can expect from the 10 weeks of webinars. If you have any questions or comments, please email me at blog (at) spiroflo (dot) com

Colin McKay Miller is the Marketing Manager 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) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

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, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

Read Full Post »

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