Posted on October 16, 2013

Sacramento: Organization Helping Clean Tech Startups Receives PG&E’s First Economic Vitality Grant

By David Kligman

SACRAMENTO — PG&E today (Oct. 16) presented a $25,000 economic vitality grant to a nonprofit organization that helps Sacramento-area startup companies in the clean technology industry.

PG&E’s Greg Pruett meets SARTA CEO Meg Arnold before presenting the organization with a $25,000 Economic Vitality Grant that will help Sacramento-area clean tech startups. (Photos by David Kligman.)

The award is the first from PG&E’s inaugural $250,000 Economic Vitality Grant Program, which the utility established earlier this year from shareholder funds to support the economic growth of the communities it serves.

Nine more organizations throughout PG&E’s area will receive grants in the coming weeks.

Greg Pruett, PG&E’s senior vice president of corporate affairs, announced the grant at the Sacramento Regional Technology Alliance (SARTA) annual conference held at a conference center on the former McClellan Air Force Base.

Pruett explained that California’s small businesses account for 99 percent of employers. And he added that California received more than half of all venture capital grants in the United States.

Pruett noted that, despite the economic struggles reported throughout California, startups are greatly helping the economic vitality of the state as a whole. “And that is due in large part to SARTA and all of you in this room and what you’re doing,” he said.

He said PG&E has strong ties to communities throughout Northern and Central California, which is why the utility gives back.

Kory Hamman, CEO of Butte County company CleanFlame, shows a wax cardboard fireplace log, which burns 80 percent cleaner than oak firewood. He recently joined SARTA because of the organization’s work with clean tech companies.

“One way we demonstrate this commitment is by really ensuring that we are supporting things in the communities we serve that are impactful to them,” he said.

Clean tech a growing sector in Sacramento region

The Sacramento area has more than 100 clean tech companies, which account for $2.3 billion in revenue a year and employ 3,300 people. Earlier this year, a solar company was sold for $120 million, and a biotech company raised $56 million in a rare tech IPO offering for the region.

“When we started this 10 years ago you could barely find this sector on the map,” said Gary Simon, chairman of SARTA’s CleanStart program. “They confirm that money can be made by investing in clean tech here.”

Money isn’t the issue, he said.

“What is holding us back?” Simon said. “In a word it’s execution and exactly how to form and run a business, how to take advantage of this money.”

And that’s where PG&E’s economic vitality grant fits in. SARTA CEO Meg Arnold said the grant will go toward her organization’s new venture program and mentoring startups.

SARTA hosted a conference on clean technology and agriculture technology innovation and included an electric vehicle demonstration, including this Chevy Volt.

“We’re seeing a huge resurgence of interest in what it means to be a founder of a company, what it means to take your vision and go forward with it,” Arnold said. “With this grant, we’ll be able to bring some enhanced mentoring practices to our existing mentoring program.”

SARTA, which supports businesses in Butte, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Solano, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties, has had great success since its founding in 2001.

Among companies that have benefitted from the nonprofit’s support is a startup developing applications to help customers get utility discounts for reducing peak energy consumption and another company that sources biomass chemicals from cardboard and other waste products.

Arnold and others with SARTA said while other areas in the state may get more attention, the Sacramento area’s many clean tech companies is one of the best kept secrets in the region.

“There’s a lot of entrepreneurial drive in this area that is not as well funded as other areas like San Diego and Silicon Valley,” Arnold said. “We’re really trying to raise the profile of these companies.”

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