Professor Ken Visser decided a business might be the way to get more people to learn about wind energy and how it can work for them. So, he created a mobile wind energy application, WindApp, and started the company Energy Research Applications with the help of the Shipley Center for Innovation at Clarkson.
“Most people don’t have enough of a background about what’s involved in choosing a wind turbine, how much energy is generated, or what the power rating means,” says Visser, associate professor of mechanical & aeronautical engineering and director of Clarkson’s Center for Sustainable Energy Systems.
“Today, if you wanted a wind turbine, most folks would probably just look on the internet and hope to find the information they need and can use. WindApp offers an easy, practical way for the public to determine which wind option is best for them.”
Drawing upon more than 10 years of expertise in the wind energy field, Visser decided to help match users with wind energy possibilities. With the help of a student, he wrote a mobile app that figured out the user’s location, the local wind speed and how much energy could be generated when a particular turbine was selected. WindApp then computes how long it will take to take to pay back the turbine choice, based on the buyer’s local electric rates.
Although that satisfied Visser’s intellectual curiosity, he needed to become an entrepreneur for the app to become a commercial reality. Here’s where Matt Draper, executive director of Clarkson University’s Shipley Center for Innovation and director of corporate engagement, came in.
He grows businesses and entrepreneurs. The Shipley staff, Clarkson’s brainpower, and business experts on tap at the North Country Innovation Hot Spot are dedicated to guiding entrepreneurs through the complex process of commercialization.
Among the Hot Spot’s offerings are mentorship, networking with Clarkson alumni, marketing, branding, legal counsel about intellectual property rights and processing for patents, copyrights and trademarks.
Beyond the Shipley Center and Peyton Hall Incubator, Clarkson University also is home to more big guns in the world of business and manufacturing – the Center for Advanced Material Processing (CAMP), the School of Business, and the Reh Center for Entrepreneurship.
In its first two years, the Innovation Hot Spot team worked on more than 100 projects, resulting in companies that created 62 new jobs and retained 14 jobs. They also increased revenues or received funding totaling $5.3 million.
“These are all regional innovators and they exhibit the tremendous talent and human capital we have in our region,” Draper emphasizes.
“I can’t thank Matt Draper enough for the support I have received from him,” Visser says. “We wrote the initial WindApp program a couple of years ago, and Matt had asked about it.
He thought it had a good commercial potential and put us in touch with a fellow incubator company Jack of Trade Apps, founded and run by Clarkson alumni, Andrew Davis. So I got together with them to see where we could go with the app. Matt offered to help support us to put it together.”
Jack of Trade Apps builds custom mobile applications that help businesses interact and engage with their customers. They developed a mobile version of WindApp that runs on both Apple and Android phones and tablets.
They also developed a content management system for WindApp so that as new turbines and wind turbine installers come on board, the app will automatically update the data on the user’s device.
As it turned out, Visser chose an unusual business plan: Provide the app for free and charge the turbine companies and installers to be available on it. Users can create multiple profiles and the manufacturers and installers will be able to see traffic flow to their websites. “The focus of ERA is to provide personal renewable energy choices to public consumers that enable them to make economically sensible decisions,” Visser says.
Visser was recently approached by Nanos Research, one of North America’s premier research and strategy organizations, to handle the business and marketing end of WindApp, while he focuses on the technology end. Canada’s largest private broadcaster, CTV News, depends on Nanos Research as the official pollster of record and Nanos conducts Bloomberg’s weekly Canadian consumer sentiment tracking, known as the Bloomberg Nanos Canadian Confidence Index.
“The whole thing has become pretty exciting,” he says. “And now we are thinking of a SolarApp!”