Innovate Fort Collins Challenge presents sustainability solutions

Julia Trowbridge

In keeping with its goal to attain carbon neutrality by 2050, the City of Fort Collins is looking to its community for innovative solutions to reduce carbon emissions.

The finalists for the second annual Innovate Fort Collins Challenge, a City grant challenge aimed at reducing Fort Collins’ carbon footprint, presented their pitches to a panel of judges on Aug. 30. These projects, which are aimed at solving energy, waste, transportation and behavioral problems, are seeking funding from the community they benefit.


“We know that if we want to foster a culture of innovation, it does take people who deeply care about this place,” said Darin Atteberry, Fort Collins City manager. “It requires collaboration, and we have that and more.”

The projects will be judged on many components, including the pitch the finalists gave on Thursday. The awardees will be announced in mid-September. 

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  • Heidi Olinger of Pretty Brain presented her pitch to the Innovate Fort Collins. Her pitch towards the grant was asking for funds to help encourage young women to develope new technologies. (Josh Schroeder | Collegian)

  • Jana Smith and Dierdre Mcnab representing Solar United Neighbors present their pitches for the Innovate Fort Collins Grant. Their grant focused on getting people to join a solar COOP in the hopes of getting the cost of solar down for owners. (Josh Schroeder | Collegian)

  • Ellie Troxell and Judy Dorsey with She’s in Power 3.0 made a pitch focusing on the need to enable young women to develop clean technologies. Their goal is to develop technologies to decrease the carbon footprint of Fort Collins residents. (Josh Schroeder | Collegian)

  • James Mitchell of TacoBout Solar gives his presentation about the need for solar education at Innovate Fort Collins. In his presentation he claimed that when people are educated in the different solar technologies available they are more likely to choose a clean option. (Josh Schroeder | Collegian)

  • Stacy Koeckeritz and Caitlin Young with the NoCo Tool Lending Library pitch to the Innovate Fort Collins Grant was presented on August 30, 2018. The proposal was to develop a library that members could check tools out of instead of needing to always buy them. (Josh Schroeder | Collegian)

  • Dan Graham, a psychology professor at CSU with Healthy Environments through Activity and Responsible Transportation, gave his presentation at the Innovate Fort Collins Grant. The 6 groups that presented represented all of the finalists in the Grant competition. (Josh Schroeder | Collegian)

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Sustainability through behavior change

Colorado State University and partners presented their pitch for Healthy Environments through Activity and Responsible Transportation (HEART), an app which will show routes for active transportation and public transportation around Fort Collins.

CSU One Health Institute are asking for $45,000 to develop their project, and, if allowed additional money, will hire a software developer to improve the app. 

The app both encourages people to get outside and seek alternative transportation.

“Increasing your physical activity and spending more time in nature can really improve your health and reduce your risk for diseases like depression and cardiovascular diseases,” said Dan Graham, a CSU psychology professor.

The app would also allow users to see how much they have reduced their carbon footprint with a feature that displays the number of trees being saved every time they take alternative routes or public transportation. 

EcoThrift, a local thrift store geared towards recycling, presented another project aimed at encouraging sustainable behavior in the community. EcoThrift is asking for $25,000 for a director, eco-friendly tools and scholarships for outreach for a NoCo tool lending library.

The lending library focuses on reducing the waste created by more expensive tools that people use infrequently by offering eco-friendly tools available to the community. 


“Denver has a lending library, Boulder has a lending library, and even DesMoines, Iowa has a lending library,” said Stacy Koeckeritz, the owner of EcoThrift. “I think it’s well past time that Fort Collins has its own lending library

Sustainability through empowerment 

She’s in Power, presented by Colorado Clean Energy Education and Empowerment Initiative and MISSion Innovation, presented by Pretty Brainy are looking to empower women in STEM fields.

The Colorado C3E Initiative aims to close the gender gap in the clean energy workforce and is asking for $50,000 for their ten-year project. Their pitch, called She’s in Power, is a workforce platform that focuses on greenhouse gas reduction through mentoring young women to design solutions and put their projects into action.

“We have to engage with the entire workforce to achieve our (emission) goals,” said Judy Dorsey, the founding president and principal engineer for a group in Colorado C3E. “We really want to work on the empowerment part.”

Pretty Brainy, a grassroots organization which aims to keep young girls interested in science, is asking for $10,000. Their pitch included two projects: MISSion Innovation, a 24-hour innovation marathon that looks at designing climate action solutions, and a Cool Campus challenge, an app where people pledged carbon emission reduction goals, based on a project from the University of California.

“Each participant from the Californian challenge reduced their carbon footprint by just over one metric ton,” said Heidi Olinger, the founder of Pretty Brainy. “We are assuming that Fort Collins can do at least as well as the Californians.”

We know that if we want to foster a culture of innovation, it takes people who deeply care about this place. It requires collaboration, and we have that and more.” -Darin Atteberry, City manager for Fort Collins  

Sustainability through accessible solar energy

Renewablue, a third-party source for energy consulting, is asking for $8,000 to fund their solar energy classes called TacoBout Solar. These classes break down the average cost of solar panel installation, options on how to pay for solar, available local incentives and rebates and federal tax credits, according to their website.

In the future, Renewablue wants to film these classes to make them accessible to everyone.

“(We’re) on a mission to make it an expectation that people should get unbiased, third-party information about solar,” said James Mitchell, founder of Renewablue and CSU alumnus. “If somebody’s curious if solar is right for them, their option is to google it or to invite somebody into their home to try to sell them something.”

Solar United Neighbors, which has 156 successful solar co-ops around the country, is asking for $30,000 to launch their first co-op in Colorado to increase the number of solar panels in Fort Collins. The co-op would organize large groups of people in one area to purchase and install solar panels at a lower cost than usual.

“It hits the tripleheader,” said Jana Smith, a volunteer with Solar United Neighbors of Colorado. “It provides social measurable returns with a number of public meetings. It helps with the economics, which is measurable savings on utility bills. And finally, it helps clean up the air.”

Julia Trowbridge can be reached at or on twitter @chapin_jules.