DJC Green Building Blog

Got a green building start-up idea? Here’s help

Posted on January 15, 2013

The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:

For innovative, entrepreneurial types, green building is a perfect field. It's not business as usual, and although some folks are claiming that green building is now mainstream because many new (and more and more existing buildings) have LEED plaques on them, sustainable building is not the norm. Not even close. Do you have a big idea you'd like to operationalize to help this movement along?

Michael "Luni" Libes

Being a smart innovator doesn't necessarily mean you don't need help mapping out a business to take your idea to market. I recently chatted with Michael "Luni" Libes, author of "The Next Step: Guiding You From Idea to Startup." Luni calls himself a "serial" entrepreneur with six start-ups himself, primarily focused on hyper-intelligent data gathering and mobility products and services — he founded GroundTruth, Inc., Medio Systems and 2WAY, for example.

After years of being asked how he "did" it, he decided to write a book about it. The book takes two "socially" responsible product ideas through their traces, from ideation to business launch and beyond: Bird Watch, a set of tiny radio tags to measure wildlife behavior, and Concrete Battery, an energy storage technology using low-tech flywheels. The book isn't philosophical, it assumes you have an idea that is socially conscious and you wish to bring it to market. As a social entrepreneur myself, it's a delight to see the process so clearly laid out.

The book was just the first step for Luni, as he is now an instructor in social entrepreneurship at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, and the Entrepreneur in Residence Emeritus at UW's Center for Commercialization. His current "start-up" is aptly named Fledge, which he says is a "conscious company" incubator aimed at helping create companies "fill the unmet needs of conscious consumers." He also organizes social entrepreneurship weekends — he held two in 2012. These are fast-paced idea competition events. They are similar to the "slams" held at recent Living Future Conferences but longer and more intense and definitely more serious about testing ideas generated against the kind of real-world criteria that real-world start-ups have to face.

With the passage of state HB 2239 last year, it became legal to incorporate a for-profit that prioritizes its social or environmental mission over the conventional priority of shareholder profit. In a sense, it expanded the definition of "shareholders" to include all stakeholders (humans and otherwise), not just those who own a piece of the company. This legal basis, and the savvy to take a truly "good" idea to market provided by organizations like Fledge could make a difference for those of us in the green building field. We have long understood that green building can be good business, but some of us would appreciate help turning that philosophy into long term financial sustainability. (If I knew then, what I knew now...)

Kathleen O'Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was "cool." She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O'Brien & Co., the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her own conscious start-up: The Emerge Leadership Project.

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