March 9, 2009

Green-Building Clearinghouse Making Pitches

John P. McDermott  /  The Post and Courier

A local technology upstart that's angling to be the Expedia of a rapidly expanding sector of the building industry has gotten the nod to pitch its plans at an Upstate venture capital gathering. It's also been invited to another VC meet the same day on the West Coast.

"When it rains it pours," said Adam Bernholz, chief executive of Green Wizard LLC. The development-stage company is targeting building industry professionals by developing an online clearinghouse "for the green construction industry that simplifies product research, product comparison, specifications, quoting, purchase and documentation."

Bernholz noted that bona-fide green materials must meet numerous specifications. "It really requires an analytical, software-based solution rather than a back-of-the-envelope solution," he said.

The company will join seven other tech hopefuls that are presenting at the March 24 InnoVenture Southeast conference in Greenville. Taking the stage for Green Wizard will be its president, Jerry Lepore, formerly of Daniel Island-based health care software firm Benefitfocus. Meanwhile, Bernholz will be in the Bay Area, where his company will be one of 10 largely unheard-of firms, dubbed the LaunchPad10, seeking to attract investors at the inaugural Green:Net conference.

Aside from the fact that the presentations fall on the same day, the timing isn't lost on Bernholz, who noted this probably is "the worst time in history to raise money in the capital markets."

"It's all part of the dance," he said with a shrug last week.

Green Wizard already has raised $250,000 and is looking to round up another $4.5 million in working capital. At a recent investor presentation, it said it would offer its service for free to users. Its revenue and profits would be generated by a 2 percent commission charged to suppliers on each sale they make through the Web site.

Bernholz, a Goat Island resident, previously was co-founder of a business-to-business sales consulting firm. Green Wizard anticipates making 20 hires in its first year, he said. He said his interest in the green-construction movement was piqued as he was building his home using sustainable materials and techniques. "There was a lack of information," he said. Architects he spoke with made him realize that "there was tremendous pain out there" when it came to navigating the green-products labyrinth.

"On the VC side, where there's pain, there's opportunity," he said.

Aside from the upcoming conferences, Bernholz recently returned from Cleantech XXI in San Francisco, where he laid out his strategy to a roomful of 800 financiers. "It was eye-opening," he said.