The Incubator at Bethesda Green – Hatching Next Generation Companies

Bethesda Green’s incubator is a four-year program, starting with an intensive six-month accelerator, designed to help provide start-up green and social impact businesses with the tools they need to succeed.  The entrepreneurial businesses being “hatched” from the incubator are purpose-driven, specifically addressing today’s sustainable food and environmental challenges.

Known as the Be Green Hub, it kicked off in 2009 as the first sustainability-focused incubator in the DC metro area. Since then, the incubator has assisted 44 companies– and 80 percent of them are still operating today.

For businesses that participate in the program, establishing a strong business network, mentorship and technical support are just some of the perks the incubator offers.

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Eco-Entrepreneurs and their Innovations

DGrid Energy–a maker, assembler, integrator, and distributor of a solar-powered expandable energy station and walk-in refrigeration system, called the Solar Cool Cube System – is one of several businesses currently in the Hub. Incorporated a little over two years ago, the company provides cold storage to off-grid locations, primarily in economically developing countries.  

 Solar cube

Solar cube

The Solar Cool Cube can help eliminate post-harvest loss and reduce food insecurity. “We are in discussions with officials in Puerto Rico, Rwanda and other countries, and they seem to feel that we are a perfect solution for their rural and off-grid areas,” said Eugene Faison, founder of DGrid Energy.

Although Faison said his company has already successfully sold units around the world and developed a pipeline relatively rapidly, their method of how best to identify customers was a bit different than what the Hub’s curriculum prescribed.

“We had worked on our mission and vision early on. However the curriculum and expert counseling we received at Bethesda Green helped us rethink and change our vision, mission and values. The process made it stronger for us and more relatable to our clients,” said Faison.

 Eugene Faison, founder of DGrid Energy.

Eugene Faison, founder of DGrid Energy.

For Urbanized, a Be Green Hub member that creates eco-friendly products from recycled coffee grounds, starting with an exfoliating soap, inspiration about molding the company into more of a lifestyle brand came directly from a Hub workshop about vision and long-term impact.

“We decided to change the very name of our company so that it would resonate with a growing urbanized population and reflect our emphasis on reducing urban landfill waste through repurposing,” said Matias Arnal, one of the company’s three founders. “Bethesda Green is very much a hub of knowledge and intellect, like a very fast-track MBA program. It’s intense! It’s called an accelerator for a reason, and it does live up to its purpose.”

When the partners were looking for information on how to expand via networking events and meet-ups, Arnal said the Incubator program was one of the suggestions they received.

Juan Manuel Balcazar, another co-founder of Urbanized, says, "The curriculum is great. Each week we benefit from different speakers and touch topics like lean start up, pivoting, customer discovery, and as a result we rethink a lot about the way we're managing our business. Ever since we joined Be Green Hub we've become much more of a visionary company, we have become better at our methodology, and we have become much more professional as well. The curriculum is really helpful and the networking is also very good."

 Juan Manuel Balcazar, Rodrigo Diaz and Matias Arnal - Founders of Urbanized

Juan Manuel Balcazar, Rodrigo Diaz and Matias Arnal - Founders of Urbanized

 

The Be Green Hub Application

The application process includes submission of a business plan and interviews to determine acceptance. Selection to the program is based on criteria that include revenue and impact potential and an evaluation of the team that puts the business plan into action. Accepted companies have the benefit of free co-working space for the first six-months, customized financial and operational mentorship and a host of other professional services.

“I asked Mentor Capital Network founder Ian Fisk for the three top incubators in the area and he recommended Bethesda Green. We applied and he was correct," Faison said.

According to Arnal, applying was not as nerve-wracking as the founders anticipated. “They were very clear as to what they were looking for. It just requires some time,” he said.

“One great benefit of being part of the incubator is that we get to learn from the other businesses,” Arnal said. “It’s a peer-to-peer support system, like we are in the dorm and we are all in this together. We all want each other to succeed. We help each other out as much as we can.”

The Be Green Hub will next be accepting applications in the Fall.  For more information about the Be Green Hub and its companies, visit bethesdagreen.org/be-green-hub/ or contacts its Managing Director, Tina Arreaza at tina@bethesdagreen.org.

For more on DGrid Energy, email emfaison@dgridenergy.com or call 240.426.9604.

For more on Urbanized, visit www.urbanized.com or email hello@urbanized.com.

Article by Kimberly Hodges and Felicia Hodges