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Blog Entries With Tag "Katie Roberts"

Volunteer Perspective:

Posted by at 3:00 PM, 09/13/2010

Our volunteers are the backbone of the Cleantech Open.  Without them, our various programs and events would literally not happen.  Here is a volunteer perspective from Chris Frankchuk, in his own words.


I first learned of the Cleantech Open through a chance meeting with Katie Roberts, Marketing and Communications Manager, at an alumni reunion at Santa Clara University, Leavey School of Business in 2008. What initially got my interest was the Cleantech Open’s mission statement “to find, fund, and foster the big ideas that address today’s most urgent energy, environmental, and economic challenges,” as it matched well with my interest in social and environmental sustainability in addition to my engineering and recent small business startup background.

My first involvement was assisting at events such as the breakfast briefings and annual awards ceremony with setup and registration.  Here I learned more about how the Cleantech Open functioned, the people who made it happen, and the atmosphere surrounding the events.  To this day, it still amazes me how much the Cleantech Open does through volunteers who are commonly motivated by using their business skills to help solve large problems our society faces.   These volunteers are what give the Cleantech Open so much credibility to the entrepreneurs, partners, and sponsors who work with them.  What is great about the Cleantech Open’s events is that they exist mainly to support the cleantech entrepreneur in the growth of their idea towards a viable business.  Thus there is a greater sense of purpose behind the event rather than networking and sharing ideas.  That is the main motivation for me, and I believe it is what brings many others to the Cleantech Open whether directly or indirectly.

This current year I have been serving as the Recruitment Call and Email Team Lead working with a motivated group of volunteers to reach out to interested cleantech entrepreneurs, inform them of what the Cleantech Open can do for them, finding matches, and reaching our contestant goals.  The most rewarding aspect of recruitment is the actual face-to-face time with interested entrepreneurs.  This is where I can really put all of my experience with business plans to practice for the Cleantech Open.  Discussing goals, wants, and needs with the entrepreneur; I act as a consultant/salesman explaining how the Cleantech Open can help them as well as their need for a solid business plan.  Seeing a previously lost entrepreneur with and idea but without direction, now realizing they have direction with action they can take all because I have been able to provide it - puts a smile on my face.  It is very rewarding knowing I have helped someone come closer to reaching their goals as well as using business to hopefully provide viable solutions to an environmental issue facing our society.


Being active in the outdoors and as an engineer with a career built on improving efficiency, Chris Franchuk has always naturally found himself adapt at finding ways to do more with less.  In addition to his work with the Cleantech Open, Chris keeps busy as a Team Lead with Habitat for Humanity - Silicon Valley, member of the U.S. Green Building Council - Northern California Chapter, and occasional leads guided backpacking trips for the Sierra Club National Outings.  Chris Franchuk is a Program Manager with 17 years experience in operations process improvement, supply chain, and business communications, in a variety of industries and companies, from startups to global manufacturers.  He is a former U.S. Naval Officer and has an honors MBA from Santa Clara University and Mechanical Engineer degree from the University of California, Irvine, is a LEED Green Associate and Certified Green Building Professional.

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Micromidas Wins $3.6 Million – An Interview with CEO John Bissell

Posted by at 3:15 PM, 05/03/2010

Micromidas, the 2009 Air Water & Waste category winner and a runner-up for the national prize, recently scored $3.6 million in a Series A funding round. The Davis, California-based company converts carbon from wastewater into strong bioplastics. While the company participated in the 2009 competition, they steadily progressed with their technology and building out their company. With this new funding from Alex Millar and other angel investors that represent the plastics and packaging industry, the company is keeping very busy. I caught a few moments with CEO John Bissell to ask him about how things are going.

Katie Roberts: How did this funding opportunity come about?

John Bissell: We were approached by our investors out of the blue. It wasn’t through our extended network. It was basically a marketing driven find -- they found us through various articles written about us and by talking to people. They heard about what we do and contacted me directly. I’ve put in a lot of work to build a network in Silicon Valley and it surprised me that they weren’t part of our network. That’s rare though; obviously the network still matters.

KR: What's the biggest thing you've learned about trying to get funding, as a startup?

JB: Every investor is different. Frequently investors are thought of as just the venture capitalist side, taking an equity slice. They’re thought of as having all the same expectations. If you have a pitch, then you create it to be whatever a generic VC would want to see. But individual VCs have different strategies for their 5 and 10 year funds. They have different expectations, different domain expertise, [and] different ways of working with their partners. So you need to have an understanding of the strategy of the investor. You can hone the pitch perfectly for what they’re looking for. It’s all about that one conversation. Getting that hook really matters.

KR: What advice would you offer to other companies that are startups looking for funding?

JB: It’s really easy to forget about everything else when you’re raising money. My family always says that having money is like breathing -- when you have it you don’t notice it, but when it starts to get short, it’s the only thing you ever think about. When you’re a startup raising money it feels like that’s the only thing that matters. In reality it’s not. I was personally raising money full time for six months. I didn’t do anything else. If my team had frozen for any time during that period then we wouldn’t have made it. We wouldn’t have been able to keep going as a company. But we would be way behind if we hadn’t been able to raise money. So having at least one a partner [beyond yourself] is critical. You need one person to run and develop the business with the technology. And you need one person raising money, because it’s a full time job.

KR: What's next for Micromidas, with this funding? Any interesting plans for the next few months?

JB: We just put a kilo scale unit online that’s 50 to 100 liter. It demonstrated the process, which was exciting and we got really good results. In the next two months we should have a pilot scale unit up and operating. That’s our core focus right now.

KR: Are you hiring anyone with that new funding?

JB: We are hiring! We just gave out and signed five offer letters in the last two weeks, and we’re going to sign three more in the next month. We’re hiring at a relatively rapid pace. We were looking at our headcount and determining that we had to fill 8-12 slots, and that meant we had to find seven people not currently in our network. That just sounded so brutal. It takes time to find talent. And it matters not just how good the person is and what their experience is, but how they fit into the team. We were really lucky because four [people] popped up with exactly [the skills] we were looking for, so that was really great.

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2009 Awards Gala Carbon Neutral!

Posted by at 10:15 AM, 11/24/2009

What a great event the Gala was! The energy in the Expo! hall was palpable, the  demos were thrilling, and it was a great thrill to learn that EcoFactor is the first national winner of the Cleantech Open business competition!

For those of you who joined us, thank you so very much for your support of what we do.

I’m very pleased to announce that PlanetUp very generously offset all the carbon from our event, giving the 2009 Awards Gala a zero carbon footprint.  This is a wonderful initiative that our Sustainability Team worked on, so a special shout-out to Julia Hu and her team for making this possible.

Please visit for more information.

-- Katie Roberts, Marketing and Communications Manager

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