After tackling energy utilities, entrepreneur Scott Case is eager to mix it up with electric vehicles

University of Washington entrepreneur-in-residence Scott Case and his son in Washington’s Methow Valley. (Photo courtesy of Scott Case)

Entrepreneur Scott Case knows which big thing in tech he’s most excited about: electric vehicles and the batteries that power them.

“There are great opportunities for that ecosystem as it changes for the first time ever,” said Case, who was chief operating officer for EnergySavvy, a former Seattle startup that helped utilities communicate with their customers. The company was purchased by last year by Tendril, which is now Uplight, for an undisclosed amount.

Case sees parallels between transportation and its century-old reliance on the internal combustion engine with utilities’ entrenched approach to providing centralized, often fossil-fuel powered electricity to its customers.

The utility sector is notoriously slow moving and heavily regulated, but EnergySavvy provided tools to boost utility energy efficiency programs, allowing the organizations to cost-effectively scale their power saving efforts. Making changes to utility operations required “grit and persistence and patience and willingness to find the cracks in the armor of the industry,” said Case, who was EnergySavvy’s COO for a decade, joining shortly after the company launched.

Now it’s transportation, he said, that is being transformed in how, where and what kind of energy vehicles are using.

Last year Case took the role of entrepreneur-in-residence at the University of Washington’s Clean Energy Institute, which is focused on developing technologies for batteries, solar power, electrical grid management — and commercializing these innovations. While he doesn’t have a technical engineering background, Case said he brings unique insights that are helpful to the UW students and staff and other startup founders involved with the institute who are looking to launch companies.

Attendees at the Ada Developers Academy graduation, from left to right: Ada graduate and board member Miriam Cortes, Ada co-founder and board member Scott Case, CEO Lauren Sato, outgoing Ada interim executive director Christine Martin, and Ada board member Rachel Klein. Photo taken Jan. 7, 2020. (Jenny Crooks Photo)

In addition to helping EnergySavvy raise $30 million in funding and navigate its acquisition, Case was previously at aQuantive when Microsoft purchased the digital advertising company for a record sum. In 2013, he co-founded Ada Developers Academy, a Seattle nonprofit providing free, intensive software engineering training to women. Ada has 380 graduates and 91% find full-time jobs in technology within six months of completing the program.

Case helped create Ada after struggling to diversify the engineering team at EnergySavvy. The company was so homogeneous that its first 12 engineers were all men; four were named Dan. He tried recruiting from farther-flung Northwest cities, posting on Craigslist in Boise and Eugene. He tapped bootcamp grads, but found their training insufficient. Taking inspiration from San Francisco’s Hackbright boot camp and the Year Up program, Case formed Ada along with entrepreneur Elise Worthy and Susannah Malarkey, former head of the Technology Alliance.

“It’s an amazing program,” he said. “I’m thrilled with what it has become. It’s so awesome and inspiring to be around it.”

Case recently stepped back from being chair of the Ada board to serving as a board member.

In addition to his role at the UW, he’s also incubating his own startup. While Case doesn’t imagine creating a new EV or a breakthrough in battery chemistry, he aims to be “in that ecosystem somewhere,” he said. “Getting great at batteries is going to be such an important thing for the world.”

We caught up with Case for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: Seattle

Computer types: Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon. I just can’t abide by Excel on the Mac.

Mobile devices: A hand-me-down iPhone from my mom. I’m not an enthusiastic early adopter of consumer electronics. But my parents still are, so I get a regular supply of free i-devices from them.

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: for all my to do lists. LastPass so I don’t have to deal with passwords any more. OneBusAway to tell me when my Metro chariots will scoop me up.

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? I don’t have a consistent workspace, being between companies. Most of the time right now I’m on the UW campus at the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds or meeting with PhD students in chemical engineering and other clean tech fields.

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Adapted from “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. I’m a huge advocate for the important/urgent 2×2 matrix of work tasks:

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? Linkedin. I use it to run back-channel references on people in the recruiting process. As my network has expanded especially through my work with Ada Developers Academy, it’s gotten pretty easy to get an unbiased opinion on someone’s previous effectiveness early in the interview process.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? Five right now. Inbox zero is the aspiration, but realistically, I just make sure there’s always white space visible at the bottom before I wrap it up for the day.

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? At last check, 11. At this stage in company ideation, it’s a mix of customer discovery, technical diligence, team building and investor discussions.

Scott Case, entrepreneur-in-residence at the University of Washington’s Clean Energy Institute. (UW Photo)

How do you run these meetings? I spend every meeting talking through my best company ideas on the theory that the more times I talk through it, the more likely it is I’ll find the right people to do it with and the more dumb mistakes I’ll avoid. But each meeting is a curious mix of trying to get others excited enough to buy/join/fund while not drinking my own Kool-Aid. If there’s a fatal flaw in what I’m thinking about, I want to identify it now rather than after I’ve wasted months or years of my time.

Everyday work uniform? Jeans and a sweater on a regular day. I used to have a hook-up at a Smartwool sample sale where all the sweaters were 50% off, size medium and fit me perfectly. So I pretty much just rotate Smartwool sweaters all winter long, to the amusement of my colleagues.

How do you make time for family? For the past nine months with a flexible schedule, it’s been pretty easy. But at EnergySavvy during crunch times, I made sure to be home and present during the 5:30-8:30 p.m. time slot, even if that meant hopping back online for a few hours after kid bedtime.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? Hyper-nerdy board games with my hyper-nerdy board game crew. We roll with games like Gloomhaven, Cthulhu Wars and Pandemic Legacy. We’re in the golden age of board games right now, and I think that’s driven by the desire that a lot of people have to unplug from their devices.

What are you listening to? I’m usually a sucker for anything with banjo and vocal harmony, but right now, I’m most excited about Ripe. They’re real good, and playing Seattle’s Showbox at the end of March!

EnergySavvy co-founder and former CEO Aaron Goldfeder (left) and former COO Scott Case. (EnergySavvy photo)

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? Daily read: New York Times print edition. Daily listen: “Pod Save America” and “What a Day,” both from Crooked Media.

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems” by Randall Munroe. Super funny, and kind of a cautionary tale for startups that focus on engineering complicated systems rather than solving problems as simply as possible.

Night owl or early riser? I wake up at 7 a.m. and typically go to sleep at 11 p.m. Is that a night owl or an early riser?

Where do you get your best ideas? Usually right when I wake up in the morning. But most of my best ideas come from synthesizing things that other people say. Asking questions, listening to others and then connecting dots is my superpower.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? I’ve been so fortunate to have the opportunity to work for and alongside Mike Galgon (co-founder of both aQuantive and Pioneer Square Labs, board member at EnergySavvy) for 16 years now. On my best days, I can bring the same thoughtful, patient and incisive analysis to the workplace that he does all the time.

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