Photograph: Brian Kelly; Hair and Makeup: Jenna Baltes/Artists By Timothy Priano
The Green Innovator
Name: Amy Francetic
Cofounder: Clean Energy Trust
From her 16th-floor office in the heart of the Loop, this eco-minded venture capitalist can survey the green roof atop City Hall, the soaring headquarters of United Continental, and myriad banks and financial firms. The view is a reminder of her role as a catalyst—an “accelerator,” as she puts it—in the race to make the Midwest a hub of clean energy innovation.
In 2010, she cofounded the nonprofit Clean Energy Trust to do just that. Backed by the investment might of Michael Polsky, the CEO of the Chicago-based wind-generation company Invenergy, and Nick Pritzker, a local billionaire and former Hyatt chief, Francetic connects area inventors who have revolutionary ideas with venture capitalists and manufacturers who can bring them to market. And she is an energy consultant on two potentially game-changing projects: the $120 million Argonne battery research center and the 500-acre Lakeside community planned for the former U.S. Steel site.
Francetic talks about fostering an ecosystem in the way that a biologist would—only instead of seeds, she’s helping early-stage companies build the relationships they need to innovate faster. “My goal is to unlock the capital that’s sitting on the sidelines,” says Francetic, who spent the first half of her career in Silicon Valley, where she worked for a time at a business incubator funded by Microsoft’s Paul Allen.
With her Lake Forest address and finance-jargon-laden pitch, Francetic is far from the stereotypical environmentalist. But she believes that the projects her small team has ushered along—among them a manufacturer of high-performance electric engines (HEVT) and a group of Northwestern University metals researchers looking to advance a more secure form of natural gas–storage (NuMat)—have the potential to make more efficient (and less toxic) products that decrease our country’s reliance on foreign oil. “Ultimately, it has to be about more than money,” she says. “It has to be about impact.”
Amy Francetic is one of five winners of Chicago magazine’s 2013 Green Awards. Each year, we honor unsung locals whose innovations are putting Chicago on the national map and doing something good for the earth.