Pathways to Enter the Green Economy with Environmental Education Group’s Alan Tratner

March 25, 2015

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored today to have with us Alan Tratner. He’s the Chairman of the Environmental Education Group. Welcome to Green is Good, Alan. ALAN TRATNER: Thank you, John. It’s my pleasure to be with you. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, Alan, before we get talking about all the great projects that you have going on within the Environmental Education Group, I’d love you to join the Alan Tratner story because you have a fascinating story and journey leading up to all your important environmental initiatives that you’re involved with. Can you share your story and how you got to where you are today? ALAN TRATNER: Thank you. Absolutely. It’s funny. I was a kid growing up in the sixties. I was born in Detroit, and General Motors had this contest about designing the car of the future. The winner got a $5,000 scholarship to go to college. That’s laughable now, but whatever. You designed the car of the future, and you built it. You had to hand build it, cutting it, and all that stuff. I won their attention a couple of times, to the point that as an 11-year-old, they put me at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, where they were designing the World’s Fair, refrigerators, and cars of every kind, when General Motors was the number one corporation on the planet, of course. That caused me to be thinking about inventing and entrepreneurship and all the things I was kind of excited about in my art and scholastic and science background. We moved to California. When we moved to California, I had no idea how bad smog was in the sixties, before the laws and emission controls and all that stuff. We couldn’t go to school some days, and it just changed my whole direction of understanding what I should be doing, personally, and maybe helping others with inventing and entrepreneurship and green space and creating what we now call the green economy or environmental entrepreneurship or eco-inventing. So, I went down that direction because of circumstances and the way the world works, I landed with this brand new upstart magazine called Environmental Quality Magazine. They had been funded by Bankers Trust. We were out there on the cutting edge. Right in 1969, in Santa Barbara, the world famous or infamous oil spill happened, and that catalyzed what they call the modern environmental movement, with the birds coated with oil and the beaches closed and how bad things were. I remember in Time Magazine the big stories about how bad we were polluting the planet. So it really stung home with me that I should be going in a different direction and try to help the world with the inventing side and entrepreneurial side, instead of just going crazy industrially, without any concern for the planet. So, luckily, I had a lot of politicians and Hollywood celebrities being out here that got behind me, and I was involved in the founding, proudly, of the original Earth Day with Dennis Hayes from Environmental Action, Senator Gaylord Nelson, and we kind of helped that whole thing get birthed and how it spread the world and annually celebrated. Then I went to the United Nations conference, the first ever on the human environment, in Stockholm, Sweden, and did a presentation and got connected to other countries and other people. We went on a different tangent, John. You could hug the whales and hug the trees and save the whales and do whatever you wanted to, and everybody started to do that, but I wanted to do something that was related to inventing a better future. So, we created the Green2Gold Incubator. It was early on before incubators were really talked about or accelerators. You’re talking about the beginning of the 1970s, and that’s what we started to do, was to invent and create ideas and help people around the world do things that would be new technology, renewable energy, sustainability before it was talked about, green products of every kind and ilk. The only thing we didn’t want to practice was just two areas, medical quackery and weapons of mass destruction. You can go elsewhere for that. But we basically can invent and entrepreneur and incubate ideas in this whole field, and we ended up, thanks to all the stuff I was doing, being on Oprah, Good Morning America and CNN. Oprah told 20 million Americans if you have a great idea, call Alan, put my phone number up there, and forever changed my whole life and our organization’s. Then we traveled around the world, did some 4,500 workshops, Moscow, Russia, to Stanford, and continue to do so to date. Now we have five major project elements within the Environmental Education Group that are related to sustainability, environmental entrepreneurship, technology, renewable energy, the global scale, incredible attention that we get, and we’re making quite a big difference. We even have a chain of Angel Investor, an unconventional funding resource, to our incubator. We’ve been doing the annual Clean Businesses Investment Summit out here in California at UCSB, where we’re housed. In my background, I ended up with like 15 patents. Everyone teases me that if I wasn’t helping thousands of others, I’d probably have 100 patents right now in renewable energy and transportation and things that I care about. So, it’s been quite a ride. Plus, the U.S. Small Business Administration made a contract with us to run a small business development center on the SCORE counselor, Service Corps of Retired Executives, for the USSBA. And we pioneered some very important things. For a long time, during the 1970s and 1980s, I ended up being the Editor-in-Chief of the Solar Energy Society, was the Executive Director of the Geothermal Energy Association and owned the Geothermal Energy magazines and annual directory. We were immersed in all kinds of renewable energy and energy favors and environmental things that we did, but the culmination of that was the 1990s, when we launched, with some producers in Hollywood that were quite famous, they got some backers, and they created Eco Expo. We were pioneers in this area, and the Green Business Conference, which I ran. For kids, we had the Young Eco Inventors contest and Young Eco Entrepreneurs with the major corporations helping us and sponsoring us. At one point, 14,000 kids showed up with ideas of how to help the future. And, the Popular Science magazine, win a trip to Hollywood and $1,000 with your great idea. We were doing spectacular things, getting coverage everywhere in the media, and making a big difference, and we did that for a long, long time, the entire decade of the 1990s. I’m very proud of that. At one point, we were getting 50,000 people showing up, had hundreds of exhibits, and concerts and celebrities. Alan Alda, Jr., which everybody knows, he used to be my partner to give out awards for the young kids with their eco-inventions. That’s now matured to something we call Super STEM, a whole new, profound evolution of Science, Technology, Engineering, Math this country’s really hurting for, but we threw in sustainability and invention and environment and entrepreneurship and things like that, to make it holistic in a way that the planet will benefit and kids will benefit. That’s a snapshot of what we do, and then you and I have both been inducted, proudly, into the International Green Industry’s Hall of Fame, recognizing us as pioneers for what we’re doing. I’m very proud to be in your company and on your radio show. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so nice. That’s an amazing journey you’ve had, and all the great, important work that you’re doing. For our listeners out there that just joined us, we’ve got Alan Tratner. He’s the Chairman of the Environmental Education Group. To learn more about Alan’s great work and to see just one of his great websites, you can go to www.green2gold.org. Alan, can you share now, unpack the Environmental Education Group and all the great projects that you have ongoing there, and how does that create opportunities for inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs to really, then, take a step into the green economy? ALAN TRATNER: Perfect. Well, essentially, everything that we’ve done, that we’ve incorporated, we have this thing called Tech Brews, which is a mega mixer of green networking that we developed over 11 years. It’s part and parcel to the incubator. Everything is kind of like an adjunct to the central Green2Gold incubator. Even the Super STEM concept would be a feeder for youth to get involved. How do you take a great idea rattling around your noggin and take it to the world marketplace? How do you commercialize it? What are the commercial pathways? Most people don’t understand that there are multiple pathways to take a great idea to the marketplace. You yourself formed a company that has an entrepreneurial effort that is in recycling and a terrific success. How do you do that? How do you enter that? We even have now taken that to the whole thing of on planet, off planet, this whole thing of private space enterprise, greening the supply chain, the industry, making a difference, and encouraging private space enterprise for inventors, innovators, small businesses, entrepreneurs, students. That’s the California Space Enterprise Center, a $250 million that we’re building that will incorporate the Super STEM Center and have our incubator and a space enterprise campus, for green tech, renewable energy, and space enterprise. We even have something called the Evolving Mother that is a spin-off of the incubator to help mothers that want to be sustainable, green entrepreneurs and work at home or maybe out of the home, but we’re helping their children’s and family’s life. So, incredible stuff that we put together in all these years, the Inventors Workshop, the Small Business Entrepreneurship Center. Along the way, the funniest thing that happened and why we got even more attention from the media, is that if you remember, maybe your listeners won’t be that old, there was the first original Arab oil boycott, the embargo, that hit America very hard in the early seventies, with the gas lines and millions of people were lined up and couldn’t get gas, and the country was in crisis. That day that that happened, when that was put into place by OPEC, the NBC television network was trying to get somebody from the government, the Department of Energy, or it used the be the Energy Research Agency or whatever it was before the Department of Energy, or somebody from the energy industry, oil, gas, anybody, to come on the air and talk about alternatives, and they couldn’t find anybody. The producer at NBC remembered hearing me do lectures on Earth Day and Environmental Quality magazine as I traveled around the country with a slide slip that said about alternative energy resources, everything from biomass to geothermal to solar to wind to hydro power, everything that we can muster. I put together the show “Alternatives to Oil and Gas and Fossil Fuels.” So, they threw me on the air on NBC, and overnight it was a sensation. Farmers started calling us, media calling us, and Pepperdine University, the Dean called up and said, “I want to hire you and make you Professor of Environment and Energy. Create the courses.” They hadn’t even known what those courses were about environment and energy. Teach it to teachers, teach it to students, and get going. And they did. It was a pretty marvelous thing. In that, I learned how we could teach entrepreneurship and inventing in the incubator, as well as actually doing the enterprise incubation. In the resources that I was referring to earlier about having a great green idea and what you do with it, those steps include having evaluation at the beginning and looking at intellectual property, patents, copyrights, trademarks, domain names, and trade secrets, and then owning those and going to the next step of whether you want to be an entrepreneur. You have the passion and the ability and the wherewithal to do it, to form a company, raise capital. Or do you want to line up all the ducks and go after the pathway of licensing an idea and receiving a reward from royalties or user’s fees from someone else who takes the entrepreneurial risk? Or, nowadays, you can actually auction, if you own intellectual property. And then there’s these things called co-ventures that we’ve been putting together that used to be called strategic alliances. Many pathways that people can have this option, and this is what we teach and do at the incubator at Green2Gold and all the other programs that support it. It’s education, and it’s real world hands-on experience of avoiding the obstacles. I think the most important thing for your listeners to know is what is the power of this word, incubation? They’ve done a study across the United States that people that do a startup enterprise in all fields, not just green, if they, in the first to third year, if people do that on their own, and America is the most entrepreneurial country still in the world. One in ten Americans starts a small business, but as many as 90% of them fail during the first to third year from lack of capital, management, resources, what to do avoiding obstacles, all the reasons that those dreams go down the toilet. But basically, in incubation, it’s the opposite. It’s now approaching a 90% success rate, which is similar to having a franchise. We just buy it, and everything is done for you, marketing, supplying. It’s hard to fail. You know your hand is held. We do mentorship, tutoring, and counseling. One of the great things we do is virtual incubation. In fact, maybe more than two-thirds of all the people we have as members around the world, 100,000 and growing, are virtually incubated, where we’ve made people successful and never even met them. We discuss things on the phone, e-mail, and postal mail, whatever, so it’s pretty interesting. Although, traveling around the world, as I mentioned, John, I’ve been in 40 different countries, where we’re actually talking to them and establishing the Green2Gold sustainable economic engine driver as an entity for various countries. So, we’re proud of what we’re doing. We can take people right from the beginning of the idea, sketched on a piece of toilet paper or a napkin, all the way up to being a commercial success and post-success. What do you do when you want to exit? What do you do when you want to retire from the venture you’ve created or you idea? And that’s what we do in the Green2Gold incubator. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Alan, we’ve got about five minutes left. One of the things I know you do is you show people and entrepreneurs with ideas how to raise money. Show me the money. How do people raise money if they’ve got, they think, a good idea? Also, what role does government have with regards to scaling an idea and getting an idea born? ALAN TRATNER: Well, it does begin with this system. When I do lectures and workshops around the planet, I have this slide. It is this proven system that we’ve had over 42 years that we put together that kind of gets you surrounded or leapfrogging obstacles. It’s a system and a sequence of lining up intellectual property resources, technology, the advisors, all that kind of stuff. Then that’s the appealing matrix that attracts money. We have a special template that is only available to our members that have gone through this process that is the most proven template for getting equity-based money, or even going to banks or debt money or unconventional funding resources. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, you give them all the tools to succeed. ALAN TRATNER: All the tools, and it’s a mechanism that, if they adhere to it and they do the business plan properly based on the presentation and the pitch, they can normally succeed with our help. There’s no guarantees in life, but it works. The funniest thing is for many years, when I was part of an angel group that got founded, very innovative entrepreneurial, and we watched the boot camps mature, where the actual investors with the money would tell you what they want to see and how to do it and how to ask them. We learned from that, and that’s part of the way we attract money to be magnetic to our great ideas. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re down to the last three minutes, Alan. What are some of your favorite ventures and inventions that have been coming out of Green2Gold the last two or three years that you can share with our listeners? ALAN TRATNER: OK. Mine or my members’? JOHN SHEGERIAN: Whatever. It’s your show. ALAN TRATNER: That’s a challenge. We have a remarkable water technology. I’ve seen everything. We have a water purification technology that, of all things, was based on gold mining, someone wanting to mine for gold but ended up mining a different kind of gold, and that was the purification of water. It’s an incredible technology in the droughts and what may be happening with climate change and environmental pollution. This is a remarkable breakthrough that could cause the purification of water virtually everywhere. Even desalinization at one-third of the cost that it is now, with no environmental degradation. It’s almost a self-powered machine once it gets going. So, one of those technologies we’re very proud of. It’s already had a prototype and it’s got investment and intellectual property. We’re moving that along. We’ve had a remarkable series of wind turbines that are highly efficient, better than anything on the planet, in their efficiencies and their economies, that we’ve been promoting and putting together in the incubator. We’ve had consumer products and baby products and pet toy products that are all green and sustainable and made out of bioplastics and materials that we’re very proud of. The transportation vehicles, electric motorcycles and scooters and new kinds of bicycles. We try to make everything sustainable from the beginning, the cradle-to-cradle concept. So, those are the kinds of remarkable things. Solar technology that is a real big step up, capturing solar energy so more and more people can use that for electricity or water heating or space heating or air conditioning. So many answers. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Alan, we’re down to the last minute. I’d love you to do a shameless plug because I want all the listeners who want to get their idea born to come to Green2Gold, shameless plug for you. Go right ahead. ALAN TRATNER: Shameless not; it’s proud. Come to Green2Gold, taking your ideas that are green and making them gold, green2gold.org. Famous nonprofit, 42 years. We’re here to help people. By the way, John, we want everyone to know that we don’t take equity. We’re a nonprofit exempt organization, so we’re not involved. We’re helping everybody with mixed tech incubation. Green2gold.org. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Green2gold.org. That’s Alan Tratner. He’s the Chairman of the Environmental Education Group. Thank you, Alan, for being a visionary and inspiring sustainability leader. You are truly living proof that green is good.