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The University Magazine

High hopes for clean technology

Innovators are finding opportunities in the business of building a greener, more sustainable future. RIT alumni are among them. Here are some examples.

Kevin Surace ’85 was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. magazine for his work in building Serious Materials, a manufacturer of environmentally friendly drywall and windows.

Carlos Barrios 06, left, and Jennifer Indovina 06, 07 at the Tenrehte display at the CES

Bill Schmitz ’85 with one of the smaller WindTamer generators, on a truck at the plant in Geneseo.

Windows and walls

Perhaps you saw Kevin Surace ’85 (electrical engineering technology) on the cover of Inc. magazine’s December 2009 issue.

Surace is the magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year. “Kevin Surace is on a Roll,” the cover story proclaims. “His vision: To build the most innovative company ever, make billions of dollars, and save a complacent world from the perils of global warming. By selling windows and drywall, Kevin Surace just might pull it off.”

Surace, president and CEO of Serious Materials, says the recognition came as a big surprise. “It’s the Academy Award for growing companies,” he commented. “It’s truly a testament to the team that is behind me. And this kind of exposure helps raise awareness of what we’re doing.”

The Inc. magazine recognition marks the culmination of an extraordinary year for Surace and his company, which is headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif. The company’s EcoRock drywall material was awarded Popular Science’s Green Tech Grand award. It also was named best new product by Popular Mechanics and received The Wall Street Journal’s Technology Innovation award in the environmental category.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) announced that Serious Materials has been named to the 2010 class of Technology Pioneers, a group of 26 companies that WEF believes “represent the most innovative start-ups from around the globe that will have a critical impact on the future of business and society.”

Serious Materials purchased and reopened a Chicago window factory, saving jobs and attracting the attention of President Barack Obama, who praised the company during a news conference in 2009. Additional jobs were saved when the company reopened another closed-down window factory in Pennsylvania.

Surace, a member of RIT’s Board of Trustees, joined Serious Materials in 2002.

Find out more about Serious Materials online at

Winning big in Vegas

The “green tech revolution” was everywhere in evidence at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which took place in January in Las Vegas.

And among the many competitors, PICOwatt, the first product of Rochester-based Tenrehte Technologies Inc., won the Best of CES Award in the Green Tech category.

“It’s huge for us to receive this independent validation of our product and technology,” says CEO Jennifer Indovina ’06, ’07 (electrical engineering, MBA). Tenrehte, founded in 2009, is developing wireless products for smart-grid applications. Other RIT grads involved include Jennifer’s dad, Mark Indovina ’82, ’87, chief operating officer; Carlos Barrios ’06, senior engineer; and staff engineers Steven Boggs ’86 and Robert Morasse ’85 (all electrical engineering).

PICOwatt is a “smart plug” that allows remote energy monitoring and control for a variety of appliances. Consumers would plug PICOwatt into a standard outlet, then plug an appliance such as the dishwasher or refrigerator into the PICOwatt. Using a computer or cell phone, consumers can monitor usage, or the appliance can be turned off when electrical rates are highest, on when the rates are lower.

Today this allows for significant savings in areas where variable electricity pricing is in effect, including California and Florida. Under a federal initiative, a “smart grid” system is under development, so variable pricing will likely affect most of the nation in the future.

“Our aim,” says CEO Indovina, “is to improve people’s lives through wireless technology, empowering consumers to take a more active role in the grid, eliminate wasted energy costs, and reduce their carbon footprint.”

To learn more, visit

Riding the wind

The wind has powered boats and mills and dreams for thousands of years.

Today, the wind is providing a growing portion of the world’s energy needs.

And someday soon, you might have your own wind turbine in the backyard.

WindTamer Corp., a young company in Geneseo, N.Y., is one of the companies building equipment to harness the wind for homes, farms, businesses and municipalities.

William Schmitz ’85 (mechanical engineering) was so impressed with the technology that he left the position of chief operating officer at Ultralife Corp. to become president of WindTamer in November 2009. During his tenure as COO from 2002 to 2009, Ultralife’s annual revenues increased from $32.5 million to $254 million. Schmitz previously was vice president of manufacturing and general manager, Primary Batteries, at Ultralife. Prior to joining Ultralife in 1999, he was director of new product development for Bausch & Lomb’s Global Eyewear business, which included the Ray-Ban brand.

WindTamer was founded in 2001 by CEO Gerald Brock, who discovered a way to increase the speed of wind through a turbine. He received the first patent on his technology in 2003. The company asserts that its device can produce more than double the power of traditional wind turbines. Schmitz describes the WindTamer as more like a jet engine than a propeller.

WindTamers certainly look different – like a giant bullhorn or some enormous white blossom with a green center. Schmitz hopes that within a year, more than 400 units will be generating electricity for happy customers. Since the company began selling them in late 2009, several have been installed in Western New York.

“New is exciting,” he says. “We have a chance to make a difference in a big way.

The possibilities are endless.”

Visit for more information.