Austin Clean Energy Initiative Reunion

ACE-reunionThis is a photo of Allan (“Chip”) Wolfe and me, taken recently at a reunion lunch of what I liked to call the “Batman and Robin” of cleantech evangelizing in the early 2000s. NOTE: Chip was Batman; me, Robin.

What we’re each holding is the original copy of a modestly historic City of Austin resolution that we were proud to have received.

It says, simply: “Be it resolved by the City Council of the City of Austin: The City Council endorses the Mayor’s Task Force on the Economy’s Austin Clean Energy Initiative, adding the clean energy cluster to Austin’s local economy.”

You see, back in late 2001, it was pretty clear that a virtual neutron bomb had dropped on the economic activity of any US city that had been benefitting from the dot-com boom, what we know fondly refer to as “web 1.0.”

ACE-resolutionEarlier in the year, the Dow and S&P had shown their first sounds of cratering, under the dual weight of ridiculously overhyped dot-com investing and the drying up of Y2K remediation dollars, on which companies had spent billions. Throw in the third blow of 9/11, which happened that dark September day, and what you had was the Austin tech economy in a free fall.

Then, in early 2002, I found myself sitting in my friend and colleague Angelos Angelou’s office who more-or-less said “Hey, I’m going over to IC2 to sit in with some people who are getting together to talk about clean energy technologies. Want to come along?”

Having spent the first dozen years of my professional life growing up and doing business in the oil & gas patch of Houston, Texas, I was intrigued and said “Sure!”

That meeting is where I met Chip. Others I very clearly remember at that first meeting, in addition to Angelos and me, were Richard Amato (the 1st director of ATI’s Clean Energy Incubator), Randi Shade (before she made her 1st Austin City Council run), Dennis Corkran (operating his family business Corkran Energy at the time), and a handful of others.

At the time, I’d been scanning the economic landscape for sectors to invest some time & effort, including life sciences, biotech, financial services, social ventures, and others that were a few steps removed from the hobbling dot-com industry.

An_Inconvenient_Truth_Film_PosterWith this merry band of sisters and brothers, I instantly knew I’d found something. Mind you, this was a full four years before “An Inconvenient Truth” exploded on the scene and made cleantech and its evil twin, global warming, household discussion topics.

But, once we started talking, the group – which we dubbed the Austin Clean Energy Initiative, or ACE Initiative for short – saw with clear-eyed conviction that, not only was the time right, but in fact the Austin and central Texas region had an enormous cluster of industrial, environmental, university, and civic resources already present that made cleantech a natural candidate for entrepreneurial activity.

However, as it is unlikely to surprise you, few business leaders at the time saw things the way we did. To his credit, Will Wynn, Austin’s mayor at the time, did “get it” fairly immediately and became an important advocate of ACE.

But, to win over the rest of the business community, we had work to do. I’ll leave a description of those efforts to another day and a cup of coffee, if you are really interested.

To jump to the end, Chip and I – as Batman and Robin – and the rest of the ACE Initiative team (including a big shout out to Jon Lebkowsky, who I’ll call our “Alfred” of the team, which means he was really often the brains of the operation, but kind enough to let us take some credit!) met with hundreds of city, business, and academic leaders, all around Austin, Texas, and parts beyond, advocating our position.

ACE-reportThe effort culminated in the publication of a major report, commissioned by the ACE Initiative and rolled out at a significant press conference, that convincingly established what we had known — that Austin/central Texas had the resources, people and financial capital to be one of the major centers of cleantech entrepreneurial activity in the country.

We were quite proud of that 100-page report, which you can still download today, and have been pleased at its prescience (in that cleantech, indeed, did become a welcomed part of the entrepreneurial, business establishment in Austin) and its durability, with most of the main arguments researched in the report as valid today as they were at the time.

So, back to the Austin city council resolution, which I had found sandwiched in some old files I was cleaning out over New Year’s day. I hadn’t broken bread with Chip in over a year, so I thought it was time to pass the resolution from Robin to Batman and reminisce about one of my favorite advocacy projects in the 20 years I’ve been in Austin.

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