The impacts of investing in green tech
The nonprofit Oregon Best has rebranded and relaunched under the name VertueLab.
The company, which helps grow cleantech startups, will continue to work with early-stage Oregon companies as it prepares to expand throughout the northwest, President and Executive Director David Kenney said.
Kenney, who has served as director since the company's inception, said Oregon BEST was one of the first organizations in the nation to have made direct program-related investments in cleantech startups.
"We've developed a national reputation for doing all this work in the area of clean energy," Kenney said.
The company officially began in 2008, and in its last 10 years, Kenney said the industry for investors looking to support socially and environmentally conscious tech companies has only grown. As of 2016, roughly $5 billion in venture capital was invested in cleantech.
Since opening its doors to clean technology startups, the nonprofit has worked with over 60 startups and provided funding for 50.
"We have companies focused on energy efficiency, ones focused on clean water sources and conserving water and ones improving the use of landfills, among others," Kenney said.
One of those companies is ESS Inc., a company developing advanced battery technology that utilizes iron as a way to store energy. The All-Iron Flow Battery is highly affordable compared to its competitors. Oregon BEST helped fund $150,000 for the cleantech startup.
Kenney said it's companies like ESS Inc. and Arcimoto, a company manufacturing vehicles that emit two-thirds of the footprint a regular vehicle does, that provide investment incentives. Since launching in 2007, Oregon BEST helped fund nearly $150,000 for the clean transportation company.
In order further grow its portfolio and aid cleantech startups outside Oregon, the new name better fit the company's new goals, Kenney said. VertueLab comes from the term "vert," meaning green and virtue meaning good.
"That all adds up to 'Green Technologies for Good,' our new tagline," Kenney said. "And we're very much looking forward to this next chapter of helping bring more good to the world."
Kenney said the rebranding will help bring in a strong influx of private investors looking to make a global impact for young companies ready to bring impact to the market.
Ken Vaughn, Director of Commercialization Programs with VertueLab, said impact investments are the largest influencers of bringing early-stage companies and their environmentally aware products to the market. Impact investments, he said, provide two major outcomes: "financial return and beneficial social and environmental progress."
"They want to know their investment capital is doing something good in addition to making money," Vaughn said.
The Pacific Northwest, and more specifically the Portland area, is home to many impact investors. The demographic in this area, Vaughn said, is more socially and environmentally conscious compared to other regions in the country.
"Culturally, it's easier to operate when what you're doing in a community is welcomed with open arms," Vaughn said. "That can be hard to find elsewhere."
Among the new goals for the rebranded company are stronger access to funders, investor readiness, funding for early prototypes, grant application assistance and connections to tech industry experts.
Kenney said the team hopes to create a $5 million impact investment fund and generate $20 million or more in the region for early-stage cleantech companies to fill the gap between lab research and market profit.
"We're reaching out to national and international impact investors and philanthropies to solicit investment funds and donations, and offer an unprecedented avenue to direct investment opportunities – ones that align their dollars with their values – especially startups that have verified environmental and social impacts," Kenney said.
Joanna Brickman, director of collaborative Innovation at VertueLAb, said the nonprofit will see female and millennial investors spend more time with cleantech startups in the next several years, as investment money is handed down to the next generation.
"The future is going to require impact investors," Brickman said.
As for the future of VentureLab, Kenney said he is positive more cleantech startups from around the nation will see the impacts the nonprofit can bring to the table.
"Companies that we are supporting are fixing known problems, at a global level," Kenney said. "The amount of investment going into environmental challenges is massive. It just keeps growing."