Posted on April 29, 2019
Six new concepts to fight sea level rise and climate change will be coming to Hampton Roads after the state recently announced $1.5 million in grants to a half-dozen companies.
Nearly a year ago, the local non-profit RISE gathered dozens of entrepreneurs, experts, university professors and representatives from MIT at the Slover Library to hone their pitches to compete for cash to fund innovative ways to battle sea level rise or prepare for a changing climate.
Over the last several months, groups have taken their ideas from concept to full-on business plan. The winners of the RISE competition, announced last week, are split between local groups and firms from around the country.
RISE executive director Paul Robinson noted these aren’t research grants. The groups that won prizes have an idea and a business plan already in place. They’ll be under contract to RISE and expected to deliver specific things on a timeline in order to get that grant money.
The hope is that these become businesses that can not only market their product and make money, but scale up and expand, and in the process position the region as the hub of the business of resilience.
“They need to do pilot programs to demonstrate their product. … It’s hard to go to the bank and get that assistance,” Robinson said. “We’re helping them get to the point where they can go out and raise a few more million dollars.”
This year, six groups made the cut. Robinson said he’s surprised it was that many.
“It was a heavy lift — you have to come up with something innovative, you have to build a business around it, you have to do it in Hampton Roads,” said RISE’s chief strategy officer, Katerina Oskarsson.
The state still has roughly $3.5 million for future competitions. The next one, which will be more narrowly focused, is expected to be unveiled late this summer.
“Topic areas will be similar, but different or more use cases around specific problems to make it more likely that if we solve a problem, we will have a customer for it,” Oskarsson said.
Here are the winning groups, how much grant money they’re expecting and what they’ve got planned for Hampton Roads:
This local group is looking for different ways to retrofit existing, and especially older, houses to deal with flooding.
“In a place like Norfolk we are fully built out. We have to figure out how to adapt our existing housing stock,” Oskarsson said. She noted that you often aren’t able to put a historic home on stilts, so they need other solutions for areas like ours.
The company already has two homes set up to pilot some of their concepts and find out what works and doesn’t work, to distribute to construction industry and FEMA, who gives flood insurance breaks to folks who upgrade their houses to deal with flooding.
• Constructis Energy — up to $260,000
This firm out of South Carolina — which The Virginian-Pilot profiled in March — plans to harness the power of cars driving on busy roads. A machine meant to convert the car’s kinetic energy back into usable electrical power will be installed under roadways.
The proof-of-concept will power nearby streetlights and traffic signals, but future development could lead it to generating power for local users and powering pumps to alleviate flooding.
• GROW Oyster Reefs — up to $285,000
Based in Charlottesville, GROW Oyster reefs has developed a concrete that is attractive to oysters based on its chemical makeup and fashioned it into tiles with shapes that encourage growth to aid with oyster reef restoration. The product has already proven usable, and now she needs to develop revenue streams and production, Robinson said.
• InfraSGA — up to $310,000
An offshoot of local landscape architect SGA, this group has developed a plan to make bioswales — a kind of stormwater management tool that holds water under sidewalks or in open areas under landscaping — easier to install and maintain.
“These systems often fail because they aren’t properly maintained and they have to be customized so it makes them expensive,” Oskarsson said.
The concept from InfraSGA is like an Ikea or Lego version of a bioswale, a kit with a few pieces and instructions to simplify the instillation and upkeep.
• Resilience Landscape Partnership — up to $158,000
From a consortium of groups led by local environmental nonprofit Wetlands Watch, this effort falls on the workforce development side of the business, rather than developing a product.
Local governments are incorporating more and more green infrastructure into their development, but Oskarrson said many times they bring in contractors who know how to do that from out of the area, and then they leave.
“In this region we don’t have a workforce to properly install and maintain them. If you don’t properly maintain them, they fail, because they are natural solutions. They want to get ahead of that because they see a lot of cities making investments in this infrastructure,” Oskarsson said.
Think back to those bioswales that are so hard to install and properly maintain. This group wants to train — and retrain — workers in Hampton Roads to capitalize on the growing need to build and service such infrastructure.
• Resilient Enterprise Solutions — up to $237,000
This home-raising firm from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is an existing company that wants to use Hampton Roads as a home base to train workers. The goal is to change “coastal home-raising from a cottage industry into a franchise network” and export their methods around the nation, according to the RISE website. In particular, they want to tap into the large pool of ex-military members in the area.