Elevate Innovation Gap Fund Companies

Elevate Innovation Gap Fund Invests in Six Groundbreaking Oregon Startups

See how these six Elevate Innovation Gap Fund companies are making waves to revolutionize science and technology while addressing pressing global challenges.

Innovation has become the driving force behind societal progress and economic growth. As Fund Manager for the Innovation Gap Fund (sponsored by Oregon InC and Business Oregon), the Elevate Innovation Gap Fund supports disruptive science and research-based companies throughout Oregon by investing in diverse and underserved early-stage founders who focus on healthcare, life sciences, cleantech and sustainability, and natural resources.

We are excited to introduce six groundbreaking Oregon startup companies and founders who recently joined the Innovation Gap Fund. These companies are making waves to revolutionize science and technology while addressing pressing global challenges.

BuildingLens: Transforming Energy Efficiency and Indoor Air Quality for SMBs

David Burchfield

David Burchfield, Founder & CEO (follow on LinkedIn)

BuildingLens is an enterprise software platform for small and medium-sized buildings (SMBs). The company helps building managers proactively manage energy and resources, making their buildings more efficient, cutting facility-related costs, and reducing environmental impact.

Below, David Burchfield, BuildingLens Founder and CEO, shares his story.

What inspired you to start BuildingLens?

The inspiration behind BuildingLens was born from years of hands-on experience in energy conservation. As a professional helping utilities decrease their energy consumption, I contributed to significant energy savings in numerous buildings, often achieving cumulative reductions of 25-40% over time.

However, I realized that despite efficient equipment installation, there was a persistent gap in building management expertise, particularly in smaller facilities. The existing tools weren’t tailored to the capabilities of those managing these buildings. This insight led to the inception of BuildingLens.

I firmly believe that to achieve a genuinely equitable clean energy future; we must empower every facility—no matter the size—with accessible and effective management tools. As the world grapples with a changing climate, making the internal environments of buildings more efficient and sustainable is not just a business objective but a critical necessity for humanity’s adaptation and survival.

What are the top “aha” moments you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?

My most profound “aha” moment was a personal revelation rather than a business insight. It was the realization that my biggest obstacle was, in fact, myself—my ego. There’s a saying that a man’s worst enemy is often himself, and I found this to be profoundly true.

When I started believing I had everything figured out, that’s when I understood that I was in uncharted waters. Often, I needed to get out of my way to make progress. To navigate these internal conflicts, I devised a mental strategy: in my head, the loud voice represented ego, and the quiet voice embodied logic and often the best, albeit most challenging, choice.

I’ve learned to heed this quiet voice and do the hard thing. If a team member needs correction, I no longer sweep it under the rug. I tell them what needs to be improved. This understanding has been pivotal in my journey.

If you were in an elevator with another aspiring entrepreneur, what lasting advice would you give them?

My foremost advice to any aspiring entrepreneur would be twofold. First, you need to have a certain level of stubbornness—what my wife lovingly calls ‘stupid stubborn.’ You must believe in your vision unwaveringly and be willing to navigate all obstacles that will undoubtedly arise.

Second, and possibly more crucial, ensure your family is on your entrepreneurial journey. It’s about securing their approval and drawing strength from their unyielding support. My family has been my fuel, providing the emotional and moral support that’s been indispensable. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Remember, entrepreneurship is as much a personal journey as a professional one. Having your loved ones alongside you makes it bearable and rewarding.

Emano Metrics: Monitoring Urinary Health from Home with Precise and Personalized Data

Emano Metrics

Edouard “Teddy” Hay, Ph.D., Co-Founder & CEO (follow on LinkedIn) and
Bishara Korkor, Co-Founder (follow on LinkedIn)

Emano Metrics addresses the pervasive issue of benign prostate disease, a condition affecting more than 40 million men in the U.S. that poses a significant threat to the bladder and kidneys if neglected. The company offers a novel solution to healthcare providers through a software-based remote monitoring tool, Emano Flow, which uses machine learning to estimate urinary flow rates based on the sound of urination.

Below, Teddy Hay, Emano Metrics Co-Founder & CEO, shares his story.

What inspired you to start Emano Metrics?

I have always been restless and dissatisfied with the status quo. Upon discovering the archaic nature of the current tools for lower urinary tract monitoring and the potential for a software-only, massively scalable solution, I couldn’t resist.

What are the top “aha” moments you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?

I am suspicious of favorites and tops, but here are two decisive “aha” moments. First, as a rebellious teenager turned physicist, I naively thought sales required a degree of dishonesty. Authenticity strengthens sales.

Second, take the time to take the foot off the gas to align the team and create laser focus across your team—productivity and morale will significantly increase. It is better to repeatedly do five things excellently than 50 things poorly.

If you were in an elevator with another aspiring entrepreneur, what lasting advice would you give them?

You will get a constant flood of contradictory advice from people with far more experience, knowledge, or connections than you. It is often bullying, strongly worded, and hyperbolic.

Stay strong and true to yourself. Filter this information with scientific skepticism and find the best path given your specific scenario. You are the expert. Stay focused, find your niche, love your customer, and provide real lasting value.

Photon Marine: Building a Powerful and Intelligent Electric Outboard Motor System

Photon Marine

Marcelino Alvarez, Co-Founder & CEO (follow on LinkedIn) and Tara Russell, Co-Founder & Chief Strategy Officer (follow on LinkedIn)

Photon Marine builds the world’s most powerful and intelligent electric outboard motor system, tailored to commercial boat fleets. The company’s products withstand the harshest marine environments and deliver performance and cost benefits. Photon’s systems reduce the total cost of ownership by nearly half, require less maintenance, and eliminate the need for gas and oil changes.

Below, Marcelino Alvarez, Photon Marine Co-Founder and CEO, shares his story.

What inspired you to start Photon Marine?

We started Photon to combine our skills into a business with purpose, impact, and a lasting legacy. What unites us is a sense of urgency around the need for cleaner propulsion alternatives amidst our changing climate. What sets us apart from the competition is our collective experiences, our seasoned founding team, and our deep industry connections.

We’re still early in our community engagement efforts—we intend to work with local fishing, mariculture, and tourism coastal communities to deploy our technology. We will partner with nonprofits focused on fisheries and conservation to find pathways to deploy our technology to the most needed regions.

We believe that the positive impacts of an electric vehicle (EV) propulsion system can be measured relatively easily. At scale, Photon Marine intends to manufacture 2,500 units annually across several different product lines. Assuming 1,800 hours of usage annually, after five years, we would reduce marine fuel consumption by approximately 100,000,000 gallons annually, or 900,000 metric tons of CO2.

What are the top “aha” moments you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?

You quickly learn that entrepreneurship is a marathon and not a sprint. Pacing yourself is critical for long-term durability and success. Burnout is always around the corner for those who don’t build healthy boundaries or ensure we’re taking good care of ourselves while trying to care for our companies. While you may be die-hard and passionate about your company, product, and opportunity, this will just be a job for some of your colleagues.

You must keep your pitch decks (different versions for an investor or customer) current. Study the questions investors and customers ask, and ensure your decks speak directly to those critical questions. Always look to expand your relevant network, as there’s critical learning and growth in and through each new conversation.

If you were in an elevator with another aspiring entrepreneur, what lasting advice would you give them?

Simplify, simplify, simplify is one of the most critical pieces of advice I’ve received (and tried to practice) throughout the years. Simple is memorable and repeatable when you want to spread your mission and message.

It’s not personal, but remember that most people could care less about your product, market and company. Keep your elevator pitch as a one-liner such that even a 10-year-old would immediately understand it—the average person will need the ABC version of your spiel. The goal isn’t to tell someone everything; instead, to give people an exciting nugget about what you’re up to that makes them want to lean in and know even more.

Ren Energy: Decarbonizing Your Organization with a Clean Energy Solution

Eric Jen

Eric Jen, Founder & CEO (follow on LinkedIn)

Ren Energy’s platform gives large multinational corporations real-time insight into their global supply chains’ energy consumption and carbon footprint. Ren Energy turns data into quality renewable energy projects and solves financial, technical, and logistical challenges that affect sourcing renewable energy.

Below, Eric Jen, Ren Energy Founder & CEO, shares his story.

What inspired you to start Ren Energy?

In my early years, I built wind projects worldwide for the second-largest wind company globally–this included the first wind farms in Chile, Panama, and Ecuador. Later, Nike hired me as their Director of Renewable Energy. This eventually evolved into a mandate to take 12,000+ offices, retail stores, warehouses, and factories 100% renewable in 30 countries. We were ranked the #1 corporate renewable energy program in the world in 2018. After three “aha” moments at Nike, I started Ren Energy.

The first was the realization (after totaling up Nike’s energy consumption) that Nike has carbon emissions equal to the 94th largest country on the planet, and that’s just one Fortune 500 company.

The second was that all the other companies I saw manufacturing around the world in factories right next to Nike’s, were also committed to going 100% renewable—but they didn’t know how.

The third was an epiphany that the only way for the Fortune 500 to get 100% renewable by 2030 was if a technology could be created that takes thousands of facilities per company, 100% renewable together simultaneously.

What are the top “aha” moments you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?

Perhaps the top “aha” moment as an entrepreneur was my realization that I could not do this alone. The saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I believe in that wholeheartedly. It’s amazing what this team of brilliant and genuine people can accomplish together.

Another “aha” moment I’ve realized is that starting a company is one of the most difficult things one can do. When people ask me if they should start a company, I would almost always say no, unless they believe in the mission to their absolute core.

Things get harder than you can imagine, and it takes everything you can give. Thankfully, we have a team of people at Ren who truly care about our cause and making a positive and quantifiable impact on the planet. Working towards something that’s bigger than you allows you to push onward.

If you were in an elevator with another aspiring entrepreneur, what lasting advice would you give them?

Relationships matter! Scale your network, find the good ones, and spread good energy.

Toast Wear: Leveraging Efficiency of Personal Climate Control with a Wearable Heating Device

Toast Wear

Gabe Garbarino, Founder (follow on LinkedIn) and
Gerry Recktenwald, Technical Director (follow on LinkedIn)

Toast Wear is an outdoor enthusiast’s inspired company grounded by an engineer’s mindset. Toast Wear’s magnum opus is not another heated jacket but a single garment-agnostic, wearable device that leverages the efficiency of convection heat transfer to deliver near-instant whole-body warmth, during any activity, with any piece of apparel. It makes you feel toasty, fast.

Such a device is a welcome feature for snow sports enthusiasts and potentially life-saving for those lost in the wilderness and first responders working in harsh conditions.

Below, Gabe Garbarino, a former U.S. Marine and Toast Wear Founder, shares his story.

What inspired you to start Toast Wear?

A desire to build something that makes people go wow, and to say, “I love this thing, and why didn’t someone think of this before.”

What are the top “aha” moments you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?

Storytelling is integral to starting something from scratch, whether in person, in a pitch deck, or via public relations material. Iterating, guiding, and crafting that story for the next audience is a big part of a founder’s job.

Most important, be patient. Building a successful company will take some time, and that’s okay. Time allows for changes in direction and for reality to catch up with your vision.

If you were in an elevator with another aspiring entrepreneur, what lasting advice would you give them?

There are so many resources and people that are eager to help you along your startup journey. And a big part of starting something from scratch will be finding and holding on to those who believe in your idea and you as a founder.

Trace Biosciences: Highlighting Nerves in Real-time for Surgery with Targeted Imaging Agents

Trace Biosciences

Connor Barth, Ph.D., Co-Founder & CEO (follow on LinkedIn), Summer Gibbs, Ph.D., Co-Founder & Chief Scientific Officer (follow on LinkedIn), and Lei Wang, Ph.D., Co-Founder & Chief Technology Officer (follow on LinkedIn)

Trace Biosciences is a biotech startup creating imaging agents for surgery that highlights nerves to eliminate surgical nerve damage. Fluorescence-guided surgery is rapidly becoming a standard of care for cancer treatment. Nerve injury is a feared surgical complication affecting 25 million patients annually, causing lasting pain and loss of function that is difficult and expensive to treat.

Surgeons are entirely unassisted in nerve identification and preservation, relying solely on naked-eye visualization or anatomical knowledge. Trace Biosciences has developed a fluorescent molecule that selectively tags nerve fibers, helping surgeons avoid nerve damage during many types of surgeries.
Below Connor Barth, Trace Biosciences Co-Founder & CEO, shares his story.

What inspired you to start Trace Biosciences?

Working as a scientist in medical imaging, I saw the power imaging provides to disease diagnosis and treatment or surgery planning. However, very little has been done to apply the power of imaging to treatment or surgery itself.

As researchers at OHSU, my co-founders and I set out to develop imaging agents to bridge that gap and unlock the power of imaging to eliminate surgical nerve damage using real-time nerve visualization. We are the inventors of the technology and as entrepreneurs, are pursuing its commercialization and clinical translation to bring this innovative and impactful solution to patients.

If you were in an elevator with another aspiring entrepreneur, what lasting advice would you give them?

Find the things you are passionate about and pursue them because startups can be very hard without significant passion for what you are doing, persistence to execute, and patience to work towards your milestones. Talk to people, especially potential customers and worthwhile advisors early and often; it’s the best way to learn and gives you valuable connections that could pay off big time later on.

What are the top “aha” moments you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?

First, it’s important to stay focused and mission-driven. Coming from academic research, this is a different way of thinking, whereas, in academia, it’s acceptable to chase new ideas a lot of the time. Focusing your time and resources on the most critical and strategically valuable projects is key in industry and startups.

Second, keep it simple. One can easily go down the rabbit hole on any number of topics, ideas, or decisions and overthink or dwell on something as an entrepreneur. And while this can be useful for important things and provide a level of understanding and knowledge to back up your actions or plans, keeping things simple provides much more clarity and focus.

Distilling those big ideas, decisions, or strategies down to simple concepts can be hugely valuable to effectively communicating your vision to investors, employees, or customers and providing perspective and guidance to yourself.


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