Tuesday, June 30, 2009

NREL Technology Transfer & Commercialization - MBA Summer Project #4

At the start of June I started another summer internship program with the National Renewable Energy Lab's (NREL) Technology Transfer & Commercialization group. Based in Golden, CO, NREL is the nation's oldest and leading research and develop institution focus on renewable energy and market transformation.

Having spent a summer working for the US EPA during my undergrad, I was somewhat reluctant to even consider working within the burearocracy that is the government, but after a series of conversations with the team leaders, it became clear to me that NREL is currently undergoing (or at least striving to) a serious internal transformation to focus on investing in research that has immediate and near term market implications. While the federal stimulus package has created a tremendous pool of money to draw from, it has also (for the first time, certainly in the last 10 years) created a competitive environment within the existing national lab environment where funds are up for grabs. NREL now has to a) prove its creating value and b) having an impact within the market in the way it uses its funds and delivers upon its DOE tasks.

That's where I come in (and a team of nearly a dozen MBA students from CU, Stanford, Harvard and MIT) who are working with the TTO & C to:
  • understand NREL's research and development capabilities and identify its key differentiators;
  • forecast market trends and energy research needs;
  • align future NREL investment in renewable energy sectors with capital markets (and other barriers to adoption/implementation);
  • capture past and existing success stories (where NREL has either developed IP, licensed it, accelerated the development of a cleantech company and/or led a public-private partnership which results in technology commercialization and impact).
All this work will also feed into NREL's 5-year strategic plan as well as contribute to the annual Industry Growth Forum, which brings together clean technology entrepreneurs and startups, venture capitalists', angels and other investors. This year’s Forum will highlight the investment and financing strategies that are driving the commercialization of quality renewable energy technologies as well as feature 35 clean energy companies presenting their business plans and growth strategies up for evaluation and critiqe by an expert panel.

techstars.tv take 5, mentors in action

Saturday, June 27, 2009

111 miles in Crested Butte

For the 28th birthday, I convinced Kendra (to skip a bachelorette party in Seattle) and 2 other couples + 1 to join me in Crested Butte for a weekend of mountain chilling and epic singletrack riding. Leading up to the weekend, I'd been moving away from time on the road to the trail, in the hopes of increasing my technical skills and muscle memory on descents and reducing back pain on the long climbs that CB is known for.

We caravan'ed with Wilder & Pam on Friday afternoon, in super clear blue skies and perfect temps, with Cottonwood pass as gorgeous as promised. The rented house in town 1 block off of Elk was perfect and we made it to town in time for me to sneak out a quick 10 mile cruise on the lower loop trails right from the house. Saturday morning I was treated a double espresso from Camp 4 and a dense burrito en route to Mt. CB for the start of what I hoped to be my last race ub Cat 2/ Sport (pending a podium). At line up I saw a few familiar faces and within the first 2 miles of uphill climbing I'd managed to get a 30 second gap on the pack, along with another rider. I stuck to his wheel for the rest of the climb and then was able to push over the top to take the lead. A viciously bumpy, rutted and rocky descent gave way to lap 2, with 2nd place catching my wheel. We pacelined to the final climb, exchanged some light conversation and agreed it'd come down to the final climb and descent. Unfortunately for me, I couldn't counter his attack and I held on for 2nd, putting close to 4 minutes on 3rd place. I wanted the win, but was happy with the peformance.

Wilder, Pam, Kendra and Isaac were cheering me on and it was great to see them at the finish. We packed up and then picked up their rentals at the Alpineer for the treo's first attempt at mountain biking. Everyone survived and most importantly, I'm still in a meaningful and loving relationship. As the afternoon turned to T-storms, Wilder and I busted out for an out and back on Snodgrass (amazing!) ending it with a great session and views of CB. 4 pies at Secret Stash ended the perfect day.

On solstice the group did a solid climb up Washington Gulch with Kendra and I getting up to around 11,400 feet (she's an animal on the climbs but hates the descents). I picked up Wilder and Isaac on the way down (averaging 20mph for 3 miles with the dog) and we hit Snod again cus its that good. After an epic lunch at the taco place on Elk and a quick call to M&D, I suited up and did a fantastic and challenging 24 miles from the house on the upper loop around Mt. CB out to Brush Creek and looped Canal, Strand Bonus and Strand. The climb back up to the upper loop was insane but once up there provided some seriously sweet and technical riding. I ate a lot of food that night.

After walking a sore Iman and a lazy twitter and email filled morning, we packed up for a big Doctors Park loop with an 11 mile add on up Rosebud to Cement and down Deadmans. A 5 hour 34 mile solo day in total. The final climb up the gulch was painful and included some hiking but it was completely worth it for the last descent on Doctor's, it has got to be one of the best I've ever ridden.

All in all, I rode 111 miles in CB (and if you count a 24 mile Betasso loop thats 135 miles and 5 days of back to back riding), mostly at or above 9,000 feet. The singletrack was insane, buttery, and magical. Truely big mountain alpine classic Colorado. Not a bad way to officially get older. Needless to say I took Tuesday off and followed Wednesday with a massage (thanks mom & dad)!

My attempt at a cheesy video compilation follows, damn I really could use a helmet cam.

Crested Butte medley from josh whitney on Vimeo.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Tips on writing your business plan

The Wall Street Journal just posted a great article on the top 5 reasons why business plan often fail. Rather than read the whole thing, I've distilled the lines down to a few bite-size chunks in the hopes that interested folks will spend a few minutes reading this:

A good business plan starts with a clearly defined problem—something that’s really troubling or compelling—supported by evidence from marketing research, testimonials, letters of intent, or whatever, that the pain is real.

Next, identify exactly which customer group has that pain, even if the initial target market is a small one. Investors know that, if a sustainable beachhead can be established in an initial target market, success in a niche market can serve as a platform for taking the solution to other market segments as the business grows.

Collect primary and secondary data to support your targeted market and customer wants your product or service. Talking to customers (primary) is work, but brings all kinds of benefits and insights, not only to the business plan, but also to the business itself. Such conversations can reveal what customers really want—and help tailor the offering to meet those needs. You can probably find secondary data that support such things as the size of your market and trends that suggest your market will or won’t grow. All such evidence should be cited, with its source, to show that the data are reliable and credible, and that you are, too.

Make sure you address these fundamental questions related to your business model:
  • Does the revenue model depend on making a large number of small transactions (think Amazon.com) or a small number of large ones (automobile manufacturing)?
  • Do its profit margins depend on high gross margins to cover high product-development costs (think Microsoft), or lower margins to cover slimmer operating costs (Costco)?
  • Is a large investment in development or other fixed assets required (a manufacturing facility, for example)?
  • Is the working capital cycle favorable or unfavorable (do you expect to be paid in advance), or will you have to carry inventory and receivables that can tie up scarce cash (manufacturing and distribution businesses)?

Make sure you identify your businesses critical success factors and illustrate how the team’s expertise and experience are suited to addressing them will enable you to attract capital. Every industry has critical success factors—typically two or three—that, when addressed effectively, are likely to bring success even if less-important challenges aren’t handled well. Location, for instance, is a critical success factor in much of retailing.

The most common type of business plan, and the one that goes most quickly into the trash, is the one in which the writer can’t find anything but good things to say about the opportunity and plans to pursue it. Investors know that in the real world most opportunities, even good ones, have some weaknesses. Identify them, explain how you plan to overcome them and move on.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A mid-week ride, race reports and bike envy

Some decent video of a ride from earlier this week, with Isaac leading most of the way. If your going to drive to any trail head from Boulder that's within 40 minutes of town, the trails at West Magnolia behind the Eldora High School are by far the best. The spiderwebbed inner network leads to an unknown quantity of pristine sinuous single track with connections down to Rollinsville and up to the Eldora Ski Area trails. This ride was only 16 miles and about 2 hours, but you can easily connect 30 miles of singletrack together - if you know where to go.

The start of June has signaled the near end of my road season and the prime time of the mountain bike racing season. The Teva Games have come and gone, the Mountain States Cup are in full swing and the Winter Park Series kicked off last Sunday with their TT styled hill climb (2200 feet of climbing in 5.2 miles on cat track/fire road up to 11,164 feet).

Teva Games, as always, draws a deep deep field of national competition at all levels. With a Pro field consisting of all the big names at the national and international racing level, a handful of local Pro's downgrade to Expert for a chance to take home some real cash. With me upgrading to Expert, I knew it was going to be a tough race. 3 laps, ~4000 feet of climbing in only 16 miles = steep ascents. I knew the legs didn't have it in them half way up the first climb but I was able to hold on for almost the whole race in about 15-20th position. On the final climb, I completely bonked, threw the bike into double granny gears and suffered to a mid pack finish (about 75 racers in total). The high point was getting passed (at blazing speed) by Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, Todd Wells, and Adam Craig on that final climb - so cool to be out there with the world class pro's and feel their speed against mine.

I decreased my training rides during the week before the Winter Park Hill Climb, recognizing I was riding too hard towards the end of the week. Fortunately this paid off and amazingly I was able to casually ride to a 2nd place finish (13th overall) in the Experts. Never even had to get out of my HR comfort zone. After the race I linked up with a few RM/Izze teammates and we put on another 15 miles of fantastic riding on the WP singletrack trails.

Another thing on my mind has been (is always) the potential purchase of a new bike. A lot of research, test rides and conversations have led me to these 3 bikes - what do you think?

Specialized Marathon Epic

Trek 9.9SSL

Gary Fisher Superfly 29er

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Consequences of a life on the Sharp End

In early June, word got out that 3 climbers on Mount Edgar in China were missing. They include Johnny Copp, Micah Dash and Wade Johnson, all of whom either made Boulder their home or a stomping ground on their way back and forth to the world's highest and most challenging peaks. Micah and Johnny focused their climbing careers in the alpine style, taking a minimal set of gear, clothing and food and to make a single push ascent. Light and fast, blending ice and rock skills with extreme risk but incredible reward. Wade, an accomplished climber in his own right, focused his career on filming and documentary of the mountain life with Sender Films based here in Boulder. Since moving to Boulder I've briefly met both Micah and Johnny and everything every one says about them is true - they are phenomenal and inspiring people.

As of today, search and rescue has recovered the bodies of Johnny and Wade, and the search continues for Micah. The 3 were attempting to summit Mount Edgar in China's remote Sichuan province when they were caught in a large avalanche. It is unclear where the party was on the mountain nor what caused the avalanche. The peak is the highest mountain in Sichuan and one of the seven highest mountains open to the public in China. Only 24 people have successfully reached the summit and 22 have died on the mountain. The outpouring of love and support has been staggering, as captured at Adventure Film's blog. You can track updates to the search and learn more about the trio on their memorial page via Facebook.

Here is a clip from Sender Film's most recent movie, The Sharp End, featuring Micah and Johnny, with filmwork by Wade. Its a testament to the exceptional talent, attitude and personalities of these great guys:

Micah Dash and Johnny Copp segment of "The Sharp End" from Cedar Wright on Vimeo.

While I've taken a leave of absence from the climbing world this season to focus on the bike, I still think and dream about climbing. Not a drive goes by that I'm not looking out the window at cliff walls to see if there is crack system that could be climbed. The feeling of climbing is cerebral, intense and like nothing else that I've ever done. No activity comes close to the mental, phsical and spiritual concentration and connection that climbing, and particularly for me, alpine climbing affords. There is an intoxicating risk and reality of the sharp end, one that pushes the limits of gravity and one's own belief that you can hold on. The moment's during a climb are fleeting but the relief upon summit, and elation during the trek back to base camp for what has been accomplished and exposed internally are clear and only leave me wanting to explore another line, route and environment. The art and act of climbing takes you up in to the alpine, to pure and clean ecosystems and settings few see and even fewer experience. If anything this tragedy has prompted me to reflect upon my own exploits and reminds me that a) life is short, b) how much I do love the mountains and climbing and c) that no matter how experienced one is, accidents will happen. Will this deter me from pulling on a harness and asking, belay on? Abosolutely not, but it will help keep me honest and set achievable goals in the alpine.

Finally, here is brief recap of their planned expedition and tribute to three amazing lives well lived:

Tribute to Jonny, Micah and Wade (updated) from Ben Alexandra on Vimeo.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Entrepreneurial Solutions - MBA summer project #3

Entrepreneurial Solutions (ES) is a team of six selectively picked MBA's from CU who run and operate their own business consultancy (as an LLC) during the traditional summer MBA period. Our target client's are entrepreneurs and small to medium size companies seeking project-related support to help launch their businesses. As a partner with the firm for the summer, I'm taking a lead role in developing new clients and proposals for the team, building upon my 4+ years in consulting. I'm also focused on working with clients to support the development of their business plans, products and services and their financing strategies.

As an example, we recently completed a fun project for the Grand Huts Association, who is working with the Forest Service to develop a new hut system along the Continental Divide near Fraser, Winter Park and Granby. Working from a fairly basic description of their business model and organizational plan, we built a 5-year financing and revenue model to showcase the sustainability and profitibility of the business as well as a complete overhaul of their business plan. GHA has since submitted their proposal to the Forest Service and is awaiting final approval. Fingers crosssed as the system would be the closest to Boulder/ Denver and offer some more cush overnight backcountry options.

Over the course of the summer, ES and another team of students that I'm working with will be exploring how to build a broader and stronger consulting program at Leeds for MBA students. More on that to come later.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Solid Training = Desired Results

After a strong week of training (150 miles) that included a Memorial Day double loop up at Betasso, a preview of the Boulder Peak Triathlon road course (Boulder Res to Old Stage to 63rd) and a first time ride up the behemoth that is Magnolia, I was ready for a day or two of rest and esy spinnig before the Scott Kornfield Coal Miner Classic Criterium in Lousiville.

Having been outsprinted in the last two Crit's I was super focused on conserving energy throughout the 45 minutes and positioning well in the final turn. Of course, things never go quite as planned and after the 3rd bell rang signaling a prime lap, upon hitting the final turn I found myself in 4th wheel and with a perfect lead out for a sprint lap prize. I jumped early and no one chased (a new pump now sits in the garage). 10 minutes of recovery later I was ready for the countdown to start. No breakways enabled a smooth run up to the final lap and I moved up to the front, marking the 5280 kid, yet again. Out of the final turn I slide into 5th or 6th and then waited for some one to make a move, making sure that I was a) right behind someone's wheel to maximize the draft and b) leaving enough room to the side to break out when needed. When the hammer dropped I let it all go and was able to pass all the riders but one, and with 30-50 feet to spare I gave an extra push and took first place by a few bike lengths. Hit a new personal record on the HR too, 196. I managed to get one fist in the air and took a phenomenally endorphin laced victory lap. B'Oh.

Suddenly I only have 6 weeks until the Boulder Peak Tri, so my road/mountain miles will need to be reduced and balanced with time in the pool to ensure that I at least survive the 1 mile swim. I did, however, managed to get in a great ride today (45 miles with 4,000 feet of climbing including a new climb up Linden Rd) and enjoyed the blue sky and sun for the first time in what feels like weeks here in Boulder. Up next is the Teva Mountain Games XC race in Vail and the Denver City Park Criterium. Hopefully nearly a month off the mountain bike (at least in terms of racing) will result in a strong finish. We'll see how the bump up to Expert/ Cat 1 goes.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

techstars.tv take 1 of the new 2009 teams

Credits to Andrew Hyde for this really superb video that introduces some of the 2009 TechStars teams and provides a great background into the program. Enjoy!