Opinion: Vermont is an entrepreneur’s dream

When people think of Vermont, an entrepreneurial incubator site is not usually the first thing that comes to mind. Yet that is exactly what our state has the potential to be. 
Earlier this year, Accel-VT, a business accelerator for climate economy start-ups, worked with eight companies to help them continue on their trajectory to become successful businesses. The companies gained access to industry expertise, an incredible network of local entrepreneurs and opportunities to establish demonstration sites for their products. Through Accel-VT, we gained the knowledge that what Vermont has to offer entrepreneurs, beyond a high quality of life, is access to businesses and consumers, as well as a valuable testing ground for their products — a critical element in helping start-ups attract much needed capital. 
There are a few essential ingredients required to make a successful business. Early stage customers willing to try out an emerging product is one of those ingredients. With customers validating their products, start-ups are much more likely to gain access to the holy grail for entrepreneurs — capital — as they can provide potential investors with data on customer results and prove adoption. 
The eight companies that participated in Accel-VT’s program worked with over 40 mentors who were industry experts, successful entrepreneurs and investors. These mentors provided input, feedback and critical advice to the start-ups. Perhaps most importantly, in addition to providing their wisdom, they opened up doors and opportunities for the eight companies to try out their products. All eight participating companies had substantive meetings with various Vermont businesses that are interested in their technology and products and many are exploring product purchase agreements. 
Omega Grid is a peer-to-peer energy platform start-up, designed to connect people directly with clean energy projects and to help utilities with grid balancing by using blockchain technology. Through the Accel-VT program, Omega Grid was introduced to a number of Vermont utility leaders. The result? This year, Burlington, Vermont may become the first municipal utility in the nation to use blockchain to manage supply and demand in real time. 
Skyven Technologies’ solar collectors use cutting edge technology to generate hot water for manufacturing applications and other commercial heating needs. Through the Accel-VT program, Skyven was introduced to a number of successful Vermont companies who are now exploring the use of this technology at their facilities. 
A. F. Mensah is a solar and battery storage integration provider. Through the contacts they made through the Accel-VT program, A. F. Mensah is working with multiple Vermont utilities to potentially provide battery powered traffic lights to Vermont’s streets. 
While Vermont may be known for our idyllic views and great beer and ice cream, we also have the potential to be known as a thriving economic engine for climate economy entrepreneurs. Our small size, entrepreneurial spirit and close-knit communities make Vermont the perfect place for entrepreneurs to test their emerging businesses and products. 
Accel-VT will be welcoming another round of climate economy start-up businesses — this time focused on agricultural and food technologies — to apply for our 2018 fall program. The application process is now open. To learn more check out accel-vt.com. 
This week’s Community Forum is by Geoff Robertson, Business Assistance Director at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. Accel-VT is a program of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. 

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