When Andy Huh was a real estate developer and interested in eco-friendly building, he had a hard time finding windows and doors that met the standards of a passive house, which has rigorous energy-efficiency requirements to maintain comfortable interior climates without the use of active heating and cooling systems.
“Researching and comparing window and door options in the market is an unnecessarily complex and fragmented process.” Huh said. “I couldn’t find any other product options that fit our specifications, so we ended up spending close to half a million dollars for windows and doors — and I had no idea if there were viable lower-cost alternatives, or assurance we were getting a good deal.”
Today, Huh is working to help others in similar situations. He is the co-founder and CEO of Fentrend, a startup based in Brooklyn, New York, that developed an online tool to aggregate data from hundreds of companies to help architects, developers, and general contractors comparison shop for eco-friendly windows and doors. Part of the startup’s mission is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Huh and three others started Fentrend in April 2015. The company is a member of ACRE, a clean-tech incubator program housed at the Urban Future Lab at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering. Wells Fargo awarded ACRE a $100,000 Cleantech Innovation grant to support startup companies like Fentrend that use technology and creative business models to address sustainability challenges.
Support for getting started
Because they work for a new company, Huh and his colleagues were interested in participating in an incubator program like ACRE. “Industry experience and relationships matter more than anything else when starting a business,” Huh said. “Because ACRE and the Urban Future Lab have such a great reputation, we wanted to go through the best.”
ACRE provides each startup with office space for about two years, along with support staff, professional business and support services, networking, mentors, and opportunities to collaborate with other startups and meet customers and investors.
“Building a business is challenging but the ACRE community has been extremely supportive and helped accelerate our learning curve in all aspects of the business,” Huh said.
Companies that have participated in the ACRE program have had a 94 percent success rate since its launch in 2009, said Pat Sapinsley, managing director of Cleantech Initiatives for the Urban Future Lab.
In September 2016, Fentrend received the Smart City Award in the Urban Future Competition, winning $25,000 and admission into ACRE. “Fentrend has brought e-marketplace tools to an old marketplace ripe for disruption,” Sapinsley said.
After just a few months, Huh said the program has allowed Fentrend to meet potential clients, investors, and fellow startup companies.
“Our challenge is that no one’s ever built what we’re trying to build, but other companies in the ACRE program are also creating new business models,” Huh said. “Being a member of the ACRE program has been helpful in connecting us with partners and organizations to vet our ideas.”
Support from Wells Fargo’s Clean Technology Innovation grant program allows ACRE to expand and help companies like Fentrend even more.
“We are committed to supporting organizations that are redefining what’s possible in the clean-tech sector,” said Ashley Grosh of Wells Fargo Environmental Affairs. “Technology innovation will be a critical step in building more sustainable and resilient communities.”
Sapinsley said she plans to use the grant to create an official curriculum for the program, host additional events for the startups to pitch their products and services, and hire a pitch coach, among other things.
“We look forward to working with Wells Fargo for its financial expertise,” Sapinsley said. “Many of our companies have financial needs, and as they grow, Wells Fargo can help with those. Wells Fargo is not only promoting sustainability, it is building its future customer base.”
Note: A version of this story also appeared in the 2016 Wells Fargo Annual Report (PDF).