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Energy entrepreneurs engage in Spark Tank with innovative ideas

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Photo by Emy Lynn Roque Cisneros From left to right the startup companies: Lou Villaire and Matt Fowler with SunRabbit Transport, Maxwell Lewin with Hygge Power, Steven Conger, Kenton Guilbert and Kendra Joseph with P4P Energy, Chris Caskey with Delta Bri

On Sept. 17 ENGAGE Delta County and DCED teamed up to present the first Spark Tank, a kickoff to the E2 conference on energy innovation. This event featured five startup pitches from Colorado companies working in the energy sector.

Held at Paradise Theatre in Paonia, the evening began with in-house drinks and catering by Chick-a-Pea to encourage networking. Startup Colorado's regional director Jamie Finney welcomed everyone as the group transitioned into the main event. The goal of Startup Colorado and events like these, he said, are to foster an innovative and entrepreneurial community.

"Externship has a way of bringing community together," Finney emphasized. "For every one percent increase in entrepreneurship there's a two percent decrease in poverty."

Thea Chase, director of Southwest Innovation Corridor, emceed the event. She explained the appeal for encouraging startups to come pitch was the value proposition in creating connections.

A common theme among all startups was looking for supporters and funding.

P4P Energy presented first. As a "disruptive solar PV mountain technology" company, its focus is to challenge the way solar is implemented. Kenton Guilbert explained that this is achieved through synergistic design such as using steel cables instead of beams. Panels can be created over water, canals, farm land or in rough terrain.

For example, the Carbondale based company's nine-mile canal project in India helps gather solar power while reducing water loss and impact to the land.

During the question and answer segment, co-founder Steven Conger was asked about the design's standability to hurricanes. He was able to give a supportive answer, explaining how cables offer more forgiveness, and that they're working on aerodynamic designs which will withstand upwards of 160 mph winds.

41 North Supply, a food production company based in Steamboat Springs, pitched next. Jay Hirshfeld is working to solve the problem of taxed resources in food production. Essentially the company uses aquaponics to grow food through fish waste, passive solar and active solar. With this process they're able to use 95 percent less water and zero pesticides or fertilizers.

Basil, giant mustard, lettuce mixes and microgreens can be grown year-round with this setup. The tilapia fish used for creating waste are also marketable.

The food production isn't scaled yet, but that's the goal. Several evaluators urged Hirshfeld to consider expanding, hinting at Delta County.

Chris Caskey of Delta Brick and Climate Company presented his idea to utilize sediment clogging the Paonia reservoir and heat from methane gas waste from the coal mines to create ceramics. This sediment, he said, is a valuable clay that can be heated to create products such as bricks, tiles, greenhouse gas offsets and even artistic pieces.

As a pre-revenue company owner, he is currently working on permits and designing pilot plans for a brick kiln. Questions asked primarily focused on the realistic scope of a market for his products and challenges of logistics such as shipping and getting methane to a facility for use.

SunRabbit Transport is a startup combining solar energy and electric vehicles. Currently SunRabbit focuses on education and sales of electric vehicles, EV supply equipment and solar charging integration solutions.

Two existing solar sales centers exist in Montrose and Grand Junction. They're hoping to expand and add EV sales center locations in Grand Junction and Delta.

Their goal is to make decreasing CO2 emissions affordable and accessible to potential customers. Additionally, low interest finances are offered to make the process of clean power and transport possible to more people.

Evaluators commented on combining with other dealerships and other opportunities they might have to make this concept more widespread.

Hygge Power pitched last. Maxwell Lewin emphasized how his company creates intelligent energy storage devices. These help minimize energy down time and decrease burden on grid systems by acting as "the outlet, perfected."

While small and large devices are already available on the market, Hygee Power's design, called OPO, covers the middle ground with 4-8 hours of energy supply range.

For example, OPO keeps devices on in a power outage, manages movement in the home, provides emergency light in a power outage and allows the user to turn electricity up or down.

The evaluators questioned the reliability of 4-8 hours given certain megawatt loads. Additionally, they speculated whether this would make a difference for energy providers in taxed systems. Lewin answered confidently, showing his passion for the product.

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