This week’s Green Scene column in Crain’s Chicago Business: A new way to help Chicago restaurants go green

More local restaurant owners may consider seeking green certification after one group makes its application more Chicago-friendly.

The nonprofit Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition is inviting Chicago-area restaurants, caterers and cafeterias to participate in a pilot study just launched by Green Seal to make its sustainability certification process more relevant to the realities of running a food-service operation in Chicago, says Eloise Karlatiras, president and CEO of GCRC.

The goal is to update the requirements while continuing to maintain tough criteria for a high level of credibility, she says. Green Seal, a nonprofit based in Washington, is one of two independent third-party auditing organizations that already certifies Chicago food purveyors and is part of GCRC’s Guaranteed Green label program.

Eloise Karlatiras

GCRC has awarded 37 Guaranteed Green labels to restaurants and other eateries in the area that have already been certified by Green Seal or the Green Restaurant Association, based in Boston. The coalition, which also offers group purchasing for sustainable kitchen and dining products and other services, has been looking to boost enrollment in its Guaranteed Green program, says Ms. Karlatiras. The group wants to inspire more area restaurants to be more eco-friendly while saving money at the same time.

Eateries of all kinds typically use enormous amounts of water and energy, which can be reduced with more efficient methods. The certification programs also encourage restaurants to purchase local and organic food, which cuts down on carbon emissions if owners are buying closer to the source. Those foods also are healthier for diners, and they invest in the local economy, Ms. Karlatiras says.

The pilot was launched after GCRC asked the University of Chicago’s Environment, Agriculture and Food Working Group to examine the city’s existing food-service certification standards and to come up with suggestions for changes that could encourage more food purveyors to seek certification, she says. Researchers there found some of the criteria in the certification process wasn’t reflective of local practices and availability for Chicago-area food establishments, such as composting expectations. Also, the required documentation for some of the applications were considered too time-consuming, she adds.

So far, seven local restaurants and other food-service purveyors are participating in the pilot, but there’s room for a few more establishments to join. Participants include Sandwich Me In, Autre Monde, the school cafeteria at the Academy for Global Citizenship and the catering arm of McCormick Place. Green Seal is running the pilot through the end of the year. The organization hopes to collect data in a two-month period that will help determine how to update the criteria. Chicago food operators that want to seek out certification under the new standards once the pilot is completed should be able to sign up in early 2013, Ms. Karlatiras says.

Crain’s recently met with Ms. Karlatiras at Piece Brewery & Pizzeria in Bucktown, one of the restaurants in the pilot study, to learn more about how Chicago restaurant owners can green up their operations and why certification in particular could make good business sense.

Why doesn’t GCRC have a certification process of its own instead of relying on an outside group?

Ms. Karlatiras: One reason we rely on third-party certification is we let the experts decide what is and isn’t sustainable through their scientific process. These groups take it way beyond what our organization can do. Our purpose is to help restaurants get what they need to be sustainable. We’re not a standards-based, science-based organization. We’re here to preserve the environment by helping the food-service industry do what it can.

Why was there a need to ask one of your certification groups to revamp its process?

After our research, it was clear that they were asking Chicago restaurants to go above and beyond what current Chicago infrastructure permits them to do. That included mandatory composting and a higher recognition of gray water use. Restaurants were also asked to go through all the invoices they had to submit without any added staff to handle that job. We found a new standard needed to be more fully reflective of what’s possible in Chicago now. We need to create a robust yet accessible baseline for what Chicago restaurants really could do.

You mentioned that Green Seal is working to make its new standard more aligned with the sustainability goals of Chicago. Can you elaborate?

The city of Chicago just released its Sustainability Plan for 2015, and we want to help the city meet some of those goals. Chicago is quickly moving ahead with sustainability in other areas, like green roofs and green buildings. Restaurants have the unique ability to implement green roofs and they have an opportunity to encourage conservation and support the local economy.

Green Seal’s new standards will encourage more local and seasonal food purchasing, and that’s something (city officials) have said they would like to promote. It can also help the city reach goals of promoting healthy foods and (reducing the effects of) climate change. The food-service operations that go through this process are asked to collect real data and monitor their operations. This can be useful for collaborating with the city in providing industry specific data about water usage, waste management and energy usage.

Why is food purchasing highlighted as such an important piece of the new standard being developed?

It’s singled out because it has the greatest environmental impact above all other elements in the food-service industry. Food purchasing informs what needs to be done in terms of local food systems and development of local routes and distribution channels. It also informs farmers in the areas surrounding Chicago what restaurants want to put on people’s plates.

We’ll have certain seasonal requirements and restrictions, but it will give farmers within a 200-mile radius of the city the ability to provide restaurants what they need and how to make the transportation make sense. A more sustainable approach in the future is going to look at aggregation. We’re also hoping some of the less chef-driven restaurants will get in on this, too.

Green Seal has a spreadsheet that asks where they get their food from, and they will have to show some local purchasing. The restaurant will have to provide one or more invoices to show a sample of what they buy, then (Green Seal) will connect with the farmer to make sure the food purchasing has been consistent.

What’s the benefit for an entrepreneur or small-business owner in the local food-service industry to seek out a Guaranteed Green label with the GCRC?

There’s a great opportunity to communicate to your customers what you’re doing and the steps you’re taking to be more sustainable. The marketing is beneficial, but the overall benefit for certification is to prove that all the claims you’re making are true. We live in a society where greenwashing is so rampant. This is an opportunity for a food-service operator to say they’re going above and beyond to be green and they can prove it.

The feel-good is a big part of it, but there’s also a huge cost savings. They’ll understand what they can save in water and energy costs, even though there will be some capital investment required. There may be some big investments in new systems, but there are smaller ones, like aerators on faucets, that can save money on the water bill. If you’re consuming less resources, you’re freeing up money that can be better invested within the local economy.

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This week’s Green Scene column in Crain’s Chicago Business: Entrepreneurs can hit Chicago streets for green biz opportunities

A recently-completed green street pilot project could translate into future deals for eco-entrepreneurs offering products and services for sustainable roadways.

Chicago’s Department of Transportation (CDOT) last week unveiled the first phase of a green street project on a two-mile patch of Cermak Road and Blue Island Avenue in Pilsen. The 1.5-mile stretch already completed incorporates an array of sustainable designs that could help cities solve some environmental challenges already here and others anticipated in the future, says Gabe Klein, CDOT Commissioner. The $14 million project includes a long list of green features, including: roadway materials using recycled content; stormwater management strategies; reduced energy use that incorporates LED pedestrian light poles and wind and solar-powered lights, and new bike lanes. Creating eco-friendly community space is part of the design too.

While the team that oversaw the project intends to measure the effectiveness of these efforts over the next few years, they’re already moving forward with incorporating some features in other city projects, says Janet Attarian, Project Director for the Streetscapes and Sustainable Design Program. That’s because they already know many elements used in the green design are producing results and lowering the city’s costs, she says.

The commissioner says more street projects like the one in Pilsen are expected, and that’s good news for green entrepreneurs and small-business owners focusing on cutting-edge eco-minded products. They could get in on future RFPs the Department of Transportation posts, especially since Mr. Klein emphasizes the department is creating sub-contracted projects so that smaller, local players can participate.

Since disbanding Chicago’s Department of Environment, city officials have emphasized their intent to embed sustainable measures throughout local government projects. Getting Mr. Klein to comply was easy. He’s a longtime advocate of making city streets more hospitable to pedestrians and many modes of transportation. Before joining the Emanuel administration, he headed the Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C., where he piloted car-protected bike lanes and started one of the first bike-share programs in the country.

Crain’s met with Mr. Klein and Ms. Attarian to learn more about the latest project and what’s coming down the pike so green startups can think about how they can cash in.

Can you describe a few of the greenest features of this project and how they might be replicated elsewhere in the city?

Mr. Klein: On the materials front, we included new materials that used 23% recycled content. We’re going to try to incorporate that into lots of our projects. We have an RFP now for alternative paving methods using recycled content. It’s about being environmentally friendly and cutting your costs too.

The storm water best management practices here will divert up to 80% of the typical annual rainfall from the combined sewer system. It was zero before that. We did that by including bioswales, green gardens, permeable pavements and other storm water features into the overall design.

How aggressive are the sustainability goals here and what are some of the most important results you’re looking for?

Mr. Klein: We’re pushing the envelope with this project. I don’t know anyone who’s used photocatalytic cement in city roadways before. We’re setting a new standard for what cities are willing to try. Most cities aren’t doing much more than stormwater management in their street projects.

It’s really easy to design a cement plaza, but harder to put together something that’s permeable, better looking and not necessarily more expensive.

We’re in a situation where we need to make changes more quickly. We’re seeing the environment deteriorating more quickly and we need to save money. This project came in 21% less expensive than the projects that others quoted.

Why is data collection and measurement so important to the success of this project?

Ms. Attarian: We’ve partnered with the Chicago Water Reclamation District to collect information so we know if we really are diverting 80% of the average rainfall from the combined sewers. The CWRD has been collecting pre-construction data for two years to get a baseline for comparison. Now we’re committed to gathering two years of post-construction data focused on stormwater.

It’s also really important that we understand the maintenance of everything we’re installing. They might perform well the day we start, but we need to know how to take care of things over time. With the permeable pavers, for example, we have to figure out the maintenance protocol. We aren’t arrogant enough to say we know all about how to maintain it.

Are there plans to roll out some of these greening measures to other streets in Chicago?

Ms. Attarian: We’ve been learning as we go and we haven’t waited to implement some of these ideas. Green alleys are being implemented in other projects. We’re using better lighting technology across the city, and we’re putting permeable pavers all over Chicago.

We’re in the process of writing our sustainability guidelines and this will tell us how to bake these features into everything we do.

Crain’s: Are there specific areas within green street designs that startups should think about pursuing so they can bid on city contracts?

Mr. Klein: I love that there are LED street lights powered by wind and solar energy. That technology is changing so fast. Private companies are advancing this and people like us are challenging the private sector for better products. Eventually we’d like to get off the grid with more of our street lights. I think in 10 years we can probably be there and these pilots are the precursors.

How can entrepreneurs learn about upcoming CDOT projects?

Mr. Klein: They should keep themselves informed of what’s going on from the city’s website. We’re also out in the community talking about upcoming projects and the complete streets guidelines are coming out soon too. People who follow us are clear about what direction we’re heading, whether it’s design, professional services, construction or engineering. We have lots of projects coming up.

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This week’s Green Scene column in Crain’s Chicago Business: Delta Institute chief shines spotlight on opportunities for eco-entrepreneurs

Jean Pogge tells sustainably-oriented entrepreneurs there’s gold in the garbage if they’d only take a closer look.

After about 16 months at the helm of the non-profit Delta Institute, Ms. Pogge believes there’s great potential in creating companies that find ways to reduce waste headed for the landfill.

Ms. Pogge has been helping entrepreneurs in the sustainable and community-minded sector launch businesses in the Chicago market for two decades. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when she assumed leadership at the Delta Institute in 2011 after the non-profit’s founder, Donna Ducharme, stepped down. The Delta Institute aims to develop market opportunities that are focused on environmental sustainability and job creation.

Jean Pogge

Before taking the CEO job, Ms. Pogge spent 18 years at ShoreBank. The lending institution was widely known for working with “triple bottom line” companies, including green start-ups. Prior to ShoreBank, Ms. Pogge was president of the Woodstock Institute, a Chicago non-profit engaged in research and policy on fair lending and wealth creation.

Crain’s recently spoke with Ms. Pogge to discuss highlights of her first year at Delta Institute and to get her views on opportunities for small green businesses in the years ahead.

You were at ShoreBank for almost 20 years. What was it like for you to return to a non-profit?

Ms. Pogge: It was very exciting to join the Delta Institute. I look for triple bottom line organizations that make a difference in the world, but run a successful business as well. One of the great things about the Delta Institute is the breadth of its agenda. What drew me in was the opportunity to come to an organization that works on the bigger picture and creates these small businesses too.

We created the ReBuilding Exchange, which takes materials out of buildings slated for demolition and resells them. It’s become a growing, thriving business and it’s a model of how anyone can start a business that’s sustainable and focuses on job creation too.

Can you describe some of your organization’s efforts in the last year that had an impact on small businesses and entrepreneurs in the local green economy?

We created the Boost Awards, which are small awards given to startups to help them move from the garage to the marketplace. We gave a total of $7,000 to three companies last spring. We also gave out $3,000 in Green Opportunity, or GO Awards, this past year, to people who developed green-related APPs. These are small awards, but we want to shine a spotlight on their talent and give them a small boost so they can grow. Even if some don’t win awards, these entrepreneurs come out and hopefully make other connections while attending our events. The fabric of this city is being changed by entrepreneurs.

We’re a center of innovation and we encourage people’s creativity by bringing people together on panels and organizing many events. We’re also very well networked with lots of partners.

Are there specific sectors within the green economy you believe are good places for entrepreneurs to seek out new ventures?

We think the waste stream in particular has a lot of opportunity for entrepreneurs. Most of it is job-rich and not very technical. It makes the barrier to entry lower. If you can find that special market niche and put your own sweat energy into it, there are hundreds of opportunities in the waste stream.

For example, all these ash trees in Cook County have to be cut down because they’re infected with emerald ash borer. They’re mulching all the wood that’s being cut down. Imagine if there were small saw mills here and there that could turn that wood into lumber.

Delta Institute has paid close attention to the manufacturing sector in particular. Why have you made that a priority?

Manufacturing creates a lot of local jobs and it represents 14% of the gross domestic product in Illinois. Most of these businesses are small, family-owned firms. The economy has been rough, but making them more sustainable can help them compete globally and be successful.

Delta Institute recently released a report showing how manufacturers in the region weren’t doing all they can to achieve energy efficiencies and cost savings, even after audits showed them what to do. What’s your reaction to the main findings of that report and what can small and large manufacturers do better in this area?

We know that energy efficiency is good for the environment but it’s also good for small businesses if they implement changes suggested from an audit. Small businesses that are successful are really good at running their business, but they may not be so good at achieving energy efficiency because that’s not part of running their business. Sometimes we have to help them understand this will help them save money and run a more efficient business.

What are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities green entrepreneurs will face in the year ahead?

I think the green economy will grow even faster. The opportunities are everywhere, but the value in the waste stream is huge. Other big areas are energy efficiency, and new products and services for the green economy. We made a small loan recently (which we don’t really do) to a company that does maintenance on electric vehicles. You can’t take those cars to a regular mechanic. There are so many opportunities that go along with new green products that are coming out.

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This week’s Green Scene column in Crain’s Chicago Business: Clean-tech motor startup gears up for electric vehicle age

A Chicago clean-energy startup is betting that growth in electrified motors will extend beyond electric cars

Hybrid Electric Vehicle Technologies, a Chicago-based firm, designs unique motors and other components for electric transport and appliances. While the technology is being tailored to work with the next generation of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles, company engineers also are designing motors that are compatible with electrified bikes and other devices using fuel alternatives, says CEO Heidi Lubin.

HEVT was the runner up in the 2012 Brinks Innovation Competition last month at the annual Midwest Clean Tech 2012, which was held at McCormick Place in Chicago. Finalists presented their company ideas to a panel of early-stage investors, venture capitalists, and business development executives. The competition was sponsored by Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione, a Chicago-based intellectual property law firm. HEVT also was a finalist in the Clean Energy Trust’s Clean Energy Challenge last spring in Chicago.

HEVT got its start as a spinoff from the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Power Electronics and Motor Drives Laboratory in 2005. Its founder and chief technologist, Ali Emadi, is an expert in power electronics and hybrid and electric vehicle design. One of the most unique aspects of HEVT’s designs is the avoidance of rare earth materials in its compositions, which pose environmental concerns and potential problems on the business side as well, notes Ms. Lubin.

While the arrival of electric cars is grabbing headlines, HEVT is already making inroads in the electrified bike arena. The company recently received initial orders from two bike companies for electric motors and motor controllers and is working with manufacturers to gear up for production, Ms. Lubin says.

Thus far, HEVT has been funded by angel investors and a $300,000 grant it received as part of its work on a U.S. Department of Energy coalition to develop the power electronics for an electric vehicle application.

Crain’s spoke with Ms. Lubin from Las Vegas last week, where she was attending Interbike 2012, the largest bike trade show in North America.

Why did the company founders choose to focus on designing motors and motor components in particular in the clean tech sector?

Heidi Lubin

Ms. Lubin: Motors are a fundamental building block for all sorts of technologies, ranging from more efficient appliances, industrial drives, and enabling high performance and cost-effective electrified transportation. And our technology enables cleaner, greener motors to be made without rare earth materials.

Why is it a big deal that rare earth materials aren’t necessary for your company’s designs?

Rare earth materials actually aren’t that rare. They’re a class of materials pretty low on the periodic table. The issue with them is that they’re co-present with a mineral called Thorium, which is radioactive. At one point Thorium was considered to be used in nuclear power plants in lieu of uranium, and still could be at some point. So when you mine and refine these rare earth materials, there’s radioactive waste, which causes water, land and air pollution and leads to political discord.

Okay, so designing clean energy motors without the environmental impact makes sense if you want to be a green company. Are there business reasons to stay away from these materials as well?

Yes, the refining capacity is what’s rare here too. China continues to mine this and there are some who believe that China will be a net importer of rare earth in the next few years. There’s a concern that the supply and demand cycle over the next 3-10 years looks extremely volatile. When you start talking about industries where the entire supply chain depends on just-in-time manufacturing, volatility is an enormous concern, even more so than cost. For a supplier, there are massive relationship consequences for a default like that.

Our motor technology gets us clear away from all those problems. It requires less raw materials, just copper and steel, and it’s a simpler manufacturing process so we can recoup value throughout the value chain in many ways.

Can you briefly describe HEVT’s technology that’s apparently very different from the way other motors are designed?

Switched reluctance motors, the type of motor that we use, have particular performance benefits for propulsion. Those benefits include improved continuous efficiency, better reliability, and higher starting torque. Amory Lovins (a co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute), called switched reluctance machines a demand side alternative to the challenge of rare earth materials.

Our team happens to be expert at this type of technology. We’re one of the only teams in the world with the expertise to design this type of motor and the software for the motor controller. There used to be problems with this technology, especially with noise vibration and harshness. Our team figured out how to solve that.

What happens to your company if the electric vehicle market doesn’t grow in a big way?

Electric transportation is much more than electric vehicles. Right now, the global electric motor market is in excess of $32 billion annually. And that’s just the high performance segment. All vehicles are having their accessories electrified. On average, there are 73 electric motors in a regular vehicle, so there’s a long trajectory of how we make our vehicles more efficient. We’re also talking about motors and components for appliances, including washing machines, and all sorts of pumps.

We want to be a leader in the EV (electric vehicle) market, but we’re not sitting around waiting for that market to take off.

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This week’s Green Scene column in Crain’s Chicago Business: Artisanal candymaker leaps into bricks and mortar

When you walk through the front door of Katherine Anne Confections’ new storefront in the Logan Square neighborhood, it’s immediately obvious why the young entrepreneur took that big step to open a shop of her own.

The aroma of fresh-made chocolate truffles and exotic caramels and marshmallows hits you like a wall of sweetness and compels you to take some home.

Katherine Anne Duncan
Photo by: Judith Nemes

Katherine Anne Duncan, 28, launched her small-batch, locally sourced line of confections six years ago in Chicago and has been gradually building her business through sales at other small retail outlets around the city, as well as Whole Foods Market. About half of her revenue comes from direct sales to consumers through her website, food shows, and farmers markets in the summertime.

Sales have grown steadily. In 2009, revenue rose 50 percent from the year before, says Ms. Duncan, but she wouldn’t provide specifics. Since then, sales have increased between 30 and 40 percent each year. She expects the new store opening will propel direct-to-consumer sales to double this year from the year before.

Ms. Duncan, who grew up on a sustainable farm in Wisconsin, has been making caramels and other confections since she was about 8 years old. Back then, she set up a pretend shop in her home and sold them to her siblings.

She never attended pastry school. Instead, Ms. Duncan learned her craft making caramels and chocolates alongside her mom, as well as through trial and error. She read some chemistry books too. An entrepreneur long in the making, she began selling her creations for real at her dad’s workplace when she was 15.

Before leasing her current spot on Armitage Avenue in Logan Square, Ms. Duncan was producing small batches of traditional and offbeat flavors of her confections at area professional kitchens where she rented space by the hour. Some of her favorite local sources for sustainably produced ingredients come from Seedling Orchard in South Haven, Mich., May’s Honey Farm in Marengo, and dairy products from Kilgus Farmstead in Fairbury, Ill. This week’s selection of goodies includes hand-dipped truffles made with peanut butter and apples, goat cheese and walnuts, and espresso beans. Fluffy pillows of marshmallows include some blended with Earl Grey tea, lemon ginger and salted caramel.

The doors open officially on Saturday, but Crain’s got a sneak preview — and a tasting of truffles and hot chocolate — with Ms. Duncan earlier this week. She shared some of her startup challenges along the way, as well as what may come next.

Crain’s: Your chocolate isn’t locally sourced, but much of your other ingredients are. Why is sourcing close to home so important to you?

Ms. Duncan: There isn’t any local chocolate, so the one I use comes from Guittard Chocolate in San Francisco. Aside from that, the first reason I use local is for the taste. I use fresh fruit because it tastes 20 times better than frozen pureed fruit. If I can get peaches so juicy that tomorrow or the next they’re going to be bad, that flavor is going to be awesome today when I use it.

The second reason is because I like to know what I’m eating. I like to know my farmer, and say, “Pete, have you sprayed any fruit this year?” He’ll tell me what has been sprayed minimally and what hasn’t been sprayed at all and I can make my choices from there.

Isn’t it more expensive to get sustainably grown and natural or organic ingredients for your treats?

Of course it’s more expensive. But you’re not eating truffles every day, so it’s easy for me to justify than someone who might be trying to make an entire meal out of organic foods. This is a luxury, so if you’re going to eat these kinds of calories, it should be worth it.

We get pushback on the price all the time. A truffle costs $2.50. But I can’t get excited about a product that I know is not the best. We talked about using cheaper cream, but Kilgus’ cream is just gorgeous. I pay twice what everyone else pays for sugar because I’m buying organic sugar that’s less refined, but it has some of the molasses still in it and it tastes better. If we used pureed fruits from Sysco, we’d lose half our customers.

Who do you consider your competition and is the local, artisanal market getting more crowded?

Companies like Vosges (Haut-Chocolat) are on a different level and I don’t see them as direct competitors because they’re so huge. In the last five years, because of the economy, more people are going back to school and learning how to do this. There are about 20 small, local truffle makers. I see some of these artisans using fruit extracts made from corn syrup and they’re charging prices for truffles that are the same as my cost. I know they’re not using the best ingredients that I’m using.

What was the catalyst that led you to open your own shop?

It goes back to that 8-year-old girl trying to sell sweet things to her family. But seriously, a lot of consumers go to the bigger names because they’re more well-known. It’s essential from a branding standpoint. I don’t think people take you seriously unless you have a storefront. It makes people think you’re established.

Also, we sell chocolate and you have to be able to see it and eat it. It might look good on a website, but you have to think about whether you’d spend $19 for seven truffles. That’s a hard leap to make. You really need to be in a storefront so people can come in and try a truffle and come back the next week and buy 10 boxes because they’re going out of town.

Besides, we were already here in this space for our production, with my desk and a couch upfront for our bridal tastings. But the wall wasn’t beautiful and we didn’t have chandeliers. We’ve been building our brand for six years, so we’re really excited to open this store.

Speaking of design, you worked with 2 Point Perspective, an eco-friendly architecture and design firm, on the look and feel of your new space. Can you describe some of the green features and why it was important to focus on sustainability there too?

Growing up on a farm, you know you can’t just throw everything in the trash when you’re done with it. You should find a way to reuse it. It hurts me to see new lumber cut down when there’s so much great stuff already out there.

All the wood in our space is reclaimed. My husband and I made the tabletops and hanging wood panels. The chandelier is made by a local artist who uses recycled chandelier crystals. We have ice cream chairs from the 1950s and a vintage couch too.

What do you see as one of your biggest challenges going forward?

We’re so specialized I worry about how I can succeed. But I’ve always been a big believer in “do one thing and do it really, really well.” We work on products a long time before we launch them. Is it going to be enough? We’ll see.

Where do you see your company five years from now?

I’m basing my five-year plan off of what happens in the next little bit. I’d love to open a dessert lounge and be open till midnight so people can go somewhere for dessert. Not everyone wants to go to bars.

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This week’s Green Scene column in Crain’s Chicago Business: Seeing promise in water purification

A local entrepreneur focusing on quick and cheap ways to purify drinking water is getting a double boost this fall.

PortAPure Inc., launched in late 2010 by George Page, was selected by Impact Engine as one of the first eight startups that will benefit from mentoring and introductions to investors. Impact Engine is a new Chicago-based accelerator program that specializes in working with early stage companies that tackle societal and environmental problems through business-oriented solutions.

Meanwhile, PortAPure this month was named one of 10 finalists in the City of Chicago Treasurer’s Office Business Plan Competition. More than 200 startups and researchers in area labs submitted applications to the contest. Chicago Treasurer Stephanie Neely will award the final three winners a total of $10,000 at the Small Business and Entrepreneur Expo on October 5 at UIC Forum.

George Page

The first product Mr. Page developed is a point-of-use filter and purification device that allows individuals to get water from a lake, river or stream and purify it and filter it so the liquid can be consumed safely. One tablet purifies a liter of water. The pocket device comes with a mixer to help stir the tablet and filter out the additional sediment from the water. It’s intended to be portable, easy to use and highly affordable, he explains.

Mr. Page’s “aha” moment that inspired his water purification startup occurred when he was watching TV after the Haiti earthquake hit in 2010.

He saw actress Ashley Judd in Haiti demonstrating how survivors were boiling contaminated water in a pot with purification tablets, then filtering it through a t-shirt into another pot to strain out additional impurities to make it safe for drinking.

Mr. Page, a chemical engineer, had spent close to a decade working for the City of Chicago’s Department of Water Management as a control engineer managing the city’s water purification process. Mr. Page decided to use his expertise to invent a quick, inexpensive way for people in dire straits to transform dirty water into a drinkable life source. It took close to a year to design the initial product, begin manufacturing and sign up non-governmental organizations providing relief in Haiti to place orders for the kits, he says.

So far, more than half of PortAPure’s sales are from NGOs responding to disaster situations, including the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami that devastated parts of Japan last year. However, NGOs also are purchasing the filtration kits to supply them to communities without clean drinking water on a daily basis. There are at least one billion people on the planet who are living without regular access to potable water, according to the World Health Organization.

Mr. Page won’t provide revenues, but says the company this year already has surpassed first-year sales. The average order last year was about $1,000 per NGO. This year, the average order is $10,000 to $15,000, he says.

Crain’s met with Mr. Page, 38, this week to learn more about his company and how the incubator program and competition will help PortAPure grow.

Crain’s: You started the company by sending your water filter kits to NGOs in Haiti. Where else are you selling them and who are your customers?

Mr. Page: We’ve done business with a couple dozen NGOs. They’re our customers right now and they deliver our product to people who need clean drinking water. We’ve gone into Thailand to answer flooding problems late last year, and we’ve sold our products in Kenya, Somalia, Uganda and elsewhere.

Your company will get lots of exposure as part of the first group participating in Impact Engine’s 12-week incubation program. What will you do there specifically?

We’ll be right next to Excelerate Labs in the Merchandise Mart so it will be really exciting just to be there for 12 weeks. We’ll be paired with mentors who will help us develop our business and refine our pitch so we’re ready when we present our company to a round of venture capitalists for financing at the end. We hope to use those private funds to launch our new product.

Tell us about your latest product.

Our new product — called PureBottle — is a nanotechnology filter that allows someone to put water in a specialized bottle that filters water inside with the force of someone squeezing it. All the bacteria and viruses are filtered out with one squeeze. We’ve done lab analysis to show its effectiveness.

If you win, what will you do with the prize money from the City of Chicago’s Treasurer’s Office contest?

We’d use it to manufacture our new product. Some parts will be made in illinois and other parts in Wisconsin. We’ve got the commitment from an NGO in Tanzania, we just need the funding to get the manufacturing going. We also received $20,000 from Impact Engine as part of the award for being selected in the first cohort and we’ll use that for manufacturing as well.

What’s one of the biggest challenges, aside from financing, that you’re facing right now?

We don’t have to sell the NGO on the need for our product because it’s inherent to them. They’re receptive to look for these kinds of solutions, but we have to convince them our product is effective. The early stage challenge has been to get the decision-makers at the NGOs to do a pilot study and see how good we are. We’re hoping Impact Engine and some of its investors that are connected will help us by making important introductions.

What kind of growth are you expecting over the next five years?

We’re hoping to be in 75 countries in five years with direct sales to consumers. We’d like to get our technology through direct sales and licensing so our products are available to anyone who wants to buy them, not just NGOs. We’d like to see ourselves with partnerships and relationships where we can have social and environmental impact across the globe.

Water conservation is viewed as one of the next big climate change issues. In some parts of the world, it’s already a problem. How can your company help address that concern?

We’re working on creative applications for our products. Even though there’s reduced concentration of clean water in some areas, there may be salt water that’s available, or re-use water. With our filtering products, we might be able to take sea water or rain water and purify it. It’s very difficult to create water but we can think of ways to make water drinkable that would be undrinkable in normal situations. We know we can make slight modifications to what we already have and we’re researching new technology right now too. This is a growth opportunity for us as water becomes more scarce, but we can make a huge social impact here too.

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This week’s Green Scene column in Crain’s Chicago Business: Entrepreneur turns regional heirloom recipes into local, organic food products

Lee Greene is betting consumers seeking locally-sourced foods that are reminiscent of a sense of place — or terroir — will latch onto her line of condiments and other items that hearken back to some of the original immigrants that settled in the Midwest.

Her three-year-old company, The Scrumptious Pantry, has seen sales increase fourfold in 2011. She won’t disclose dollar amounts, but she says revenue is up 50 percent so far this year compared to last year.

Moving forward, it’s going to be tough to stand out on the increasingly crowded shelves of local — and pricey — artisanal food products. But Ms. Greene is hoping her game plan is different enough to draw attention.

Lee Greene

She went back in time about 200 years to track down heirloom regional recipes for pickles, ketchups and dipping sauces that could be updated to appeal to contemporary palates. Ms. Greene uses ingredients that grow in abundance in the Midwest — such as cranberries from Wisconsin — and put photos of the farmers growing the mostly organic ingredients on the packaging to show there are real people involved in the small-batch formulas being created. Then she adopted flavor profiles that echo different ethnic backgrounds of immigrants who settled in the Midwest over the last couple centuries.

For example, one of her three ketchups is made from cranberry and juniper berries and has rosemary and red beet juice mixed in. Those flavors tap into the Slavic and Russian heritage of immigrants in this region, she says.

Ms. Greene, a native of Germany, learned about sustainable farming when she worked as a hands-on manager of a biodynamic vineyard in Italy after completing a business degree there. She ended up in Illinois a few years ago when she came to visit her father, who lives downstate. Ms. Greene, 37, hardly expected to stay, and now she’s committed to sticking around to make her startup a success.

Scrumptious Pantry products are now being sold in 10 states and in more than two dozen locations throughout the Chicago area. Future plans include a line of East Coast heirloom products and projections for revenues to be in the multi-millions by 2015.

Crain’s met with Ms. Greene to talk about the challenges of getting a small-scale production company off the ground and finding financing and markets to keep it growing.

Crain’s: Going to business school in Italy and working in a vineyard doesn’t seem like a natural path to creating heirloom ketchups and pickles in the Midwest. How did those connections happen?

Ms. Greene: I wanted to learn how quality, sustainable food was made and what the challenges were for small farmers. I had enough of the consulting world and power point presentations.

When I came to the U.S. I first started importing high-end food from Italy, but then I got interested in the local food. I found there was an interest in regional food, but not many people were making products with regional flavors and immigrant heritage attached to it.

Crain’s: You talk about terroir — a term used widely in vineyards that refers to a uniqueness of the land and the grape that grows there — and how that should be extended to food. How are you incorporating that idea into your products?

Ms. Greene: Instead of terroir, I refer to what I’m doing with regional food as an heirloom process. Heirloom has three components: one is the quality of the ingredients, grown by a farmer who knows his land. Second: it’s about how you prepare the food. You can kill it if you use industrial ingredients for large-scale production, so we are making small batches with high quality production. The third element is choosing recipes that are connected with the region and use ingredients that are local. The idea of terroir or heirloom would take a red beet that has a certain flavor in this part of the country and use it in a recipe that brings out a characteristic of the region.

Crain’s: How many local farmers are you working with and are they involved in making the recipes?

Ms. Greene: I’m working with 12 farmers in Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio. I read a lot of historic recipe books for inspiration from the 1750’s to the 1850’s. I was hoping to find great farmers that have great old recipes, just like I found in Italy. But not many farmers were making old recipes. A lot of them used their own tomatoes for really good salsas, but there was nothing heirloom about that. So instead we took some of those old recipes from the books and updated them to match the integrity of the ingredients we were working with and created products that work with how people eat today.

Crain’s: What are the biggest challenges to reach store shelves?

Ms. Greene: The biggest problem I have in the Midwest is the same for others that are trying to scale. Once you ramp up, you need to find a partner and there aren’t many small and mid-size co-packers (who do the bottling and packaging). If you’re in the middle and you need to make 2,000 bottles of ketchup a month, it’s just not here. Food manufacturing is so specific and many co-packers are so specialized they make one product in large scale so we can’t get on that production line.

Then try to find someone who accepts fresh produce.

I finally found a great little Amish processor downstate that’s making and packaging our products. But it’s a six-hour drive to run a production down there. This guy is fairly automated, but it’s very expensive. Add that to the cost of my mostly organic ingredients, which is about double the cost of non-organic. My margins end up much lower because I still need to line price with other premium products.

Crain’s: How did you get financing to get your company off the ground?

Ms. Greene: I eat a lot of rice and beans. Seriously. Bootstrapping. Doing some consulting work on the side to get some cash to pay for my personal bills. After the positive reactions to our products last year, I took a convertible loan this year to invest more in marketing and ramp up production. But looking for financing is one of the other core activities of mine.

Crain’s: Do you think there’s enough consumer demand for food products that tout locally-sourced and organic ingredients so that small businesses like yours can succeed?

Ms. Greene: I’m convinced that there is enough demand for products that are small-batch, sustainable and sport love and attention to create a sustainable niche to support businesses like The Scrumptious Pantry. We have to do a lot of tastings and we’re getting tremendous feedback from the shows we’re at.

It remains to be seen though, if consumers will embrace the concept for these kind of foods to become major game changers and structurally change the grocery market. I would love for that to happen but I’m not yet convinced it will happen in a timely fashion.

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This week’s Green Scene column in Crain’s Chicago Business: ‘Father of carbon trading’ predicts growth in clean-tech startups

Richard L. Sandor was ahead of the curve in identifying the next big trend in finance, so many entrepreneurs are taking note of his enthusiasm for growth in green technology startups, particularly in the Midwest.

Mr. Sandor, 70, is widely known for his trailblazing work in the 1970s, when he developed the first interest rate futures contract and also served as chief economist and vice president of the Chicago Board of Trade. More recently, he’s attempted to combine climate change concerns with financial forces.

Time Magazine called him the “father of carbon trading” after he designed and launched the Chicago Climate Exchange in 2003, the first financial exchange intended to encourage the reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG). Companies that joined the exchange traded GHG emission allowances and agreed to trim their emissions by 6 percent by 2010. The exchange stopped operating in 2010, but Mr. Sandor, as chairman and CEO of Environmental Financial Products LLC, is plowing ahead with developing new financial markets that focus on environmental issues.

In one current project, Mr. Sandor and his colleagues have been working on a water quantity exchange that’s aimed at encouraging participants to pay attention to water conservation.

Mr. Sandor, the author of “Good Derivatives: A Story of Financial and Environmental Innovation,” was also one of the founding board members of the Clean Energy Trust, a Chicago-based group that provides mentoring and other advisory services to entrepreneurs and start-ups in the renewable energy sector.

Crain’s met with Mr. Sandor recently to learn more about why he’s betting the Midwest — and Chicago in particular — will grow to become the next Silicon Valley of clean technology and other green businesses.

Crain’s: You’re engaged in so many financial activities and busy lecturing at the University of Chicago’s law school. Why did you decide to be part of the founding board of the Clean Energy Trust in 2010?

Richard Sandor

Mr. Sandor: I firmly believe the green sector will mimic the high-tech sector and the job creation that came with it. That road to sustainability will be led by entrepreneurs. All of the founding members of the Clean Energy Trust, including Nick Pritzker and Michael Polsky, thought: let’s provide a transparent book of technical assistance to financing, state and federal regulations and laws that would guide entrepreneurs and make it easy for them to start businesses here in the middle of the country.

We thought there was a latent demand for us to help young people get started. We want to be mentors. I’ve been a teacher for nearly 50 years so it fits with what I like to do. But the numbers are just amazing. We thought we’d attract 5-10 startups in the beginning at the Clean Energy Trust. Now we’ve got about 80 applicants. We were all very surprised at the number of entrepreneurs out there in this space. We’re in a very amazing culture here.

What’s your view of financing opportunities for entrepreneurs trying to launch or grow start-ups in the clean tech sector in the Midwest?

We’re not in the funding business at the Clean Energy Trust, but we found money (for entrepreneurs) in grants and state and federal sources early on. We haven’t even tapped into the great pools of capital yet. I perceive where there will be lots of equity investors between the coasts. If we build more companies like NuMat Technologies, I think the flow of capital will be enormous.

Right now there’s lots of startup and venture capital funding available. Eventually mid-level and full-level capital will come here. I predict that in the next 10 to 20 years Chicago will be a green tech capital for the U.S. We’re years ahead of where we thought we’d be at this time.

Are there any specific sectors in the local green economy that you view as having the broadest opportunity for entrepreneurs now and in the near future?

We’re seeing a lot of interest in batteries, with work being done at Argonne National Lab and elsewhere. Also, anything that fits the manufacturing sector and green tech innovations could be very successful here because the Midwest has a strong manufacturing base. If you look at Colorado, Minnesota and down to Louisiana — there’s a lot of mainstream manufacturing with a multi-trillion dollar economy and Chicago is in their geographical crossroad. The role is vast here for entrepreneurs to be a facilitator to sustainable manufacturing and sustainable transport.

We haven’t even begun to talk about agribusiness, sustainable farming and biofuels in the Midwest. There are people here who will create transformational businesses. If you believe there’s inventive activity that will come about in large scale, you can be sure it will be started by entrepreneurs.

What do you see as the most exciting trend right now regarding financing or other funding sources for startups in the green sector?

I see a lot of people who used to be traders who are now entrepreneurs in the green tech sector. The word is spreading about investment opportunities for people who could be the financing suppliers to many new green companies. I see an interesting arc of professional traders who were liquidity providers and will use their own equity to help start green businesses. They’ll also use their own human capital because they have a lot of knowledge of how to invest.

These traders tend to be very entrepreneurial and open-minded, especially as their markets change. The younger ones who are successful made the transition from the trading floor to electronic trading, and they will also make a transition to other new markets. The vitality in the Chicago trading community is going to translate into a sustainability movement.

If you were launching a startup today in the local green economy, what would that business look like?

I’d be looking in the transport sector. I’d probably look at something that bridges the post-fossil fuel era to a new era that will use natural gas. People exploring that in the transport sector will find there’s enormous opportunity. Also, anything that marries biology and transportation will be a winner, even things like algae-based fuel.

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This week’s Green Scene column in Crain’s Chicago Business: Local entrepreneurs center stage in Lollapalooza’s green push

Lollapalooza’s producers are tapping local green businesses to emphasize their message that sustainability should be part of any music festival, especially one of the biggest in the country.

Beginning Friday, the three-day live music extravaganza will feature 130 bands on eight Grant Park stages that will entertain an expected 90,000 fans each day, according to Emily Stengel, event services manager at C3 Presents, the Austin, Texas-based firm producing the event.

There’s no doubt the crowds will want to eat and shop between sets, so event organizers once again are planning “Green Street,” an area filled with vendors selling eco-friendly wares. Some Chicago-based small business participants include Koru Street, handmade jewelry and accessories from repurposed goods; Souldier, offering custom-made guitar and camera straps and other accessories from recycled materials; and Greenheart Shop, a Wicker Park store selling sustainable and fair trade goods.

Hungry concertgoers will have a choice of the mainstream “Chow Town” food stands with everything from tacos and pizza to Spanish tapas from Mercat a la Planxa. Anyone looking for a more local twist to their munchies can seek out the Farmers Market on the festival grounds where prepared food will be offered directly from local growers or restaurants sourcing local food with healthful or organic ingredients, Ms. Stengel explained. Some of the local food offerings lined up include fruit smoothies from Seedling Fruit in South Haven, Mich., wrap sandwiches from Tiny Greens Organic Farm in Urbana and fried cheese from Brunkow Cheese of Wisconsin in Darlington.

In addition, there will be booths run by nonprofits focusing on environmental initiatives and social justice issues, and one group that finds bone-marrow matches for cancer patients.

Event organizers are raising the bar on behind-the-scenes greening efforts too. Crain’s spoke with Ms. Stengel to learn the details and how participating businesses are being enlisted to help shrink the festival’s carbon footprint.

Crain’s: You emphasize on your vendor applications that you’re looking for green businesses to include in the festival. What criteria did you use?

Ms. Stengel: They have to list their greening efforts in their business model. For example, they need to tell us the origin of the materials in their products, details about their supply chain and whether they recycle or up-cycle products. Of course we have to make sure the product fits the demographic of our audience and we look to assemble a variety of things that people will want to buy. We had a higher turnout of green-business applications than ever before.

Photo by Judith Nemes

Crain’s: Why emphasize local farmers in a special farmers market food area within a music festival?

Ms. Stengel: We’re committed to this idea. Chicago has so much to offer in terms of farmers markets, so it’s a great way to support small local businesses there. In the application, prospective vendors have to list the Chicago-area farmers markets they participate in.

We had a wonderful response last year and we’d like to see this area grow. Everyone is returning from last year, so it was obviously good for them to be here too or they wouldn’t come back.

Crain’s: A three-day festival produces a lot of garbage. What are you doing to minimize that?

Ms. Stengel: We force all the food vendors to be green by using sustainable products and following our strict guidelines for composting and recycling so less ends up in the garbage. Everything they serve has to be recyclable or compostable. Styrofoam is banned completely. We don’t allow any food vendors to offer individual condiment packages or plastic bags. They also can’t use toxic chemicals in their cleaning supplies. We encourage everyone to think locally and sustainably.

Crain’s: You set some pretty ambitious goals of keeping garbage out of Chicago-area landfills this year. Can you compare it to previous years?

Ms. Stengel: On show days last year we had a diversion rate of about 56 percent, which was great considering in 2010 the average was 24.8 percent. This year, I’d like to exceed 60 percent. We always want to improve and we can do that more effectively by refining our system.

Last year we had recycling containers in different colors because we couldn’t get enough from the same source. That probably created some confusion and recycling probably wasn’t as efficient as it could’ve been. That problem was solved for this year, but we’re working harder at better placement of the containers to catch most of the food waste.

Crain’s: How are you getting music fans to do their part in greening the festival?

Ms. Stengel: We have volunteers helping patrons drop waste in the appropriate composting, recycling and waste bins. The volunteers will only man the stations in the food court areas that include composting so the compost isn’t contaminated. This year, instead of expanding the whole idea of being green, we’re refining it by concentrating on the picnic areas.

Crain’s: How integral is the greening aspect of the festival to the overall planning of Lollapalooza and how has it changed from last year?

Ms. Stengel: We’re ramped up in so many ways this year. All our generators are run on biofuel, which is an important element of planning. This year our greening efforts are more cohesive with our sustainability guidelines. It’s one sheet that’s sent to our back stage catering and VIP managers to give to all their partners and vendors so consistent hard guidelines are followed throughout the festival. We want to improve our back-of-the-house operations. Another goal this year is to drive more attention to Green Street and other nonprofit initiatives in our Love Hope Strength area.

We’re also trying something new this year with a Michigan-based group called Compass Green. They have a box truck they converted into a green house and they travel across the country with this truck teaching urban gardening workshops to low-income students in urban areas. They’ll be providing urban gardening workshops that run about 15-30 minutes. We’ll see if we can capture an audience at a rock show for urban gardening. I can’t wait to see how that goes.

Crain’s: What’s on your green wish list for next year’s Lollapalooza in Chicago?

Ms. Stengel: I’d still love to find local green-energy resources to promote, but that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it’s just about getting the word out and having people approach us. We have done some research and the response has been minimal. I haven’t found the local renewable energy businesses that should be out there or maybe they haven’t found us. It’s certainly a goal to get more of that next year. it takes a lot of advance work.

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This week’s Green Scene column in Crain’s Chicago Business: Fluorescent bulb recycler gets a jolt from Goldman

EverLights has been a successful fluorescent fixture recycling company, but owner Kelly Gallagher hopes to take it to the next level with the skills she picked up this year in an intensive business training program sponsored by Goldman Sachs.

Kelly Gallagher

With no formal business experience, Ms. Gallagher, her brother Ken and mom Patt in 1995 launched a company that collects and recycles fluorescent lightbulbs for businesses that didn’t want them to end up in landfills. Ms. Gallagher, then 21, aimed to create a company that would safely recycling fluorescent lamps and other lightbulbs because the toxic mercury content in those bulbs never decomposes in landfills. The trio’s corporate customers were in other states, since lightbulb recycling laws weren’t on the books in Illinois at the time. They joined others to work on changing legislation and new recycling laws were enacted in Illinois in 1997.

The Chicago-based company grew modestly but steadily over the years, increasing sales by about 10% each year, says Ms. Gallagher, who now runs the company solo. This year, EverLights expects to hit $2 million in revenues, with about half from Chicago-area customers. Some of the firm’s biggest clients include Walgreens stores nationally and, closer to home, they provide services to six Chicago city colleges, the John Hancock Building, and the University of Chicago.

Last year, Ms. Gallagher applied to attend a program created by Goldman Sachs and funded by The Goldman Sachs Foundation, which promised to boost her skills as a business owner. The investment firm designed a 5-month crash course — called 10,000 Small Businesses — that’s free to small business owners who want to learn strategic skills. It was a competitive application process and Ms. Gallagher was among 37 students out of 150 applicants accepted in the Chicago area’s first class this year. She graduated in May and says she is already enjoying results from participating.

Crain’s met with Ms. Gallagher to learn how the Goldman Sachs program refined her business know-how.

Crain’s: How has your perspective about running your company changed over the years that led you to apply to the Goldman Sachs program?

Ms. Gallagher: I’ve evolved from a tree hugger and “let’s get mercury out of the landfills” to looking at this as a business. I would have had that (phrase) tattooed on my butt back then. Now I’ve changed my focus to spreadsheets, accounting and growing the business.

I have an English Lit background with no formal business training. I was overwhelmed with the commitment of getting an MBA. When the Goldman Sachs program came along, I thought: I can do this. It’s only five months.

Crain’s: How demanding was the program?

Ms. Gallagher: When you’re accepted, you have to commit to every class and the homework assignments. Goldman Sachs is partnered with Chicago city colleges and they flew in Babson College professors to teach the program (and mentor the local instructors too since Babson has one of the best entrepreneurial business programs in the country). We had class every other Friday from 8 to 5:30 and every other Thursday night. There was lots of homework in between and we had to write a growth plan for our final assignment. Each student also had a consultant come in to our companies to work with us directly to pull apart our business.

Crain’s: What were the most valuable things you learned?

Ms. Gallagher: It gave me a business edge and a different way of looking at how successful we are, ways we can grow, and how to measure that growth. I called it a boutique MBA because it’s geared to small business owners. Every class presented a scenario and challenge that I’ve experienced at my own company. I got a training opportunity that cut out the stuff that I’ll never have to deal with as a multi-million dollar company.

Now I have more tangible goals. My company will hit $2 million in revenues this year and the goal is to hit $8 million in 3 years. This program gave me a roadmap of how to get there. It also taught me how to apply metrics toward growth opportunities to see if it makes sense for us to pursue them.

Revenues for 2012 so far have grown 25% from the year before. I attribute some of that to the program because I started applying what I was learning to the business right away. For example, we recently added an auditing service for our clients.

Crain’s: Did the program teach you anything that is particularly helpful for a small company trying to succeed in the green sector?

Ms. Gallagher: Not really. They customize the program for each business since we all get one-on-one time, but the program isn’t designed for any one specific sector. But if a company is trying to change its buying process to be more green or one of the goals is to be more eco-minded, the program teaches them how to figure out what makes most sense for your business to pursue, and how to measure the results.

Crain’s: Were there other green-focused company owners in your classroom?

Ms. Gallagher: There was great diversity in the class and a couple of landscaping companies had some green aspects to their business. Other classmates included owners of a yoga studio, a motorcycle company, a doggy daycare center, and home health centers. There was an acupuncturist, owners of a few tech companies, and a baker. We had different businesses but we were all coming from the same financial footprint.

Crain’s: How were you able to fit in this 5-month, 100-hour program into your life that was already crammed full running a company with only a handful of employees and taking care of 3 children under 10 years old?

Ms. Gallagher: I needed to get everyone’s blessing because I knew it was going to be a crunch. Everyone around me supported me and that was all it took. At graduation my staff told me they were inspired by me. At home, my kids kept saying mommy was going back to college. Maybe it will inspire them later on in life too.

Crain’s: Do you have advice for other entrepreneurs applying for the next round of this program?

Ms. Gallagher: Send in your application, speak from the heart and go for it.

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