GROWING GREENTOWN LABS INTO A BIG PLAYER
Emily Reichert, a chemist who also holds an MBA, wasn’t entirely sure where her salary would come from when she took a job working for a clean technology incubator in February 2013. The incubator provided a grungy-but-cheap home to about 15 startup companies, and the administrative staff consisted of just Reichert and an intern — “and only Liz, the intern, was getting paid,” Reichert says.
Today, Reichert has a reliable paycheck from what has grown into arguably the largest incubator space for energy and sustainability startups in America. About 50 companies now pay rent to Somerville’s Greentown Labs, in exchange for access to desks, lab space, equipment, and software. By the middle of next year, it plans to open an annex in a former auto body shop that will add room for 50 more. About $2 million in loans for the project are being supplied by the City of Somerville and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.
Greentown holds networking mixers and workshops on finding grants and venture capital funding. But it also has landed big companies like Shell, National Grid, and General Electric as sponsors, many of them interested in scouting for new technology. — Scott Kirsner
SOLAR PANEL COMPARISON-SHOPPING
Shopping for solar panels isn’t quite as easy as shopping for a fridge, a TV, or even a car. For most homeowners, they’re usually shopping for an installer, not a solar panel brand or model, and there are no Consumer Reports or Amazon reviews that can help with that.
But there is EnergySage. Launched by Vikram Aggarwal in 2011, the Boston firm offers a fairly simple way to comparison-shop, with about 40 installers in its database for Massachusetts and more than 350 nationwide.
Solar energy can be mysterious — with all the talk of SRECs and net metering — so it’s easy simply to rely on the friendliest face to stop by the front door with a pitch. Aggarwal believes there should be another way. Fill out a quick online form with EnergySage, and installers will start sending easy-to-compare quotes your way within 24 hours. The company, with its team of advisers, also pledges to be a resource for residents who have questions. Rent or own? Buy local or go with a national player? The roughly 20-person company gets its revenue from sales commissions each time a solar installer wins a customer.
The business model is attracting attention: The city of Cambridge just tapped EnergySage to create an online portal for its residents, and National Grid in March said it would rely on Aggarwal’s company for a one-stop shopping service for utility customers in Rhode Island. — Jon ChestoSend comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.