A clean energy startup company on Buffalo's East Side is generating its own energy among venture capitalists, drawing in Paychex Corp. founder and former Buffalo Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano as its newest investor and board member.
Grand Oaks Capital, an investment firm founded by Golisano, has invested $20 million in Viridi Parente, a renewable energy company that makes heavy construction equipment and supplemental power storage systems that run on lithium-ion cells.
Founded by Buffalo businessman, demolition contractor and now developer Jon Williams, Viridi is based at the former American Axle & Manufacturing plant complex on East Delavan Avenue.
The investment by Grand Oaks represents the majority of the $29 million that Viridi raised in its Series B round of funding, along with funding from Impact Capital of New York, Varia Ventures, the Western New York Impact Investment Fund, and private investors, the company said.
Viridi raised $4 million in its first funding round when it launched in June 2018, valuing the company at $12 million. Now, the second round pushed Viridi's total valuation up to $80 million after just 18 months.
“The success we’ve achieved over the past 18 months has taken our technology beyond the proof of concept phase and demonstrated its effectiveness in the marketplace on a statewide, national and international level,” said Williams, chairman and CEO of Viridi – and also CEO of both Ontario Specialty Contracting and South Buffalo Development. “We are excited to take the company to the next level and begin to impact the way in which our country and the world access and rely on renewable energy.”
As a result of his investment in Viridi – the largest to date – Golisano will join its seven-member board of directors.
“Jon has created an outstanding organization that is dedicated to a technology that is on the cusp of widespread adoption," Golisano said. "I believe their proprietary battery system will accelerate market acceptance in the storage and machine markets.”
The investment is the second Golisano has made in a Buffalo company in the last two months. Golisano invested $20 million in local startup PostProcess Technologies, almost a year after losing his large stake in Bak USA when the computer tablet maker shut down.
Viridi, which operates through Green Machine Equipment and Volta Energy Products, builds renewable energy products and systems that substitute for fossil fuel, lead-acid batteries and other older technology.
Green Machine, which actually started in 2010, focuses on replacing diesel-powered and internal combustion engines in construction equipment, reducing operating and maintenance costs while eliminating tailpipe emissions.
Its Whispertech system is already in use for mini-excavators, portable light towers and clean power storage devices – including by National Grid for the past six years – and Viridi is now designing products for "a growing number of original equipment manufacturers," according to the company.
Volta, which started in 2017, designs power systems that store energy from the grid for both immediate backup in case of a power outage and supplemental energy during peak demand.
The company is preparing its first installation, to support a high-powered cryo-electron microscope at the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute in Buffalo. The microscope has "an extremely high electrical demand," so the Volta energy storage system will help meet that need without taxing the power grid, according to the release.
“Viridi Parente will be a renewable economic engine for New York state and the nation," Williams said. "That’s our goal and that is what our technology will do.”