What a Cute Little Power Plant

Energy-supply woes fuel this outfit

In the mid-1990s, when William Cratty and Art Mannion began hunting for financing for their energy startup, they met with nearly 300 potential investors. But without a dot-com in its name, Sure Power Corp. didn't get a nibble. "We actually had negative sex appeal," Mannion says. Then oil prices spiked and the perils of energy deregulation hit the front pages. Suddenly, Sure Power looked a lot sexier.

The 12-person company, based in Danbury, Conn., has a patent pending on an on-site power system that uses fuel-cell and microturbine technology to produce as much as 25 megawatts of electricity, enough to power a 2.5-million-square-foot office building. The system--which runs on natural gas and fits inside a storage shed built adjacent to the facility--allows companies to use Sure Power as the primary energy source, with the utility grid as a backup.

That's an attractive proposition. Thanks to the deregulation debacle in California, it's tough to take electric power for granted--especially when an interruption of just a few seconds can wreak havoc with a company's computer systems. Such anxiety has proved an effective marketing tool for Sure Power. Last fall, the company received $14.6 million from Spencer Trask Ventures Inc., and with the nation fixated on California, the company has been fielding more inquiries than it can handle.

Mannion, a 60-year-old ex-investment banker, and Cratty, a 59-year-old engineer, entrepreneur, and former Exxon executive, met in 1986, when Mannion put money into Cratty's energy-management venture. When the Internet boomed in the mid-1990s, it seemed clear to both of them that the current utility grid could never support the burgeoning needs of electronic commerce for absolute reliability. They decided to create a system that could, spending two years developing the Sure Power system.

Mannion and Cratty expect business to boom in 2001. The company has signed marketing partnerships with such big-name energy providers as Enron and Austin Energy, which are offering Sure Power energy systems to their customers. With a little good karma, the company just might find itself blessed with capacity problems of its own.

By Amy Oringel

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