Innovative Companies Offer Energy-Saving Products At Milwaukee Competition

Mar 4, 2020

Some entrepreneurs see profits in renewable energy and energy efficiency products. But early-stage companies often need money to keep innovating. An annual competition held in Milwaukee Tuesday night gave seven firms a chance to show off what they do and meet more potential investors.

The event took place at the Midwest Energy Research Consortium (M-WERC), which is a collaboration of several Wisconsin universities and companies. It aims to make the Midwest the leader in energy and the controls needed to use the power more efficiently.

Part of M-WERC's mission is talent development, through its WERCBench Labs Accelerator program that offers young energy firms advice, and lab and testing space. Seven entrepreneurs gave presentations at M-WERC's offices on N. 27th Street on Tuesday.

Joe Bonniwell is of the firm CLOCworks. He touted his company's software, which he says can help businesses optimize energy efficiency. 

"An example of a pattern our system might find would be how much energy a site's heating and cooling system would use to keep the indoor temperature of a building at a certain level, given a particular outdoor temperature,” Bonniwell said. 

Ashray Manur, who's with Elektrifi Technologies, speaks about his company's small-scale microgrids.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

Ashray Manur is with Elektrifi Technologies. He promoted his company's small-scale microgrids. Microgrids are electricity networks that serve just a few users and are often powered by renewable energy. 

"In the event of an extended blackout, families should be able to produce their own energy," Manur said. 

Killian Tobin says his firm, Omega Grid, has software that will help citizens and businesses use less electricity when prices are high and more when prices are low.

"Our system we're working with will work with anything from a campus, all the way down to a smart switch,” Tobin said.

A smart switch is a light switch with added features that help automate a home.

Elad Wallach is with the company Steam Energy Labs, which has created a thermostat for electric residential water heaters. He says that can reduce electricity use from power plants.

"Your water heater can help get rid of fossil sources by simply heating water in a smarter way, “ Wallach said. 

Erika Boeing, of Accelerate Wind.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

But all four of those firms came up short of prizes in the M-WERC competition.

Third place went to Accelerate Wind. Founder Erika Boeing says her company is developing affordable wind turbines for commercial building rooftops.

“We've found that wind has the potential to add 30% additional energy generation on top of solar capacity when installed alongside solar," Boeing said.

The second-place finisher was Mesodyne. CEO Veronika Stelmakh says they are making hand-sized generators that can give more power to items like drones.

"Everything is changing thanks to drones, but drones are limited in their flight time," Stelmakh explained.  

A panel of judges gave first place to the Milwaukee firm Agricycle, formerly called Blue Mangoes. The company's Claire Friona says they make a dehydrator that reduces food waste. 

Claire Friona, who's with the Milwaukee firm Agricycle, during a recorded presentation at the M-WERC meeting.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

“Our dehydrator is special because they work entirely off the sun, with no electricity involved," Friona said.

All the companies showcased at M-WERC have something in common: they're seeking more investors.  But M-WERC CEO Alan Perlstine says almost all of the firms taking part in the five years of WERCBench Labs are still open.  

"Win lose or draw, leveraging multiple early-stage startups is one way to rapidly jumpstart and leverage science and technology," Perlstine said, adding that some of these companies may be game-changers.

That's in a world many scientists say needs to become greener, or face more challenges brought by climate change.

Support for Innovation reporting is provided by Dr. Lawrence and Mrs. Hannah Goodman.

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