The Future’s So Bright, My Windows Wear Shades

by Richard T. Stuebi

“You can think of it as a building with sunglasses.”

So says Rao Mulpurri, CEO of Soladigm, as reported in this item by Michael Kanellos in GreenTech Media.

Soladigm is commercializing electrochromic windows, which lighten and darken in response to an electric current, which in turn can be controlled by a building energy management system. The thought is to significantly reduce air conditioning requirements by reducing the amount of solar heat that penetrates a building through windows on hot sunny days.

As noted in the article, electrochromic windows is not a new concept in itself, highlighting Sage Electrochromics‘ work over the past 20 years. With big-time venture capital backing (led by Khosla Ventures), Soladigm claims to have cracked the code on reducing costs and improving performance of the core technology. Time, and the market, will tell.

Also telling is how much money — a $4 million grant and a $40 million (presumably below-market interest) loan — that the state of Mississippi recently threw at Soladigm to locate their manfuacturing plant in the town of Olive Branch. States are increasingly playing a pseudo-VC game, placing bets on still-new companies to lure companies for their tax base — in Soladigm’s case, 300 new jobs are claimed for the Olive Branch facility.

I really question the wisdom and prudence of these public sector handouts to lure jobs, but for sure, it’s darn near impossible to attract a company to a geographic area unless the government pulls out the wallet in a big way. When leading the Ohio Department of Development, Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher said several times at public events that company attraction has become an “arms race”. (Of note, Ohio has won Site Selection‘s Governor’s Cup for most company investment projects for four years running, so the state is maintaining a fair degree of competitiveness, notwithstanding any perceptions to the contrary.) You can’t blame the companies for taking the money that’s on offer from states. But, from a taxpayer standpoint, you gotta wonder.

Money like that is very blinding to an early-stage company like Soladigm. No wonder they’re wearing shades.

Richard T. Stuebi is a founding principal of NorTech Energy Enterprise, the advanced energy initiative at NorTech, where he is on loan from The Cleveland Foundation as its Fellow of Energy and Environmental Advancement. He is also a Managing Director in charge of cleantech investment activities at Early Stage Partners, a Cleveland-based venture capital firm.