Green-Sports Startups, Part 5: Mark Cleveland and Hytch; Rewarding Friends Who Share Rides to Sports Events

Well-known global corporations, from Anheuser-Busch to Nike, have waded into the Green-Sports waters. While it makes sense for them to do so from PR and mission points of view, Green-Sports, for now, represents a small aspect of these companies’ businesses.

Then again, there are startups for which Green-Sports is a significant part of their raison d’être. Last year, GreenSportsBlog launched an occasional series, Green Sports Startups that focuses on small (for now) companies and nonprofits that see the greening of sports as essential to their prospects for success.

We’ve featured Nube 9, a Seattle-based company committed to making recyclable sports uniforms in the U.S.A from American fabrics; Underdogs United, which sells renewable energy credits to sports teams in the developed world generated by vital greening projects in the developing world; Phononic, a tech company that views sports venues as important testing grounds for its ambition to disrupt the refrigeration market, leading to a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions, and Play Fresh, a nonprofit that uses American football as a catalyst to help build environmental awareness among at-risk kids and teens.

Today, we feature Hytch, a Nashville-based startup that uses a state-of-the-art ride sharing app and financial rewards from corporate sponsors like Nissan to encourage ride sharing to Nashville Predators games and elsewhere. Hytch’s co-founder and CEO is the irrepressible Mark Cleveland. 

 

If GreenSportsPreneur was a word in the dictionary, the definition could well look like this:

GreenSportsPreneur (n)Mark Cleveland, CEO and co-founder, Hytch.

 

MAC_headshot - credit Eric England

Mark Cleveland, co-founder and CEO of Hytch (Photo credit: Eric England)

 

Cleveland has the sports side covered: He recently completed a half ironman.

He’s got the entrepreneur part down, too: “I’ve been an entrepreneur most of my life,” Cleveland told GreenSportsBlog. “I’ve started companies, acquired them. I’ve run startups for other organizations. My businesses have been in the transportation, information systems, and business processing sectors.”

And Cleveland’s entrepreneurial career has, at times, been tinted deep green. He launched:

  • Carbon Angel, a carbon trading company. Per Cleveland, “Even though I lost money, I learned a ton about the inefficiencies of the carbon markets.”
  • SeaBridge Freight, a short sea shipping company that was named a SmartWay Partner by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Swiftwick, an environmentally friendly, long-lasting (Cleveland: “it never wears out!”), Made in the USA athletic sock – including a cut-resistant hockey sock first worn by the 2014 US Olympic team in Sochi.

Yet it could be that Hytch will be Cleveland’s sustainability startup piece de resistance. 

And, if that comes to pass, sports will play a key role.

 

HYTCH: HELPING TO SOLVE NASHVILLE’S TRAFFIC MESS

Traffic congestion is a huge problem in Nashville.

The metro area is growing rapidly and existing roads just can’t handle it. A recent referendum to build a 26-mile light rail system went down in a 2-to-1 defeat.

Meanwhile, Cleveland and telecom visionary Robert Hartline have been working on a different, much less costly solution.

“Robert and I wanted to bring a solution to the table that could help reduce traffic congestion in the Nashville area,” offered Cleveland. “There are so many cars on the highways with only one person in them. So we thought, ‘if we can put two and three people in those cars, that will mean far fewer cars on the road.’ And we wanted to do it in a way that was politically palatable across the board and in a way that would democratize (with a small ‘d’) transit.”

And so Hytch was born.

 

MC at Hytch Launch Nissan

Mark Cleveland, rockin’ and rollin’ at the Hytch launch event at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans (Photo credit: Hytch)

 

The essence of Hytch is the free app for iPhone and Android that helps members who have GPS capability track shared rides with their contacts, earning them “Trees Saved” points. Which is nice, as far as that goes.

But what makes Hytch a potential ride sharing market disruptor of the first order is its corporate sponsorship model.

Sponsor funds are passed along to Hytch drivers and riders. That’s right: Nashville Hytch members, no matter whether they are the driver or passenger, get cash for hitching up  — or, shall I say, Hytching up — on a shared car trip.

 

NISSAN SPONSORS HYTCH TO REDUCE EMPLOYEES’ TRAVEL TIME TO-FROM WORK

Nissan North America is headquartered in Franklin, TN, a 21-mile drive from downtown Nashville along I-65.

And they have a parking lot problem.

That’s where Hytch has come in.

“Nissan was looking to relieve parking lot stress,” said Cleveland. “They don’t have enough spaces for the number of employees’ cars. HR was actually looking to build an app to connect employees for ride sharing when someone told them ‘Hytch is already doing that.’ So we talked with them. Our key insight? Matching people to share rides is not the thing. Getting them excited about it is the thing!”

Nissan North America got so excited about the potential for their employees to get excited about getting paid to share rides, that they quickly became an early Hytch sponsor.

According to an article by Doug Newcomb in the February 5 issue of PC Magazine, “Nissan North America pays Hytch users 1¢ per mile anywhere in Tennessee and 5¢ per mile within the 10-county Middle Tennessee area. With other sponsors^ adding their own rewards to Nissan’s, Hytch said users can earn up to 12¢ or more per mile in some areas. If [a driver or a passenger has] a 20-mile roundtrip commute and drives 100 miles a week, this means he/she can earn $12 a week by using Hytch.”

 

 

Screenshot - Lets+Hytch App

The Hytch app, featuring early sponsor Nissan, along with other partner logos (Photo credit: Hytch)

 

Cleveland says the impact on the environment of the Nissan-Hytch partnership, along with other Nashville area Hytch sponsors not affiliated with the auto maker, was immediate and significant: “In our first six months of existence, Hytch helped to track and reward over 3 million miles of shared rides.”

 

Hytching NissanTour3

Nashville-area Hytch members registering their ride (Photo credit: Hytch)

 

PREDATORS PILOT HYTCH CARPOOL PROGRAM DURING PLAYOFFS 

Delmar Smith, a 12-year veteran of the Nashville Predators front office and the NHL club’s VP of corporate partnerships since 2013, expressed interest when Mark Cleveland approached the team in February about a partnership with Hytch.

“Traffic is the biggest issue in Nashville and parking at our games is tight,” recalled Smith. “So, when our CEO, Sean Henry and I met with Mark in March, the Nissan-Hytch relationship got our attention. With Nissan being one of our top two corporate partners, that really intrigued us and we thought about doing something during the Stanley Cup playoffs.”

The main hitch (sorry!) was timing: Nissan-Hytch discussions took place in March, only a month before the playoffs would begin. Smith was understandably concerned about rushing into a promotional program and it not going smoothly. Then he called Nissan.

More Smith: “Nissan gave me such positive feedback about Hytch and the employee program that it changed my thinking. We actually had the time to construct a ride sharing pilot program during the playoffs that would work logistically and be a benefit to our fans and the environment.”

When the Stanley Cup playoffs started in April, Hytch members who carpooled to Predators home games received 5¢ per mile, funded by Nissan. The team promoted the Hytch partnership on the Bridgestone Arena scoreboard, via social media and through street teams.

 

Hytch at Bridgestone Arena

The Hytch-Predators ride-sharing partnership was promoted on the Bridgestone Arena scoreboard during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs (Photo credit: Hytch)

 

“Hundreds of Preds fans participated in the pilot,” reported Cleveland. “Their reactions were very positive.”

“While results were hard to measure with such a small sample of games, we felt good about the test,” added Smith.

The Predators, Hytch and Nissan intend to expand the program during the 2018-19 regular season.*

 

GREENSPORTSBLOG’S TAKE: HYTCH CAN BE A FORCE FOR GREEN IN THE SPORTS WORLD

With the company already expanding beyond its Nashville home base (it embarked on a partnership with the Vans Warped nationwide cross-country concert tour this summer), it is easy to envision a wide swath of pro and college sports teams using the Hytch platform. Hytch Green-Sports partnerships:

  • May encourage fans to attend games they’d ordinarily watch on TV
  • Can be a source of additional sponsorship revenue
  • Will enhance the team’s reputation with its fans and the broader community

It seems appropriate to let Mark Cleveland provide one last reason why Hytch makes sense for sports teams (and more), and to close to this story: “Every shared mile with Hytch is a zero-emissions mile. Together we save the planet, one shared ride at a time.”

 

 

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports

Green-Sports Startups, Part 3: Phononic, Disrupting the Refrigerator Market via Luxury Suites

Well-known global corporations, from BASF to Nike to Tesla, have waded into the Green-Sports waters. While it makes sense for them to do so from PR and mission points of view, Green-Sports, for now, represents a small aspect of these companies’ businesses.

Then again, there are startups for which Green-Sports is a significant part of their business. Last year, GreenSportsBlog launched an occasional series, Green Sports Startups that focuses on small (for now) companies that see the greening of sports as existential to their businesses’ prospects for success. Our first such newbie was Nube9, a Seattle-based company committed to making recyclable sports uniforms in the U.S.A. from American fabrics. We followed that with a profile of Underdogs United, a startup looking to help sports teams already talking the green talk to walk the green walk by selling them renewable energy credits generated by crucial greening projects in the developing world.

Today we feature Phononic, a technology startup that sees sports arenas and stadia as a key target market in its audacious ambition to disrupt the set-in-its-ways refrigeration market, leading to a meaningful reduction of carbon emissions.

 

After talking with Tony Atti, the energetic, Pied Piper-like founder and CEO of Durham, North Carolina-based Phononic, for maybe two-three minutes, I was ready to stop the interview.

Instead, I wanted to get out there and sell his market disrupting, carbon emissions-reducing refrigerators. And I’d never sold a refrigerator before!

But before I started selling, I thought I should write the story of how Atti got into the refrigerator-disruption business — “we want to be the ‘Tesla of Refrigeration” — and how big a deal Phononic’s advance can be for the sports world and far, far beyond.

 

Phononic: Bringing Solid State Semiconductor Innovation to Refrigeration

“I grew up in Buffalo, New York — Go Bills! — and ended up getting a PhD in chemistry at the University of Southern California,” recalled Atti. “Then, quite by accident, I fell into working at a boutique venture capital fund in New York City back in the early 2000s.”

 

Tony Atti

Tony Atti, founder and CEO of Phononic (Photo credit: Tony Atti)

 

The firm’s bread and butter were startups incubated at universities, with a focus on sustainability and energy technology companies. They also took the unusual approach of placing their top executives in operational roles at some of the companies in which they had invested. So Atti went down to the Research Triangle area near Raleigh, North Carolina to work with one of the firm’s companies.

More Atti: “I did an 18-month stint in North Carolina; when that ended I pursued other opportunities, including in Silicon Valley. It was in Northern California that I met the co-founder of Phononic in 2009. At that point, it was just an idea, and a very long shot at that.”

So, what was Phononic’s long-shot, unique selling proposition?

“Phononic is an exemplar of what tech-based venture capital is all about: disruption through solid state semiconductor innovation. This kind of innovation transformed the computer, data, solar power, and lighting businesses — and much, much more,” shared Atti. “Phononic exists to demonstrate that it’s possible to bring solid state semiconductor innovation — that is to say microchips — to refrigeration and other cooling. Our goal was and is simple: To disrupt the 100+ year old domination of compressor and Freon-based refrigeration.”

At the outset, the company operated virtually, with development partners from the University of Oklahoma, Cal-Tech and the University of California-Santa Cruz working with Phononic to prove the technology worked. Atti then decided to locate the company in North Carolina, setting up shop on North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh from 2010-2013. By 2014, he had moved Phononic’s offices to nearby Durham, where the company designed and manufactured semiconductor chips to meet four critical criteria — efficiency, scale, manufacturability and cost — that would determine its ultimate viability.

 

Nobody Believes In Us!

Nobody believes in us! has served as a powerful motivational fuel for some of the great upsets in sports history. It also fueled Atti and his Phononic team during the early days.

“We flew around the world with our chips and our performance data, but no one believed in us. You have to understand that the incumbents in the refrigeration markets, like fossil fuel companies, were resistant to change beyond all reason. That just made us work harder. So, we went to the step of ‘product-izing,’ which means we built a prototype refrigerator around the chip, to show the skeptics that our technology was superior in the lab and in an actual refrigerator.”

Chips are indeed superior to Freon and compressors on a host of metrics: Reduced energy usage, far less pollution, reduced noise and weight, no vibration, better use of space and more. And, by 2016, Phononic had a finished refrigerator prototyping and began mass production, manufacturing more than 3,000 small-sized refrigerators over the past 18 months.

Initial Target Markets: Life Sciences, Healthcare and Hospitals

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Atti subscribes to the “Go Big or Go Home” philosophy of life. Taking down the compressor-Freon refrigerator market is one example. Another are the big, competitive, and challenging markets he chose to tackle first: Life sciences, healthcare and hospitals.

“With life sciences and healthcare, refrigeration absolutely cannot fail,” asserted Atti. “So, we went right for it, in the high-pressure world of neo-natal units, with a ‘We Protect the Sample’ mantra. Our refrigerators had to protect the drugs 100 percent of the time. We did that. Our surveys of hospital staff to get their takes on the user experience came back strongly positive. So, we knew we had something.”

 

Next Up: Stadium and Arena Luxury Suites

Food and beverage was the next market Phononic would try to penetrate. To do so, Atti felt that managers of luxury and club suites at sports arenas and stadia would be particularly interested in the unique value his disruptive refrigerator could provide.

As Atti tells it, “There are many advantages of a Phononic vs. a compressor-based refrigerator for suite operators. Our current models are small, ‘dorm room style’ and also larger built-in refrigerators, the perfect size for suites. The Phononic microchip-based system takes up less space than a compressor — so our storage capacity is significantly greater in the same physical footprint. Our product makes little to no noise. Our temperature controls are more accurate. Phononic refrigerators need much less maintenance than do compressor-based refrigerators, as there are no moving parts in a chip-based system. And the security system, which uses electronic keyboard technology, is superior. These are all big advantages.”

Atti didn’t have to look far for a sports venue at which to test his luxury suite idea: PNC Arena just down the road from Durham in Raleigh, home to the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, NC State men’s basketball, as well as concerts and other events.

Chris Diamond, Vice President of Food and Beverage for the arena, bought in early: “I was on board from day one. I’m from Niagara Falls; Tony’s an energetic Buffalo guy, so we Western New Yorkers got each other. More importantly, the Phononic system was a clear improvement for us on a number of key metrics vs. traditional refrigerators for our loge boxes— The Phononic refrigerator was quiet; our refrigerators were noisy. The Phononic refrigerator did not heat up; ours would get very hot. The new system needs next to no maintenance — all we need is a tech that can change a motherboard every once in a great while.”

 

Chris Diamond

Chris Diamond, vice president of Food and Beverage at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC (Photo credit: Chris Diamond)

 

Soon after, two Phononic refrigerators were deployed in each of PNC Arena’s seven loge boxes — the undercounter/built-in units are not big enough for the arena’s more spacious suites yet. Diamond brought a key wine vendor to an event, not letting him in on the change: “The guy was blown away by the quiet of the new units — he couldn’t believe it! He told me ‘I want one for my house!'”

 

Phononic fridge PNC Arena

Phononic refrigerator in one of the loge boxes at PNC Arena (Photo credit: PNC Arena)

 

The seven loge boxes are clearly just the beginning of the Phononic-PNC Arena relationship.

“I told Tony that there’s enough work here for Phononic for five years and more if you can get me bigger refrigerators,” declared Diamond. “I need them for our 51 larger suites but that’s just the start. A big trend in stadium and arena food service is ‘Grab & Go’, small, mobile stands. This summer, I want to be the first arena to use Phononic to cool its ‘Grab & Go’ installations.”

 

Phononic’s Environmental Benefits Important for PNC Bank Arena

While Phononic refrigerators’ reduced maintenance costs and quiet operation are certainly important to Diamond and the PNC Arena team, so too are its environmental benefits.

Per Diamond, “Since we opened in 1999, the environment has been an important operational consideration — it needs to be, as we see 1.5 million visitors annually. Recycling has been big since day one, as has the minimizing of waste. So, the environmental advantages of Phononic got our attention.”

 

Tony Phononic

Tony Atti with a Phononic refrigerator (Photo credit: Phononic)

 

Phononic’s most disruptive environmental feature is the elimination of Freon, a major greenhouse gas contributor, from the refrigeration the process.

“Over the next 30 years, it is expected there will be as much CO pumped into the atmosphere from refrigeration and air conditioning as there will be from cars,” noted Atti. “There has been a necessary move to eliminate or reduce the amount of Freon from the refrigeration/cooling process while maintaining the compressor system, but potential replacement substances present other problems. Phononic is completely different and its operation actually uses CO₂ as opposed to generating or releasing it. And less maintenance visits means fewer transportation-related CO₂ emissions. The refrigeration industry needs disrupting and Phononic is positioned to do it.”

 

Loge Boxes at PNC Arena Are Just the Beginning

Phononic is talking to other arenas about their innovative refrigeration system. “Many arenas and stadiums are seeking environmentally sustainable solutions, not only from the ‘it’s the right thing to do’ perspective, but also to save money, to drive profitability,” said Atti. “We are selling a variety of ‘refrigerator as a service’ options for 2018 that will appeal to sports venues, including a small ice cream freezer that will move from suite to suite. Bigger versions of our ‘undercounter’ style refrigerator are in development — they will allow us to go beyond suites to servicing the arena or stadium bowl. Consumer models are in our medium-term plans as well.”

Sounds to me to like Atti’s goal of Phononic becoming the “Tesla of Refrigeration” is not at all farfetched.

And I’m ready to start selling!

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us: @GreenSportsBlog