Archive for October 3rd, 2012

  • October 2, 2012, 5:29 PM

New York’s Cleanweb Hackathon Sparks Green Ideas Where Clean-Tech and IT Intersect

By Yuliya Chernova

Republicans driving electric cars? That’s one thing you might discover through your social networks, according to Bill Weihl, recently hired by Facebook to lead the company’s sustainability efforts.

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Weihl was speaking on Friday night at the New York CleanWeb Hackathon, for which he flew in from Silicon Valley. It was the second such event held in New York, and one of several around the country, that’s meant to connect developers and people with business ideas to form teams and create applications that use the Web in pursuit of environmental sustainability.

On Friday night mingling in the recently opened collaborative space for start-ups AlleyNYC were people from different walks of life, each with an interest in the area or an idea. There was a psychiatrist who wanted to create crowd-funded solar projects, and someone who works in an IT department of a consumer magazine who’s interested in developing apps that would help increase the fuel economy of cars. Over the weekend, some 200 people participated in the hackathon.

By Sunday, judges picked three winners: Green Building Banner, a Google Chrome plug-in that brings energy data to consumers; Lean Green Stormwater, an online tool, which allows facility owners to calculate stormwater charges and savings under various stormwater mitigation investments; and Parkifi, a mobile app that helps users find a New York park with a Wi-Fi hotspot.

This sub-sector, alternatively called cleanweb, clean IT, energy IT, and digital cleantech, depending on who you ask, is attracting more venture investing. The web “has the potential to change our relationship with resources,” said Nicholas Eisenberger, managing partner at venture accelerator Pure Energy Partners.

Eisenberger said that he is working on a report with Cleantech Group that will show that investments in cleanweb, businesses at the intersection of IT and energy, have been growing as a percentage of all clean-tech dollars spent by venture capitalists.

Examples of such companies are Sungevity, a solar financing company that evaluates rooftop solar potential by using satellite data and allowing consumers to get accurate quotes for their projects online. With a bit of a stretch, even Airbnb, a property-rental-by-owner service online, could be considered cleanweb, said Eisenberger, because renting available empty space is more energy efficient and sustainable than building new hotels to accommodate visitors, and apartments are more energy-efficient than hotels, he said.

For Facebook FB -1.04%, the cleanweb is already a reality via a recent collaboration with OPower, a venture-backed company. OPower’s Facebook plug-in allows users to compare energy use and compete against friends and family on energy-saving practices.

“I think a lot of people would probably be surprised by how many people in their social network, actually do things that they [may have considered] fringe,” said Weihl.

Write to Yuliya Chernova at yuliya.chernova@dowjones.com. Follow her on Twitter @ychernova

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