Research in eco-friendly innovations turns a profit
Clean Innovation Conference at UCLA helps business students grow their green start-ups.
"The rocket science part of it is important, but now its time to sell the thing. And thats where MBAs come in."
By Alexi Boyarsky
Originally published in The Daily Bruin
Research done at UCLA can be converted into a profit.
This was the realization that Cameron Whiteman came to when he graduated from the Anderson School of Management and co-founded his own company.
Whiteman had the idea to use wind and solar data as well as 50 years of climate simulations that have been compiled by UCLA researchers and sell it to green technology companies to better formulate business models.
Whiteman teamed up with atmospheric and oceanic sciences Professor Alex Hall and graduate student Sarah Kapnick to form Vertum Partners.
“It’s a simple idea and effectively easy to implement, but we are trying to go beyond what other companies have in place with more specific research,” said Scott Capps, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and a representative of Vertum.
Fledgling companies like Whiteman’s that are looking to grow as the interest in green technology rises were the focus of Friday’s California Clean Innovation conference, held in Covel Commons.
The conference, which is in its fourth year, is student-run and organized by students from Anderson and the UC San Diego Rady School of Management.
The conference brings together business students, entrepreneurs and investors who look at new directions the green technology field is heading into as the industry grows, said Andrew Hunt, a graduate student in management and the outreach director for the conference.
The conference opened with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who spoke to about 300 attendees on the immense strides that Los Angeles has been taking to become more green-friendly.
“We have the ignominious distinction of being one of the dirtiest cities in the nation, but we are changing,” he said. “UCLA is ... uniquely poised to take advantage of this trend.”
Whiteman’s company and four others presented their business models in front of a panel of judges in competition for a $10,000 prize.
TerViva, a company that distills biodiesel from the pods of a tree originating in India, won the competition.
The opening keynote speech was given by Brian Robertson, the CEO of Amonix, a solar energy company that has raised almost $130 million for technology and research.
Amonix began as a small start-up in 1989 but quickly grew. An example of the growing interest in clean technology and its profitability, Amonix raised four times its original fundraising goal of $30 million, Robertson said.
At the conference, Robertson spoke on the changing face of solar technology and the growing need for clean technology.
Robertson, who started his own company after graduating from Harvard Business School, also spoke about the benefits and the skills necessary to work in the clean technology market.
“For business school students, strong finance skills are required to work in the field,” Robertson said.
Students are drawn to the growing clean technology field because it combines profitability and social consciousness, said David Lewry, a UCLA graduate student in management and executive director for the conference.
“During the last two years, I’ve noticed growth in this area of the industry,” Lewry said. “It’s an industry that needs fresh blood, and it needs MBAs, and it’s also an opportunity to do something that really matters.”
Now that some of the scientific research and technical design has been solidified, more companies are hiring business school graduates, as opposed to engineers and scientists, to turn a profit, said Adam Green, a graduate student in management.
“The rocket science part of it is important, but now it’s time to sell the thing,” he said. “And that’s where MBAs come in.”
Published: Monday, May 10, 2010