A little more than a year ago, the world lost one of its most talented and influential musicians. Prince was an icon in so many different senses, changing the way people look at everything from fashion to the guitar. And while many will remember him for his music, there are a few in the tech community that will remember the genius behind Purple Rain for something else: protecting the environment.
Before his untimely death, Prince funded a green tech accelerator/incubator program with $250,000 he presumably had just lying around somewhere. With help from Van Jones, a CNN commentator and California human rights advocate, Prince effectively invested in dozens of startups working towards a more renewable future.
‘‘He asked, ‘If I have a quarter-million dollars, what can I do with it?’ ’’ said Jones in an interview. ‘‘My wife said he should put solar panels all over Oakland.’’
With a grant from Prince serving as capital for loans that would help several small businesses go solar, Jones brought in Billy Parish, founder and chief executive officer of Mosaic, then a crowdfunding loan provider. Van introduced Parish to Emily Kirsch, a green jobs campaigner at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, a non-profit that Jones cofounded. Kirsch worked with Mosaic on its first four projects then had the idea to make money helping young companies.
That led to the creation of Powerhouse, a rare for-profit incubator dedicated to putting green tech entrepreneurs together with investors. The company has helped 43 startups get on their feet in an era when venture capital funding for renewables has plunged and the political climate is far from supportive of the movement.
It’s an example of how fledgling solar companies are relying on angel investors, foundations and family offices for seed money. And it has helped make Oakland, across the bay from San Francisco, a hive for green tech finance with thirteen companies and six industry organizations working near Powerhouse’s offices.
If you're interested in what kind of companies are coming out of these program, take a look at a few of them below and thank His Royal Badness for his contribution to the green tech movement.
BrightCurrent is the nation's largest retail provider of home solar solutions. They help leading retailers like Best Buy and Sears design and execute direct to consumer clean energy programs.
Hot 4 Solar
Hot 4 Solar is building the most robust database and services platform in the industry, addressing common barriers to customer acquisition through insights into street-level market share, penetration, and adoption rates.
Photon speeds up your site visits by letting you do instant, accurate shade analysis with your smartphone or tablet.
PVBid enables faster and more accurate solar power estimating through analytics and machine learning.
PVComplete is a b2b platform for seamless solar project design from concept to construction.
RPM's software allows their customers to efficiently scale their financial and operational workflows by automating data heavy manual tasks and mitigating the risk of costly human errors.
This company helps their customers use electrical power efficiently, reduce peak load through intelligent demand side management, monitor and control equipment. Log usage, analyze and identify potential cost savings.
Solar.ai helps green tech companies provide a better customer experience and scale through referrals.
Standard Microgrid is reinventing the African utility with an innovative approach to distributed renewable energy services. They provide reliable power to the communities they serve, exciting growth opportunities for their partners and staff, and exceptional financial returns to their investors.
Sunbanc empowers people to profit from the sun by connecting homeowners going solar with crowd capital, creating meaningful returns for all.
SunFi enables installers to sell more solar power with simple, installer-friendly point-of-sale financing tools.
Sunswarm Community Solar Marketplace provides customer acquisition and subscriber management software for community solar developers.
The Sun Exchange platform enables users to buy and own remote income-generating solar assets that power businesses and communities in Africa via the blockchain.
At UtilityAPI, they're building the universal API for energy data. They get data out of utilities and into the hands of companies that can use it, such as solar, energy storage, and energy management companies. They have paying customers and excellent growth.
Volta provides financing to increase energy access for productive uses in West Africa. Volta pre-finances solar systems in the 1 – 50 kW range for three types of customers: agriculture, SMEs, and healthcare facilities.
Avalon Battery develops, manufactures and delivers advanced rechargeable battery-based energy storage systems. The company increases the value delivered by renewable and distributed energy sources including solar PV. Avalon also delivers groundbreaking value in telecom power, utility grid, micro-grid, peak shaving and ancillary services markets.
Bright Power provides energy and water management solutions for portfolio owners and developers, saving them energy, water, money and time. They focus on multifamily residential buildings, reducing waste and improving cash flow.
CivicSolar accelerates the adoption of solar power through their role as the most efficient and responsive distributor in the solar industry.
Extensible Energy delivers market insights and advanced technology solutions for utilities, solar companies, and energy customers. With more than three decades of experience in electricity markets, EE can help you find opportunities as these markets shift.
With offices in San Francisco, Phoenix, Seattle, London and Taiwan, Impress Labs is a team of 50 solar communicators dedicated to building solar brands through tribe-building content marketing, website design and bold PR and marketing campaigns. They understand energy—and they bring it to their solar and storage clients.
This company aims to strengthen the solar industry by increasing transparency, improving investment decision-making, and enabling efficient risk management.
Mosaic makes it easy to go solar and maximize your savings. They’ll connect you to their network of certified local solar contractors and provide a loan for the full cost of the solar panels and installation.
Nevados Engineering helps solar project developers and contractors by decreasing the complexity necessary to design, install and operate commercial, industrial and utility-scale systems.
Powerhive uses its proprietary technology platform to develop, finance and manage the world’s most bankable and advanced solar microgrids. They deliver clean, renewable energy to unlock the economic potential of off-grid areas in emerging markets.
Solar Analytics provides solar and energy data, performance and analysis for residential home owners.
SolarNexus is the premier information technology for solar sales and installation businesses to profitably operate and scale their green tech sales and operations.
Voltaiq is a full-lifecycle SaaS informatics and analytics platform for energy storage and mobile power. For companies developing and operating batteries and battery-powered products, Voltaiq provides key insights into battery performance by tracking device behavior throughout the product lifecycle, and automates routine data management tasks, providing real-time, interactive access to battery data, which helps accelerate development, increase productivity, optimize device operation, and reduce warranty risks.
Read more about green tech startups on Tech.Co
Photo: Flickr / Scott Penner