EPIcenter, a nonprofit organization with plans to turn a former power plant on the Mission Reach into a think tank for energy innovation, will announce Tuesday the first cohort of its New Energy Incubator and Accelerator.
Go Smart Solar, a solar panel installation service provider that leverages computing technology to optimize energy production, will lean on EPIcenter mentors as it scales operations up and expands into markets outside of San Antonio. Morton Gestalt, an engineering firm, will look to launch an online platform to create models for energy-efficient buildings.
In addition to its functions as an incubator and think tank, EPIcenter’s estimated $74 million redevelopment of a long-offline power plant on the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River aims to bring a fabrication laboratory for testing new products in the energy space, a conference center for hosting industry events, and an interactive, educational exhibit space.
The redevelopment project has yet to break ground, but the accelerator program will function out of Geekdom in the meantime. EPIcenter, Go Smart Solar, and Morton Gestalt have offices in the downtown co-working space.
EPIcenter is still $53 million away from its targeted $74 million goal for funding the planned facility, CEO Kimberly Britton said. The nonprofit plans to open the former CPS Energy facility in phases over the next three years.
Britton said Tuesday that the organization has about $20 million in funding in its pipeline; however, the deals have not been finalized.
Jason Pittman, president and co-founder of Go Smart Solar, said the company aims to develop a community solar project in the San Antonio area. In such projects, solar panels are not affixed to individual households’ roofs. Instead, many panels are installed in an array at a different location, generating power that can be distributed onto the grid. These are sometimes called “community solar gardens.”
“We’ve spent a significant portion of our energy careers trying to figure out how to bring solar to low-income communities,” Pittman said. “[Through] our community solar program, we think that we’ve figured out a way to do that. We’re really excited about putting this concept in front of some utilities in this area. Hopefully, [utility companies like CPS Energy] select [our community solar project] because if they do, we’re going to be able to bring solar to parts of San Antonio and parts of these other communities that have never had solar before. We’ve found a way to significantly reduce the cost.”
According to Go Smart Solar and Morton Gestalt officials, no timetable is set for the accelerator. In the technology sector, accelerators can last anywhere from three to 18 months. Accelerators typically prepare startups to begin securing venture capital funding for their projects by providing mentors and other resources. That capital allows startups to scale their operations and mature as companies.
Anna Morton’s engineering firm Morton Gestalt aims to improve the energy efficiency of buildings.
Morton said the accelerator will help her take her project, an online platform called Talking Walls, from idea to product. She is planning to make upgrades to the prototype and use the counsel of EPIcenter’s industry mentors to engage potential users.
She first developed a version of the product as a student at Codeup, a local software development coding bootcamp, she said. From there, she entered a three-day startup competition, won second place, and was introduced to EPIcenter CEO Kimberly Britton.
The idea for her software application was born out of her practical experience as an architectural engineer.
“It really comes from working in that industry and being frustrated with putting together a detailed model and realizing it may not actually mean that much,” Morton said, adding she wants to make building models more meaningful.
Her online app aims to democratize utility data to inform better building designs, she said.
“This data is available. There’s kind of a lack of connection back to design with it. If we could just close that loop a little bit, I think it would enhance our ability to design better buildings from an energy-efficiency standpoint” but also in other ways, Morton said.
Pittman and co-founder Robert Miggins, CEO of Go Smart Solar, said that in addition to being selected among the first accelerator cohort, the startup is happy to be part of the EPIcenter community.
“We all live here in San Antonio,” Pittman said. “We want the EPIcenter to be successful. It’s a very novel idea to create this incubator, accelerator, new energy economy think tank, this maker space in an old, decommissioned power plant.”