Video Spotlight: Alta Motors Wants to Turn Electric Motorcyclists Into Superheroes

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Alta Motors didn’t develop its electric drivetrain technology because it had green ambitions. The electric-vehicle startup, based in San Francisco, wanted to build motorcycles that go fast. Fast enough so that riders could beat their gas-guzzling friends on the course. Fast enough to turn battery-powered skeptics into customers. When Marc Fenigstein, Alta Motors CEO and co-founder, says the company’s motorcycles are “directly competitive or even superior to their closest gas equivalents,” he’s not just referring to emissions, maintenance, or noise. He’s talking about the metrics that customers traditionally care about: performance, safety, control — and speed.


Alta Motors’ Redshift SM won the first two pro Supermoto races it entered. The company’s engineers have designed a drivetrain that’s much smaller and lighter than gas equivalents — typically by a factor of 50 percent, according to Fenigstein. Part of that is due to its battery pack technology, which is already hitting 2020 industry yields in energy density and power. Alta Motors believes that its tech will one day have applications across all vehicles. For now, the company is focusing on gaining more traction in the dirt. It delivered its first electric motocross bike in December 2015. Here are some surprising nuggets we learned from talking with Fenigstein …

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Video Spotlight: We Waste More Energy Than We Use. Walker-Miller Energy Wants To Fix That

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Roughly 60 percent of the energy we produce in this country gets wasted. Sure, thermodynamics play a role, but we can increase efficiency through better infrastructure and better energy management. Walker-Miller Energy Services is helping businesses and people in Detroit do the later.

The company provides a broad range of services to help buildings reduce energy usage. By conducting energy audits, it can suggest infrastructure upgrades, design sustainability programs, and provide training to help reduce energy usage.


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Video Spotlight: Off The Grid Is Known For Its Food Happenings

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But Did You Know It Books 2,000 Local Bands Each Year?

A city’s public spaces define its character. When underutilized, public spaces can become eyesores, but mostly they represent wasted opportunities. Off the Grid is focused on identifying those spaces and organizing events, in partnership with food vendors, at underutilized spaces throughout the Bay Area.

Matt Cohen, who founded the Off the Grid in 2010, sees it as a logistics company, one that utilizes what it’s learned about permitting and working with small businesses to put our cities’ underutilized spaces to better use, making them better for everyone. Here are some surprising nuggets from our talk with Cohen …


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Video Spotlight: Personalized Learning, One AltSchool at a Time

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American schools have been failing students for decades now, and bolting technology on the side of a bad product isn’t going to fix the problem. Technology may not be a silver bullet, but intelligently applied, it can act as a force multiplier, particularly if it’s part of a complete reboot of how schools are run. San Francisco-based AltSchool is rethinking education from the ground up, and hoping its early learnings will eventually create a platform from which all schools can learn.


Max Ventilla, AltSchool’s CEO, says he founded the company “self-servingly.” His daughter will start at AltSchool in the fall and his son will join in a few years. “I wanted an education for them that got better and better, and that prepared them for the future,” he says. “And I wanted to be able to work with the amazing people that were my colleagues at places like Google, and build an amazing experience not just for my children but for all children,” Ventilla tells NewCo.

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Video Spotlight: Brigade Targets a More Responsive Democracy

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What do your friends think about regulating Airbnb in your city? What’s the most important issue the U.S. faces? Can student protests help end racism on college campuses? Brigade applies the social network model to provide everyone, from neophytes to political junkies, a space to talk politics.

Sean Parker, co-founder and executive chairman of Brigade, discussed the state of politics in the U.S. with Mashable, saying, “Democracy was not designed for a world where we have over 300 million people.” That’s where Brigade’s social approach to politics comes in. Unlike Facebook, which along with political opinions publishes baby pictures and life announcements, Brigade focuses on issue-oriented conversations that it hopes will lead to organization and action. Its app aims to re-energize civic participation in the U.S. by providing a forum to articulate and debate political and civic issues.

Brigade’s office in San Francisco, Calif.

In June 2014, Brigade announced its acquisition of Causes, the world’s largest online campaigning platform and one of the first apps on the Facebook platform, and political advocacy startup Votizen. A year later, Brigade launched in beta. Its small cohort of testers has taken more than 3 million issue-based positions in the first few months.

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Embrace’s Simple Solution Has Saved 150,000 Lives … So Far

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At TEDIndia in 2009 Jane Chen, cofounder and CEO of Embrace Innovations, asked the audience to close their eyes and imagine what might fit in their hands — an apple, a wallet, something small. Next came an image of a premature baby, not much larger than the hands holding it. According to the World Health Organization, 15 million babies are born premature each year. Embrace notes that more than one million die within the first month. For those who survive, some will suffer severe long-term health problems — diabetes, heart disease, low IQ. Chen said, “many of these problems could be prevented if these babies were just kept warm.” To date, Embrace Innovations has helped 150,000 babies across 10 countries with its simple, cost-effective infant warmers and an interesting business model — it’s both a nonprofit and a for-profit social enterprise.

Embrace’s first infant warmer — it looks like a tiny sleeping bag — started as a class project at Stanford University in 2007. The course, Design for Extreme Affordability, challenges teams of MBAs and engineers to develop affordable technologies for people living on less than a dollar a day. That year, Stanford asked students to design an intervention for neonatal hypothermia. It needed to cost one percent of what a traditional incubator cost (in the U.S., that’s about $20,000). Chen, along with Linus Liang, Naganand Murty, and Rahul Panicker, designed the Embrace Infant Warmer to help premature and underweight babies in the developing world. Together they founded Embrace and registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2008. Then they moved to India.

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Hyperloop Technologies Approaches Its Kitty Hawk Moment

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When Elon Musk dropped a 57-page proposal for Hyperloop, a new kind of transportation system, in 2013, some thought his concept was a great idea. They just didn’t think it would ever happen. Hyperloop utilizes pods to transport people or cargo in a low-pressure tube, which cuts down on friction, at nearly the speed of sound. It’s unaffected by weather. There are no direct carbon emissions. It’s fast. Musk didn’t have time to build it on his own and open-sourced it, hoping someone else might pursue it. Turns out, Hyperloop Technologies Inc. (HTI) is building it right now. The first pieces of HTI’s test tracks are already resting on desert floor 30 miles north of Las Vegas. HTI maintains it will complete its first “full system, full scale, full speed test” by the end of this year.

Musk proposed Hyperloop, in part, because of his disappointment in California State’s plan to build a “high-speed” rail system for $68.4 billion. “If we are to make a massive investment in a new transportation system,” he wrote, “then the return should by rights be equally massive.” Founded in 2014, HTI came out of “stealth mode” in 2015. Uber backer Shervin Pishevar is the company’s co-founder and executive chairman. His Sherpa Ventures fund led Hyperloop Technologies’ $11.1 million Series A. Pishevar is reportedly to thank for Musk revealing Hyperloop in the first place. Former SpaceX engineer Brogan BamBrogan, also a co-founder, began as CEO, but moved to CTO after the company hired former Cisco president Rob Lloyd in 2015. Although HTI is building tracks, the project remains a “multi-decade effort and movement.” Challenges include massive infrastructure projects, land rights, funding, and convincing lawmakers it’s safe.

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Accelerating Biotech at Startup Speed

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IndieBio, a seed-stage biotech accelerator, believes we can reprogram life to solve “intractable problems.” It’s helping companies develop faster solutions to those problems with $200,000 in cash and $50,000 in resources, for which the accelerator gets 8 percent equity. Recently the company held its second Demo Day. Fourteen companies got the chance to show off the work they’ve done over the last four months and convince potential investors of their product and business’ viability. It was packed: more people than chairs, overloaded Wi-Fi, pretty much what you’d expect at a time when biotech funding hit an all-time high.

Alex Lorestani, CEO and cofounder of Gelzen, likened evolution to “a million monkeys typing tech.” His company engineers cells intended to disrupt the gummy bear industry with its version of gelatin, which is a $2 billion market. Gelzen competes with traditional gelatin on cost, but its product doesn’t require growing an animal. Gelzen was one of three companies focused on the post-animal economy at Demo Day. Memphis Meats was another. The first domestication of animals for food happened 12,000 years ago. It changed civilization. Memphis Meats believes cultivating meat from beef and pork cells and growing them in a lab is the “second domestication.” No more antibiotics or animal slaughter. The company gave out “meatballs,” which apparently taste like meatballs.

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Rebooting the Solar Industry

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Subsidies helped solar achieve its best year ever in 2015. With the extension of the solar investment tax credit, Congress will help utility-scale and rooftop solar grow even faster in 2016, even if investing in solar doesn’t always work out (Solyndra). Had the credit not been extended, forecaster IHS says, the impact on the solar industry would have been “huge,” causing a 10% global decline in the solar industry. The tax credit means solar is hot right now, but its presence across residential rooftops is being challenged by OldCos.

Net metering, which lets customers sell the unused electricity they generate back to utility companies at full retail rate, has made installing solar on roofs economical. It’s helped NewCos like Sunrun, Sungevity, Mosaic, and SolarCity. Utilities aren’t fans, though. The rapid growth of rooftop solar has created a debate over the value of energy sent to utilities and use of utilities’ infrastructure. Utilities have implemented monthly charges and reduced net metering rates. The Washington Post points to this presentation, which suggests utilities are campaigning against net metering for fear of “declining retail sales,” “loss of customers,” and “potential obsolescence.” Utilities are contesting policies like net metering in 39 states.

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