The Stay Alfred team didn’t win in the Next Tech Titan category at the GeekWire Awards, but they were happy to take the stage afterward at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Twenty-six people loaded onto a party bus that left Spokane, Wash., at 10 a.m. on Wednesday with three cases of beer and a professional driver. The destination? Seattle, and the . The team from , a Spokane-based startup transforming the hospitality business, wasn’t just hard to miss Thursday night because they were all wearing matching and quintessentially Northwest flannel shirts. They were also wearing ear-to-ear grins as if they were crashing a big-city party. “This is a big deal for us,” said Jordan Allen, founder and CEO of the 8-year-old company. “For some of the other folks here, maybe they’ve done this before, but for a Spokane company to be invited to this, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to join the likes of some of the companies that are here. So we are thrilled.” Stay Alfred, No. 48 on the index of Pacific Northwest startups, certainly earned its place at the event and as a nominee in the Next Tech Titan category, which was ultimately won by pet-sitting juggernaut Rover. The company, which operates upscale apartments for travelers in prime downtown locations, has been “growing like wildfire,” according to Allen, raising $62 million to date and expanding to 32 cities across the U.S. They have their sights set on Europe, next. On the bus ride over to Seattle, the day before the Awards, Allen shared a selfie of his team, beers in hand, as they made the 5-hour trek west across Washington. Stay Alfred CEO Jordan Allen and his team on a bus traveling from Spokane, Wash., to Seattle this week for the GeekWire Awards. (Photo courtesy of Jordan Allen) The bus journey fell on Steve Helmbrecht’s first day on the job, as Stay Alfred’s new president. After joining from a private investment company, he knew the trip would be part of his initial experience with the startup, and he was looking forward to it. “During [the drive] Jordan and I made two investment banking calls and then I had a couple of beers before noon with the crew,” Helmbrecht told GeekWire at the Museum of Pop Culture, site of Thursday’s Awards. “It was great. I already love it.” Helmbrecht said that Stay Alfred had a board meeting in Seattle during the day and then geared up for the big event later on. “What I really like about it is not only did Jordan bring over the executive team, he brought the five longest serving members of the company to come over, including employee No. 1,” Helmbrecht said. “They get to share this tonight. We’re honored to just be even nominated. We feel really good about it.” Stay Alfred employees arrive at MoPOP and walk the pink carpet. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Stay Alfred leases hundreds of apartments and condos to short-term travelers in its bid to get ahead of the likes of Airbnb. Allen believes tourists and business travelers have outgrown that 10-year-old company and now, with families in tow, are looking for a consistent guest experience that still comes with a unique, boutique-hotel-style setting. Part of its plan is to take over entire floors or buildings so as to control guest amenities. “We’re really forming an army of people that are excited about changing what the future of hospitality looks like and multifamily real estate,” Allen said. In Seattle, Stay Alfred and the team took advantage of that this week, which Allen said illustrates just what their mission is. “We had a pre-funk in one of the buildings,” he said. “That’s why our model exists — 10 people in the living room having a great time, we’re able to hang out versus being scattered across 10 hotel rooms. And it was just super cool, to have beer in the fridge and have appetizers out for all the employees and stuff. It was awesome.” A Stay Alfred property on First Avenue in downtown Seattle offers guests access to this swimming pool. (Stay Alfred Photo) With 1,000 people in attendance at the Awards, from some of the most successful, innovative and fastest growing companies in the Seattle area, the flannel-clad Stay Alfred team mixed and mingled and perhaps tried to do a little recruiting for anyone who might want to jump ship and head to the other side of the state. Allen’s pitch was pretty impressive. “We’re a big deal in Spokane, we’re a big fish in a small pond,” he said. “If we were in Seattle maybe we’d be the 20th coolest company. But it has a lot of advantages because we can get to recruit the best of the best in Spokane. There’s close to a million people in the overall metropolitan area, so there’s a lot of really talented people there. “Spokane is the greatest place to live, especially once you have a family and kids,” Allen added. “You can buy a really, really nice house for what you can buy a parking space in Seattle for. It’s a 37-minute flight back and forth, and it’s really cheap to do. If you’re into the outdoors, there’s 10 ski mountains and 75 lakes within an hour, so it’s a pretty attractive place to live.” As good as he made Spokane sound for the business he has been building, and for the team he bused over with, Allen was clearly feeding off the Seattle energy Thursday night as he made his way around MoPOP. “I really can’t say enough, for our team to be able to come over here … we don’t have events like this in Spokane for the startup community,” he said. “Everybody’s so damn excited they can’t even see straight.”
announced that there are now that have committed to use clean energy for Apple production. It doesn’t mean all suppliers are using renewable energy, it also doesn’t mean that they use 100 percent clean energy for all their clients. But it’s still good news. All of Apple facilities on clean energy, such as offices, retails stores and data centers. But Apple is well aware that it manufactures a ton of devices and works with a ton of suppliers. That’s why the company has created a fund to help finance renewable energy projects in China. Apple is also allocation $2.5 billion in green bonds. Thanks to these initiatives, Apple has financed solar rooftops in Japan, a custom alloy made of recycled aluminum that you can find the MacBook Air and Mac Mini and more. Overall, Apple expects to reach its 2020 goal of injecting 4 gigawatts of renewable energy into its supply chain well before 2020. In fact, the company now says that it will indirectly generate around 5 gigawatts of clean energy. Suppliers in the program include Foxconn, Wistron, TSMC, Corning, STMicroelectronics and dozens of names that are mostly unknown to end customers.
A technician places a full-size test fuel pin bundle in TerraPower’s pin duct interaction test apparatus. TerraPower, founded by Bill Gates, is working on traveling-wave reactor technology. (TerraPower Photo) If dollars were votes, newly reintroduced legislation aimed at boosting nuclear energy innovation and advanced reactors would be a winner, thanks to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ strong endorsement today. The world’s is the founder of Bellevue, Wash.-based , a startup that’s working on next-generation nuclear fission reactors. Back in December, Gates listed nuclear energy research as , and he by promising lawmakers he’d invest $1 billion of his own money and line up another $1 billion in private capital if federal funds were approved for a TerraPower pilot project in the United States. TerraPower had planned a pilot in China, but trade tensions upset the plan. During the waning days of the previous congressional session, a bipartisan group in the Senate introduced a measure called the , which would promote next-generation nuclear power by boosting research and setting up long-term agreements for federal power purchases from newly licensed reactors. The bill would require the Department of Energy to demonstrate two advanced reactor concepts by 2025, followed by another two to five concepts by 2035. That would brighten the outlook for TerraPower as well as other next-gen nuclear power companies such as Oregon-based NuScale Power, which is at the Idaho National Laboratory by 2026. There wasn’t enough time to move the bill out of committee last year — but on Wednesday, the by 15 senators, including Republicans such as Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham as well as Democrats such as New Jersey’s Cory Booker and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. That came as music to Gates’ ears, and today he let the world know on Twitter: Yesterday, a bipartisan group of leaders in the U.S. Senate introduced the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, which establishes an ambitious plan to accelerate the development of advanced nuclear reactor technologies. I can’t overstate how important this is. — Bill Gates (@BillGates) To prevent the worst effects of climate change, we need to reach near-zero emissions on all the things that drive it—agriculture, electricity, manufacturing, transportation, and buildings—by investing in innovation across all sectors while deploying low cost renewables. — Bill Gates (@BillGates) Nuclear energy is one of these critical technologies. It’s ideal for dealing with climate change, because it is the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that’s available 24 hours a day. — Bill Gates (@BillGates) I’m thrilled that senators from both sides of the aisle have come together to support advanced nuclear. This is exactly the kind of leadership our country needs to both solve the climate challenge and reassert our leadership in this important industry. — Bill Gates (@BillGates) Some experts — such as Gregory Jaczko, former head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — and argue that funding should go instead toward developing renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, and boosting battery technologies. Even if Gates’ view is true, some analysts question whether the advanced nuclear projects that are currently in the works could hit the 2025 demonstration timetable specified in the legislation. The promise of further federal support would certainly motivate companies like TerraPower and NuScale to try, however. Jessica Lovering, director of energy at the California-based Breakthrough Institute, said the measure would provide a “shot in the arm for entrepreneurs working on advanced nuclear technologies.” “With luck, it will be become law,” . “But while the bill is a big step toward commercializing advanced reactors, it’s not enough. More legislation will likely be needed to stimulate the market demand necessary to deploy significant nuclear to replace fossil fuels.”
Cobalt extracted from ore is used in the lithium-ion batteries that power devices ranging from smartphones and laptops to electric vehicles. (National Institutes of Health Photo) quest to find new sources of cobalt, a key ingredient in lithium-ion batteries, has received high-profile backing from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the $1 billion innovation fund spearheaded by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. Andreessen Horowitz also joined in the Bay Area startup’s funding round, which was disclosed today. The amount of funding, however, went undisclosed. was created by Gates and a bevy of other billionaires — including Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg and Jack Ma — to make long-term investments in cutting-edge energy technologies. KoBold Metals uses artificial intelligence and “machine prospecting” techniques to search for likely locations of cobalt ore. “KoBold’s Machine Prospector technology combines never-before-used datasets with conventional geochemical, geophysical, and geological data in statistical association models to identify prospects,” CEO Kurt Zenz House says on the company’s website. Cobalt is found in the batteries that power devices ranging from Today, more than two-thirds of the world’s cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has a poor track record on human rights and child labor. That’s led some to call cobalt the Finding ethical sources of cobalt is one of the reasons why KoBold was founded last year. But there’s more than ethics to the venture’s business model: Connie Chan, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, said she was excited about the prospect of using software to master the traditionally hardware-centric mining industry. “Such sophisticated software-defined prospecting techniques can be applied to the entire universe of mineral exploration… and beyond,” House that KoBold has already acquired several properties in North America that it hopes to explore for cobalt, and plans to have about a dozen such prospects by the end of the year. The cobalt market has gone through a roller-coaster ride over the past few years. Shortages led to escalating prices, which led to increased production and a price drop. House acknowledges that the near-term economics point to oversupply, but says that the mushrooming market for electric vehicles should cause demand to outstrip supply by 2022 or so. “KoBold Metals is doing the science, developing the technology, and making the investments to ensure a robust and ethical cobalt supply for the electric vehicle revolution,” he says. That fits in with the long-term philosophy behind Breakthrough Energy Ventures’ portfolio. The first two ventures, focusing on power storage, were . Seven more companies . In addition to KoBold, these four ventures have been added to the list since then: Investing in and developing electricity-generating projects that take advantage of innovations in low-temperature geothermal technology. Developing an electro-thermal system for grid-scale energy storage. Offering sustainable alternative proteins and ingredient solutions for food producers. Developing new ways to grow edible proteins through fermentation.
As tech companies continue their race to control the smart home, a promising energy startup has raised a round of funding from traditionally-tech and strategic investors, for a geothermal solution to heat and cool houses. , a spinout from Alphabet X, has raised $16 million in a Series A round of funding, with strategic investors Comcast Ventures leading the round along with GV, the investment arm of Alphabet formerly known as Google Ventures. Lennar Corporation, the home building giant, is also coming in as an investor, as are previous backers NEA, Collaborative Fund, Ground Up, and Zhenfund, and other unnamed investors. Notably, Lennar once worked with Apple but is now . As a side note, Dandelion’s investment is a timely reminder of how central “new home” startups are right now in smart home plays. Amazon just yesterday announced one more big move in its own connected home strategy with the , which helps extend the range and quality of WiFi coverage in a property. This is the second funding round for Dandelion in the space of a year, after the company raised a seed round of, a mark of how the company has been seeing a demand for its services and now needs the capital to scale. In the past year, it had accrued a waitlist of “thousands” of homeowners requesting its services across America, where it is estimated that millions of homeowners heat their homes with fossil fuels, which are estimated to account for of all carbon emissions. The company is based out of New York, and for now New York is the only state where its services are offered. The funding may help change that. It will be used in part for R&D, but also to hire more people, open new warehouses for its equipment and supplies, and for business development. Dandelion is not disclosing its valuation, but in its last round the company had a modest post-money valuation of $15 million, according to . It has now raised $23 million in total since spinning out from Alphabet X, the company’s moonshot lab, in May 2017. The premise of Dandelion’s business is that it provides a source of heating and cooling homes that takes people away from consuming traditional, energy grid-based services — which represent significant costs, both in terms of financial and environmental impact. If you calculate usage over a period of years, Dandelion claims that it can cut a household’s energy bills in half while also being significantly more friendly for the environment compared to conventional systems that use gas and fossil fuels. While there have been a number of efforts over the years to tap geothermal currents to provide home heating and cooling, many of the solutions up to now have been challenging to put in place, with services typically using wide drills and digging wells at depths of over 1,000 feet. “These machines are unnecessarily large and slow for installing a system that needs only a few 4” diameter holes at depths of a few hundred feet,” Kathy Hannun, cofounder and CEO of Dandelion, has said in the past. “So we decided to try to design a better drill that could reduce the time, mess and hassle of installing these pipes, which could in turn reduce the final cost of a system to homeowners.” The smaller scale of what Dandelion builds also means that the company can do an installation in one day. While a pared-down approach this means a lower set of costs (half the price of traditional geothermal systems) and quicker installation, that doesn’t mean that upfront costs are non-existent. Dandelion installations run between $20,000 and $25,000, although home owners can subsequently rack up savings of $35,000 over 20 years. (Hannun noted that today about 50 percent of customers choose to finance the installation which removes the upfront cost and spreads it out across monthly payments.) This is also where Lennar comes in. The company is in the business of building homes, and it has been investing in particular in the idea of building the next generation of homes by incorporating better connectivity, more services — and potentially alternative energy sources — from the ground up. “We’re incredibly excited to invest in Dandelion Energy,” said Eric Feder, Managing General Partner for Lennar Ventures, in a statement. “The possibility of incorporating geothermal heating & cooling systems in our new homes is something we’ve explored for years, but the math never made sense. Dandelion Energy is finally making geothermal affordable and we look forward to the possibility of including it in the homes Lennar builds.” The fact that Comcast is among the investors in Dandelion is a notable development. The company has been , and taking in, a number of as it builds its own connected home offering, where it not only brings broadband and entertainment to your TV and come computers, and also provides the tools to link up other connected devices to that network to control them from a centralised point. Dandelion is “off grid” in its approach to providing home energy, and while you might think that it doesn’t make sense for a company that is investing in and peddling services and electronic devices connected to a centralised (equally electricity-consuming) internet to be endorsing a company that’s trying to build an alternative, it actually does. For starters, Dandelion may be tapping geothermal energy but its pump uses electricity and sensors to monitor and moderate its performance. “Dandelion’s heat pump is a connected device with 60 sensors that monitor the performance and ensures that the home owner is proactively warned if there are any issues,” Hannun said in an interview. “This paves the way to operate it in a smart way. It’s aligned with the connected home.” In other words, this positions Dandelion as one more device and system that could be integrated into Comcast’s connected home solution. Aside from this, view in terms of the segment of customers that Comcast is targeting, it’s selling a bundle of connected home services to a demographic of users who are not afraid of using (and buying) new and alternative technology to do things a different way from how their parents did it. Dandelion may not be “connected” but even its approach to disconnecting will appeal to a person who may already be thinking of ways of reducing his or her carbon footprint and energy bills (especially since they may be consuming vast amounts of electricity to run their connected homes). “The home heating and cooling industry has been constrained by lack of innovation and high-costs,” said Sam Landman, managing director of in a statement. “The team at Dandelion and their modern approach to implementing geothermal technology is transforming the industry and giving consumers a convenient, safe, and cost-effective way to heat and cool their homes while reducing carbon emissions.” Landman and Shaun Maguire, a partner at will both be joining Dandelion’s board with this round. “In a short amount of time, Dandelion has already proven to be an effective and affordable alternative for home heating and cooling, leveraging best-in-class geothermal technology,” said Maguire, in a statement. “Driven by an exceptional leadership team, including CEO Kathy Hannun, Dandelion Energy is poised to have a meaningful impact on adoption of geothermal energy solutions among homeowners.”