A decade ago today, was my first day in a high-tech machine shop in San Diego, CA. A long way from home in Minnesota, I had come out west to invent a device that could generate electricity from flowing water and provide zero emission power to people everywhere- I had no idea how hard it would be, and that's a good thing.
I was not successful at first, or at second or third, but continued experiments and observations led to one improvement and then another, until one day many years later, there was a working prototype in the water that met all the original criteria: have a low profile so it can fit in rivers and canals; be self-clearing in operation so it won’t clog and jam and stop working. And lastly, and most importantly, generate affordable power. “Volturnus”(named after the ancient Roman God of rivers) was the first mass producible, modular hydro device that solved the major market problems and could give us a real shot at helping the world get to 100% renewable energy.
But that wasn’t enough- not nearly enough. The real challenge wasn’t inventing, it was inviting and trusting others to join on this mission. As hard as it was to figure out Volturnus, it was even harder to find the right people. Sometimes consultants didn’t deliver, partners weren’t always accountable and everyone had an opinion about what should be happening.
Slowly but surely, recognizing what people are good at and what they aren’t good at- what they can actually deliver, becomes a learned skill(most entrepreneurs have quite a few "scars" to show from a bad experience with a consultant or vendor). But eventually, you start to meet more interesting and accomplished people, and more and more of them believe in you and your mission- until one day it isn’t your mission anymore- its ours. Its the most important transition: from inventor to entrepreneur.
Something else started to happen as the years went on; we seemed to get luckier. Not usually in big breakthroughs, but in small and important ways. A little help writing a proposal, introductions and networking, and even people willing to hop in cold water with you to position a prototype. Its hard to estimate how much help we've had from friends, businesses and sometimes complete strangers over the years- but its been a lot, and its humbling.
While notching some victories along the way, we started to attract media attention as we hit milestones in our development- which led to more introductions and chance meetings. Don’t get me wrong, start-ups are the living embodiment of Murphy’s Law- but good things seem to happen when you work hard, ask for help when you need it and are honest with yourself and others.
Is luck just a combination of preparation and opportunity? I can’t say for sure, because sometimes you really do just get a "lucky bounce", but it never hurts to increase your odds.
By far, the best part of this journey has been the people. Because there will always be ups and downs- more than anyone can know at the beginning- but when you are part of the right team, that works hard and gets a "bounce" every now and then, there isn’t anything you can’t overcome.
Things never move as quickly as you'd want; it's 10 years on and I still don’t know how this story ends, but it is truly astonishing what perseverance and a little providence has accomplished so far, and I can’t help but look forward to what happens next.
Verterra was founded in 2010 with a mission to harness the power of flowing water in rivers, oceans and canals to produce abundant clean, reliable power for all the world’s people.
Volturnus is a simple and elegant device that, when submerged in moving water, generates zero emission, baseload electricity. When deployed in “V-Pods” of 5, they create scalable power from 50 kW to multi- MW arrays.
Based in Minneapolis, MN Verterra is funded by altruistic, early stage investors and is currently setting up commercial deployment projects in the US.
For more information please visit our website: www.verterraenergy.com