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Zero Energy Systems: Efficiently building on what dad started

Zero Energy Systems

Each family has its own special quirks and talents.

For Robert Long and his son Scott, their family quirk is manufacturing insulated concrete walls and doing it extremely efficiently.

Scott co-founded Zero Energy Systems in 2009, in Coralville to manufacturer a high-performance concrete wall system. Zero Energy Systems uses state-of-the-art, computer-automated production of a proprietary system—that his dad originally developed in 1980—to build insulated concrete wall systems for residential and commercial construction.

Long started his career with manufacturing started in 1997 when he founded T-Mass Systems Inc. to pursue a better manufacturing platform. Using that business, Long and his co-founder Manoj Krishan began designing a facility in 2007 around computer-automated manufacturing, to produce the proprietary panels that his father’s company Thermomass first developed.

“We built a system that breaks the individual production and sequences down into individual stations, so assembly line manufacturing,” Long explained. “By doing that, you can build efficiencies in each one of these stations to create more output and less costs. We have a facility that is 45,000 square feet and 37 people on the plant floor.”

Long says they’ve increased the daily output numbers, without increasing the workforce and that sales have increased by 100 percent, each of the last three years.

“We have backlogged the plant until the third quarter,” Long says. “We are struggling to keep up with the outputs.”

It’s a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem. Long said Wednesday he’s in San Francisco to raise outside capital that will expand the Iowa plant but ultimately build three more plants in Atlanta, Houston and Los Angeles.

Long said they are trying to raise $40 million of Series A funding.

“We’ve had a good relationship here with our community bank that we’ve clearly outgrown,” Long says. “We are just growing at a pace that chews up capital.

“It is a good problem but it comes with the same frustrations and challenges as it does sitting around being broke. I’ve been in both scenarios.”

Family impact

Besides manufacturing the panels that his father developed, Scott said his brother Bob joined Zero Energy Systems in 2017. He was the founder of Metacommunications in Iowa City and just made an exit from the business.

“We’ve joined forces and his software team has developed these systems,” Long said. “They are actively completing our AutoCAD plug-ins, our workflow systems and digital ordering systems. Which that gives us the power to access 300 million Americans.”

Long explained that previously for a business owner interested in building a new office building would go through a six-month process and speak with an architect then go out to bid.

“Just to get a number,” Long says. “We’ve empowered people that within 60 minutes you can get that number. So we’re seeing a large amount of activity from the nonindustry people.”

Long said other than the 200 homes for the Meskawki Indian Tribe in Tama, most of their orders are from schools, data centers, cold storage units, fulfillment centers or mixed-use buildings.

“I think you are going to continue to see the merging of those technology platforms in all forms of manufacturing in the United States,” Long says. “Take that automation and couple it with systems that our public is trained to expect…those are powerful tools.”

Zero Energy Systems has over 60 employees at its Coralville headquarters.



Zero Energy Systems: Efficiently building on what dad started | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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