There has been talk recently about the need to create more startup hubs in Atlantic Canada. Halifax-based entrepreneur Megan McCarthy thinks Nova Scotia is well-placed to become a hub for sustainable technology and renewable energy.

McCarthy is CEO of powerWHYS, a company that provides an app showing those who own or work on renovated buildings how to conserve energy on a particular property.

McCarthy said Nova Scotia already has a developing ecosystem and many initiatives around sustainability, including government-led projects like Efficiency NS, which helps Nova Scotians save on energy costs.

“Nova Scotia was one of the first places to have an efficiency body,” she said. “We have legal obligations to hit renewable energy targets.”
She praised the sustainability initiatives of Dalhousie University’s School of Architecture and Nova Scotia Community College, which runs courses on solar power.

She said Dalhousie battery expert Dr. Jeff Dahn is working with electric carmaker Tesla Motors.

“Nova Scotia has some very forward-looking thinkers, including Don Roscoe, solar designer and builder. We also have impressive environmental projects like the Ecology Action Centre, whose recent renovations might have made them the greenest office building in the world.”

McCarthy began her own company in January 2015. At the time, she was working with the EAC on an energy efficiency project. She said the centre helped her test her prototype, which she cobbled together herself on an Excel spreadsheet.

She has recently forged a partnership with SimpTek Technologies, the New Brunswick-based maker of energy monitoring software.

“They’re the big technical team I’ve been looking for,” she said.

When she returns to Nova Scotia, she hopes to be able to share her knowledge of how to build these off-grid homes made of recycled and natural materials.

McCarthy became interested in Earthships in 2013 when she won $250 from Dalhousie University’s Office of Sustainability after submitting an idea to the Green Your Campus contest. She invested the money in a Kickstarter campaign for the Valhalla Movement, a community of Earthship homes being built near Montreal.

“Compared to a normal house, Earthship homes are cheap to build,” she said. Some people in Ontario built a 2,900-square-foot home in three months for $55,000, and they will have no costs to run it.

“Earthship homes are not ideal for all circumstances. They’re not ideal for cities because of zoning issues, but in terms of new construction in a spacious environment, they have a role to play.”

McCarthy said the concepts of sustainability and renewable energy are gaining traction among the general population. That traction will continue to grow, including among investors.

“Clean-tech investors are typically the ones who have been investing in energy efficiency, but we are hoping to broaden that investment horizon . . . We have a massive opportunity to become an R&D hub for Clean Technologies,” she said.

Things are looking good for McCarthy now, but her entrepreneurial path has not been smooth. She became determined to work in renewable energy after spending 10 years in the oil and gas industry in her native Calgary.

She relocated to Halifax in 2009 and completed a Bachelor of Management, majoring in environment, sustainability and society at Dalhousie.

Over the years she has won startup awards and has become involved in mentoring other young entrepreneurs, but three previous Nova Scotia-based startups she worked on, including one involving wind turbines, did not work out.

“PowerWHYS is my fourth startup,” she said. “The others failed for a variety of reasons. You make mistakes, you have to become an expert, you have to time your idea right . . . After a while, you hit your stride.

“Entrepreneurship is a game of perseverance.”

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