In America, aging buildings, mostly in underserved communities, produce more greenhouse gases than the entire U.S. transport sector. According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, on average, 30% of the energy used in commercial buildings is wasted at a cost of $100 billion a year.
A Black entrepreneur is seeking to reduce energy waste not only in commercial buildings but in underserved communities where energy pollution is quite pronounced.
Donnel Baird co-founded Blocpower in 2012 to provide clean and efficient energy in underserved communities in America. Based in Brooklyn, New York, the company transforms old buildings into greener, smarter and healthier facilities with efficient heating and cooling systems.
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Baird grew in a community plagued by pollution and energy poverty. With his startup, he is aiming to change the nature of energy consumption in underserved communities with green energy.
“We would turn on the oven and open up the oven door and heat up our apartment that way and we would open up the window to release the carbon monoxide,” Baird said in an interview.
Blocpower partners with governments, utilities, community leaders, institutions, and building owners to identify unhealthy, energy-wasting buildings to retrofit in other to generate energy bill savings and reduced carbon emissions, and generate financial returns and improved public health.
So far, his company has catered to 1,000 apartment buildings, churches, synagogues, and schools by replacing old wasteful heating systems with modern green technology. It also has projects underway in 24 cities including Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Oakland.
Baird revealed his journey has not been smooth sailing. He talked about how mobilizing funds remains a challenge for a firm led by a Black entrepreneur. According to him, he has been turned down 200 times by venture firms.
“It was really difficult for us raising capital,” Baird told greentechmedia. “One of our investors, when I talked to him two or three years ago and said I was struggling to raise capital, he was like, ‘Yeah, man, just hire some white people and send them into the fundraising meetings, and it’ll clear things up.’”
Despite the challenges in raising funds, the company recently announced that it has raised $63 million in Series A funding ($55 million debt, $8 million equity). The funding was led by American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact, AccelR8 and The Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, with participation from Kapor Capital, Elemental Excelerator, CityRock Venture Partners, The Schmidt Family Foundation and Salesforce Ventures, according to PRNewswire.
In total, the company has raised $68 million so far from early startup investors like Kapor Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, MaC Venture Capital, Exelon, New York Ventures of the Empire State Development Corporation, Echoing Green, and The Schmidt Family Foundation.
BlockPower will use the funds to expand and scale its inner-city energy retrofit projects across the U.S., create green jobs, improve quality of life for urban residents and save the planet.
By transforming antiquated buildings into greener, smarter, healthier facilities, BlocPower has reduced building energy costs by 30 to 50% and reduced GHGs by 40 to 70 % in current projects. The company believes that it can reduce U.S. GHGs by 3 to 25% in 5 to 10 years and recapture up to 30 percent of the wasted energy spend.