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-ators, haters, and incubators

who is succeeding, who is failing, and who brings home the trophy at the end

The proliferation of accelerators, incubators, actuators, combinators, and now even investuators, has made it difficult to figure what exactly is working and what isn’t working in the world of supporting startups.

All of these ‘-ators’ claim to provide some level of office space, mentorship, funding, and connections with the promise of a frictionless path market and big VC money. The problem is that most of the ‘-ators’ end up as flashes in the regional business journal pan and flame out as soon as the regional economic development funding runs out.

At Potential Energy DC, we have prioritized focus over breadth and substance over flash for a winning combination. Potential Energy DC has a very tight thesis: energy and sustainability solutions in the DC region are under-served. While most of the region is looking only for the next SAAS, mobile, social, local unicorn, our organization is open to companies with heavy, chunking engineering solutions to major energy and sustainability problems. This contrarian viewpoint enables support and investment opportunities that other providers of support and funding are missing.

Based on this thesis of underserved energy and sustainability startups, we have assembled a small, but scrappy group of determined entrepreneurs – one third of whom are female and one quarter of whom are minorities.

The demographics are not skewed because of any obtuse incentive systems – that is just who we are. Our region attracts talent from major universities, federal labs, and DOD executive ranks, all of whom have tremendous industry knowledge and hands-on know how for developing and deploying solutions. The Washington region is flush with marvelous people with great ideas that need to be nurtured beyond the normal 3-month accelerator cycle and with more money than a $25,000 pitch contest prize. Our organization is addressing new generation and storage concepts (see Tumalow and Powerfield Systems), grid infrastructure solutions (see Athena Power), and engineering hardware solutions (see Reverse Ionizer). This is not unicorn hunting. It is the space of impact investing and moderately patient capital for out-sized returns.

No doubt, our team faces challenges. The tri-jurisdiction region of Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. makes it virtually impossible to coordinate funding for any type of regional initiative. The jurisdiction can barely agree on how fund Metro – a life blood of the region. Try coordinating funding for startups. Good luck. PEDC was initially founded and funded by its current Executive Director, Dave McCarthy, with the vision that the Washington Region will be a recognized hub of innovation for solving energy issues and a mission to bring together entrepreneurs, mobilize capital and engage policy makes to build the self-sustaining community. To date, our organization has been privately funded by private sector sponsors including Dominion Energy, Morgan Lewis, Constellation Technology Ventures and an avid group of angel impact investors. Our organization is run virtually across the region – with hands-on outcome-oriented workshops, professional panel and networking events, and, yes, the ever-popular pitch night; the next of which will be held at Morgan Lewis’s DC offices on June 28 from 6 to 9 PM.

PEDC, founded in 2014, is staying true to its mission and is working well. We have several companies in our membership that have gone from concept-only, pre-revenue, zero-funding teams to full-blown revenue-generating, A-round-raising companies with valuations in the tens of millions of dollars (see iRestore and Pearl Home Certification).

Parting thought. There are no participation trophies on the soccer fields of startupville, boys and girls. At Potential Energy DC we lace ‘em up tight and play to win.

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