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November 7, 2013

Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Central Illinois

Part II of Making a Difference in Central Illinois and Beyond. In October, I attended the 8th Annual North American Passive House Conference in Pittsburgh PA. I have been working with Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) on a variety of marketing and fundraising projects for the past year. They were founded in Urbana, IL by the visionary architect Katrin Klingenberg and the American builder, Mike Kernagis in 2007. They continued a long tradition of high performance building science that was established in Urbana at the University of Illinois in the 1980’s (see the history of passive house parts I and II by Katrin Klingenberg). Under the aegis of E-co Lab, they have built a number of ultra-energy efficient homes in Urbana. And hundreds of projects have been built and certified nation wide. Passive House construction produces efficient, durable, healthy and comfortable homes and commercial buildings. What sets Passive House apart is that it makes the built environment 80% more efficient than standard construction. Passive House makes it possible for us humans to step back from the brink of climate chaos and soon this construction methodology will be everywhere.

Buildings account for upwards of 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US. In a market that builds (or retrofits) 10 billion square feet of buildings every year, there is clearly an imperative to find smarter ways to build that reduce our energy footprint.  Passive building techniques and standards can reduce building energy consumption by 80% over standard construction. While building codes in the US are yet to drive wide-scale adoption of ultra-energy-efficient  building standards, there are signs of change.

In 2008, James Hansen of NASA, the first scientist to warn about global warming more than two decades ago, wrote: “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted…CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm.” CO2 levels are now reaching 400 ppm and rising. If the US is going to play a significant role in stepping down emissions and reducing C02 levels to 350 ppm, we stand on the brink of a major transformation of our built environment including transportation, energy, industry, food systems, and buildings. Every aspect of life is going to need to become vastly more efficient and this transformation is an economic opportunity of huge proportions that will create jobs, drive innovation and growth for many generations to come. Cease the moment! Doom and gloom be damned!

I’ve also been active in entrepreneurial circles. This past weekend, I judged at a wonderful #startup weekend at the University of Illinois, run by a student group called Founders. 54.io was the name of the competition to launch a company in a weekend (54 hours). You can see photos of some of the many passionate student teams in action here. Founders is becoming the go to for tech oriented entrepreneurship at the UofI.

I look forward to seeing the companies and collaborations that took shape at 54.io evolve and get traction in the coming weeks and months. Hopefully some of the student entrepreneurs will avail themselves of the Bootstrappers Breakfast – ideas in action for tech entrepreneurs that meets the last Wednesday of every month. Just one of the many local and regional resources for entrepreneurs in Central Illinois. If you know of good resources for innovators and entrepreneurs, give us a shout! Until then…

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