Quixotic quest: Media school’s funds blowing in wind
The Corridors of the high-tech Ex'pression Center for New Media are bursting with bright colors -- yellow, purple, orange and red. But Dutch tycoon Eckart Wintzen, co-founder of the Emeryville digital arts school, has another color on his mind -- green. Wintzen announced plans Friday to replace the energy the school uses with wind power. By adding 25 windmills in Palm Springs to three existing ones, the school will be fully sustainable in three years, he said. It's all part of Wintzen's philosophy of creating an eco-friendly economy. After making millions in the software industry, the part-time Berkeley resident, a 61-year-old self-described overaged hippie, is going around the globe to finance green businesses. "I want to prove that green businesses can also be profitable," Wintzen said. "Being green doesn't exclude making green." Wintzen built Dutch software firm BSO/Origin into a $500 million company and sold it in 1996 to Philips. His venture capital company, Ex'tent, funds sustainable firms from BCT, which makes organic fertilizers, to Greenwheels, a subscription car-sharing service. Wintzen helped fund the $28 million Ex'pression facility, which opened in January 1999. The private school, which has a tuition of about $30,000, offers bachelor's degrees in a 14-month "total immersion" program. There are three programs -- sound arts, digital/visual media and Web design/development -- and others are being considered. How is the school green? Wintzen wants society to shun their fancy clothes and gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles and instead enjoy entertainment. Enter the Ex'pression graduates. "We are breeding the operators who are building the world of the future," Wintzen said. "I think it's the most exciting school in the world. It's modern. The atmosphere is great. People feel at home. They feel challenged." Aspiring animator Brad Wright, 25, a student who has almost completed Ex'pression's program, agreed. "It's intense," Wright said. "I've learned a lot here." The school, which takes new enrollees every two months, has 330 students. Wintzen hopes to add similar schools in other cities, but is moving slowly. So far Ex'pression has graduated 157 students. Its placement rate is above 90 percent in spite of the sputtering economy. Inside the school's entryway is a Wall of Fame, signed by visiting stars such as Bon Jovi and Bruce Hornsby as well as students. "The idea is one day they are going to be in the film credits and on the back of CDs," said Yee Ju, director of admissions. The 65,000-square-foot campus on Shellmound Street is stuffed with state-of-the-art equipment, from the Apple G-4 lab for high-end Web designing to the Meyer Sound Performance Hall with 5.1 surround sound performance. The school burns through about $270,000 a year in energy costs -- equipment is on 24/7, with labs running at all hours of the day. Currently, windmills supply 10 to 12 percent of the school's power. Wind Harvest Co. will be adding 25 windmills at $35,000 apiece in Palm Springs. Each windmill can produce up to 25 kilowatts, which will be credited to Ex'pression by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. But Ex'pression also is preaching conservation, such as turning off computers and lights after leaving a room. In addition, it will install energy meters in the school's corridors. "If people are not aware, they are not willing to help," Wintzen said.