Windlift is an airborne wind energy (AWE) start-up. Windlift turbines are supported in the air without a tower, offering a cheaper, cleaner energy source.

How did Windlift get started?

I started Windlift in 2006 in Madison, Wisconsin. While in school there, I founded the company, mainly to file patents for some ideas I had. I wasn’t planning to start the company anytime soon, because there hadn’t been a lot of funding for clean tech. And I thought the world wasn’t ready for it yet and a lot of the technology that I wanted to use wasn’t mature enough. The company got $100,000 in funding in 2008 after I graduated.

Were you always an entrepreneur?

I am naturally an entrepreneur. My mom just sent me this little news article from when I was 12, hustling for paper routes. As a kid, I wanted to run a circus. We’d make circus games, invite the neighborhood kids over, and for a nickel they could throw beanbags. I sold roses, did the paper route, I caddied. Then, around college, I became a socialist for a while. Yeah, “eat the rich,” that kind of thing. That’s how I got into environmental causes. And I actually became a canoe guide. I was a fishing guide up in northern Minnesota and I became fascinated by ecology and science.

How did you come up with the technology?

The problem with wind energy is you build this giant structure to get this turbine blade far enough off the ground to catch wind, because the amount of wind you get is proportional to how high you are. If there’s a building or a hill or a mountain, wind flows over it, and then becomes turbulence. And turbulence is rolling air. So it’s very chaotic. The key with wind energy is to get above that boundary layer to have enough clean air, what’s called laminar flow. Above that layer, the winds are very steady. It’s very clean. That’s why we want to go higher with our systems. 

Why do you think the world could benefit from Windlift?

We depend on the ecology that sustained us throughout humanity’s history. This idea that we can escape nature is a falsity. We are natural beings living in a natural world. A hundred years from now, when people look back on this time that we’re living in today, if we don’t figure out climate change, it is going to make probably 90 percent of the species on the planet go extinct. I like to think I’m a pretty smart guy sometimes. And I would like to apply what I know about the world to solving this problem if I can. I said, when I started this journey a long time ago, if I go bankrupt, and I lose everything, whatever. At least I’ll be able to tell my grandkids that I tried to do something.

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