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(Patrick Whitty)

Patrick Whitty works as program director of the Illinois Clean Energy Trust, a non-profit group that provides guidance and money to clean-energy startups.

Patrick Whitty left DC to help write clean energy’s next chapter

by Matt McKinney
Aug 21, 2014

It’s 8:30 a.m. on a Thursday and Patrick Whitty has already had two cups of coffee.

“I’m good to go,” the 28-year-old Des Moines native says with a smile, while sitting outside a Starbucks in downtown Chicago.

After five years in Washington D.C., three of which he worked on the White House communications staff, Whitty moved to Chicago last summer with his wife, Meg.

Nowadays, he’s on the hunt to help find what he calls “clean energy’s next big thing.”

Think: eliminating the need for detergent in commercial laundromats or smartphone batteries that charge using body movement.

Whitty took over in September 2013 as program director of the Illinois Clean Energy Trust, a non-profit group that provides guidance and money to clean-energy startups.

The trust, whose board members include billionaire Nicholas Pritzker recently landed $2.3 million in state and federal funding to invest in sustainable energy startups.

Whitty coaches promising clean-energy inventors and early-stage companies, and helps get them pitch the ideas to prospective investors.

About 6 feet and 3 inches tall, Whitty has neatly gelled hair and wears his suit without a tie. He graduated from Marquette University in 2008 with a degree in political science.

“It’s funny,” he says. “I never thought I thought I’d be working in the energy sector.”

Whitty grew up in central Iowa, an area now peppered with wind turbines. He loves NASCAR and country music and once told his wife he’d like to someday buy a truck.

“Sometimes I describe him as the most Republican Democrat I’ve ever met,” Meg, also from Iowa, says. “But I think that’s part of his charm.”

The couple met at dollar-beer night at a bar in Washington, D.C. Whitty wears a Pabst Blue Ribbon cufflink Meg bought him as a reminder of the night they met.

After several years on Capitol Hill, however, they were ready to get out.

“Out there, CNN is always on. Work never stops,” Whitty says.

They decided to move back to the Midwest. “Whoever got a job first,” says Meg, now a corporate sustainability strategist for United Airlines.

Whitty’s job requires him to digest the mechanics of new, often-complex clean-energy technology and explain it to policymakers and potential investors. 

“He asks good questions and breaks it down to the most important element,” said entrepreneur Seyi Fabode. “He gets straight to the core.”

Whitty helped Fabode market his company, Power2Switch LLC, a free website that allows consumers to shop and compare electricity providers. Fabode, founder and CEO of Power2Switch, sold the company to a Texas-based Choose Energy last October for an undisclosed amount.

Whitty also manages the Clean Energy Challenge, an annual contest in which entrepreneurs vie for venture capital funding by pitching clean-energy ideas.

A Champaign Ill.-based startup, EP Purification, won $100,000 in April with a model to replace chlorine and other cleaning solutions with ozone.

It’s one of the innovations Whitty has seen since joining the Clean Energy Trust that’s changed the way he thinks about energy.

He bikes frequently and now thinks nothing of walking down the stairs of the couple’s one-bedroom Old Town apartment to turn off a light.

“Energy’s universal,” Whitty says. “Why not make it efficient?”