Established over 20 years ago as an opportunity to “bring Silicon Valley inside,” GameChanger is one of four innovation vehicles at Shell. The program, now global, focuses on the proof-of-concept phase by providing businesses with a quick and cost-efficient way to show the technical and commercial viability of their idea or business plan.
In an exclusive interview with GameChanger James Unterreiner, we learn more about how Shell GameChanger is actively seeking, supporting and investing in novel ideas that have the potential to disrupt the future of energy, why NEXUS-NY makes a great innovation partner, and how clean energy entrepreneurs can get on James’ radar.
“I help startup companies de-risk and commercialize technology that will drastically impact the future of energy, said James. “We aim to cross the innovation “Valley of Death” by engaging industry experts for guidance, identifying and engaging partners early, then looking at implementation and deployment of technologies globally, both within existing and new businesses.”
Shell GameChanger has a team of seven passionate individuals split between Houston, USA and Amsterdam, the Netherlands. These representatives focus on the most relevant technologies, and how they can drastically impact our future.
“We provide pre-seed and seed funding, working with early-stage tech companies to de-risk their technology or business plan,” explained James.
Each project is divided into phases, where founders receive assistance and funding. Assistance includes connecting participants to industry experts, mentors, and potential partners. Funding for the first phase is typically around $200,000, and can extend up to $1 million through a company’s lifecycle in the Shell GameChanger program.
Some of the disruptive ideas brought to life through GameChanger include Kite Power Systems, Brent Sonar Sphere and Swellflex.
Established 20 years ago in an effort to “bring Silicon Valley inside,” James said the original process was focused internally.
“Shell developed the GameChanger program to give people an opportunity, and provide them assistance to develop their ideas. There are a bunch of smart people that have ideas, but maybe those ideas are too radical to promote through their traditional job roles.”
GameChanger evolved when the program started recognizing other solid ecosystems outside of Shell. The scope was broadened to “go where the relevant technology is,” and now aims to identify ideas around the world to be commercialized.
“We’re always looking at the tech through the lens of where Shell can provide assistance, which includes more than funding. We also pair each business with an industry expert to best achieve commercialization success, said James. “Of course with a small team, it’s important to plug in where we will see good results. Right now, there are a lot of clean energy ideas coming out of New York.”
Shell GameChanger focuses on two main areas: Oil & Gas and New Energy. James leads the New Energy focus, which includes Solar Fuel Innovations, Grids of the Future and Digitization Machine Learning and New Routes to Oxygenated Intermediates.
“I want to see how companies are using renewable resources to generate hydrogen, or creating new tech in electrical vehicles and grid generation to transform the space,” said James. “And with an abundance of data that needs to be processed, extracted and understood, I’m always keeping an eye out for how machine learning can be applied to traditional oil and gas, or new energy technologies.”
The Shell GameChanger program is actively exploring ideas to commercialize from within the NEXUS-NY portfolio of companies. After being introduced to NEXUS-NY through an article that came across his desk, James reached out to Executive Director Doug Buerkle to discuss Shell’s areas of interest.
“Doug assisted by presenting the portfolio companies that may be relevant to GameChanger,” said James.
So far, three NEXUS-NY companies have applied for the GameChanger program. Each of these companies are in the very early stages of the screening process, but James said all are relevant to Shell. The general time for the application process takes a minimum of three months.
The goal of the Shell GameChanger program is for companies to succeed. James said this process takes multiple players, and that’s one of the reasons why GameChanger takes an open innovation approach and seeks to work with clean energy incubators and accelerators like NEXUS-NY.
“While Shell can provide funding and subject matter experts (knowledge about the industry and how the tech may be relevant), NEXUS-NY specializes in providing business advice and legal counsel. These resources are a great complement to our services,” added James.
Shell GameChanger is open to companies that are focused on energy. Criteria to participate includes the value of the opportunity, novelty of the idea, if Shell provides the necessary resources will the company progress forward and strategically, why Shell?
“First off, we’re looking for the next billion dollar companies and for this to happen we need to focus on revolutionary ideas. That said, it’s important to us that we can bring the right resources to the partnership to assist the company,” said James. “And from a strategic standpoint, we need to consider how the technology can pair with a Shell opportunity.”
“GameChanger is always looking for technologies that could transform the energy industry. If you want to get on our radar, explore our areas of focus and submit a proposal,” encouraged James.
Proposals are open for innovations in New Energies, Oil & Gas and other ideas. View call for proposals here.
High Tech Rochester (HTR) is a nonprofit whose mission is to catalyze entrepreneurship and innovation-based economic development throughout the Finger Lakes region.
During the HTR Demo Day 2016, a handful of promising startups associated with High Tech Rochester showed of their services and products to an auditorium of ecosystem supporters at Hatch Recital Hall at the Eastman School of Music. In his introductory remarks, Jim Senall, President of High Tech Rochester, said HTR and its affiliate programs have assisted over 850 startups and small manufacturing firms over the past five years.
“We know that startups and new businesses are what really create the most net new jobs in our country, so we know that to create jobs longer term you should be creating more startup companies in the shorter term,” said Senall.
Senall continued to say, while startups aren’t always visible to the public, there are many good things happening within our community and at HTR.
HTR provides a full suite of services, including technology commercialization for very early stage companies, business incubation for high growth potential startups and growth services for existing manufacturing companies seeking to improve their top and bottom line performance.
“High Tech Rochester helps bring many of the innovations that come out of the area universities from the inventive mind of our community,” said Mike Riedlinger, HTR Program Manager of Technology Commercialization. “So based on their ideas and their views of things that could be, we can help them craft new business opportunities that really enrich all of the economy for the area.
One of the standout programs under the HTR umbrella is the NEXUS-NY clean energy proof-of-concept center lead by Doug Buerkle.
Buerkle explained how the audience had a chance to hear from two NEXUS-NY graduates. Both AMBIS CEO Mae-ling Lokko and American Fuel Cell CEO, Dan O’Connell presented updates. Buerkle said both are doing very well.
“The goal of NEXUS-NY is for companies to demonstrate that their technology works, that they also sort out their business models and that they work towards 3rd party validation. In Dan’s case he has attracted an MOU (memorandum of understanding) from a leading customer. His samples are in that customer’s hand and they are currently testing them, so we are hoping he’s going to have a large purchase order here in the next few months,” added Buerkle. “Mae-ling is also doing fantastic. She announced today that she has installed her system in a leading architecture firm in NYC, and her first commercial customer in Ghana is placing orders and starting to build those units.”
AMBIS s a building technology company that upcycles materials from agriculture in order to condition our air. The startup does this by leveraging one of the world’s most underutilized material resources – waste from the bio industry.
AMBIS Technologies CEO Mae-ling Lokko explained during High Tech Rochester Demo Day that today’s building consume 40% of all our world’s energy – ahead of transport and industry. These buildings spend over half of that energy to condition air. This means that 20% of all our energy goes into heating, cooling, drying and pumping air through hundreds of miles within our buildings. Using AMBIS Technologies’ building panels and systems, air is dehumidified and filtered de-centrally, providing a more elegant and more energy efficient solution.
Since graduating from the HTR NEXUS-NY program, Lokko announced, “AMBIS Technologies has pivoted from a commodity fiberboard product into a high value premium product that is able to offer air mediation, acoustic performance, and all the while looking pretty cool.”
She continued to explain how the NEXUS program became a critical platform for her company to identify partners and tap into the extensive mentorship and business expertise of the program, which have all added to a strong foundation for her company to grow and pivot many times. By maintaining these relationships after graduating from NEXUS-NY, AMBIS continues to develop, eliminating a lot of potential materials and applications, as well as sharpening their value proposition.
“Today our business model reflects the strength of the Upstate New York ecosystem that we built and accessed through NEXUS,” said Lokko. “Over the next year, AMBIS looks to raise about $250,000 to build a prototype for our base catalogue, and deploy within critical building testbeds throughout the world in order to demonstrate our value proposition – all the while doing so with beautiful clean materials that can impact building energy consumption.”
The AMBIS team has also continued to grow. Nina Wilson recently came onboard as a co-founder and CTO of the Troy, NY-based startup.
“What we’re really looking to do at this stage is to embed maximum performance into panels and approach a distributed modular all-in-one system framework through which to employ technology transfer and really increase the value proposition for the building systems,” added Wilson.
In addition to installing a 100 sq ft wall packing system at CASE in Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Office in New York City with funding from High Tech Rochester’s NEXUS program, this August AMBIS will deploy their system in a testbed in Ghana. Working with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Center for Architecture, Science and Ecology (CASE) in conjunction with ongoing work with a leading private foundation, this testbed aims to test the system’s air remediation performance within a Net Zero testbed. AMBIS has also secured project with a first client, and the team is deploying their systems in commercial, high-end luxury applications in early 2017.
“We really wish to thank Doug Buerkle, Allison Yacci and Mike Riedlinger, as well as Jim Senall and the High Tech Rochester team who have opened up their extensive network over the past year and half. They helped us realize the first of many steps in fulfilling our company’s mission,” said Lokko.
American Fuel Cell is the premier supplier of individually tailored Membrane Electrodes Assemblies (MEA) for multiple fuel cell applications. Noted for bringing high tech fuel cell jobs to Rochester, NY, the clean energy startup aims to power the future by creating cheaper, more efficient and more practical cells.
“How a fuel cell works is pretty simple,” explained American Fuel Cell CEO Daniel O’Connell. “As long as you have hydrogen on one side of the membrane and you have air, which is oxygen, on the other side, it makes clean, efficient electricity, and that’s a really good thing. When you make that electricity the only byproduct is heat and water. So our goal is to bring fuel cell jobs to Rochester leveraging local resources.”
O’Connell and American Fuel Cell co-founder David Wetter, both worked at General Motors’ Honeoye Falls fuel cell vehicle lab until GM moved its fuel cell research work to its Michigan powertrain facility. O’Connell shared at HTR Demo Day that when GM closed its research facility, they thought a majority of the people who were working there would move to Michigan.
“What they didn’t understand is that Rochester is a great place to live and work, and we have great quality of life here. So it turns out that only a small percentage of those people decided to move to Michigan, said O’Connell. “What that means is we have a wealth of fuel cell expertise, a supplier network, and some really excellent resources right here in Rochester. To me that’s an amazing opportunity for all those resources to be utilized.”
It’s for these reasons both O’Connell and Wetter committed to staying in the Finger Lakes region and now operate American Fuel Cell out of the Kodak Eastman Business Park to best leverage local fuel cell resources to grow their company and create high paying technology jobs in the Rochester area.
“We graduated from the NEXUS program where we really learned how to become a business,” said O’Connell. “We started out as a couple of guys with a great idea, and ended up as a company with nearly a dozen folks working for us getting ready to go into volume manufacturing at the Kodak Eastman Business Park,” said O’Connell.
American Fuel Cell is focused on two markets – mobility (forklifts), and backup cell tower applications. According to O’Connell, this market is expected to double within the next two years to $375m. O’Connell said American Fuel Cell is making great progress and wants a piece of that pie. Already the startup has sold parts to the navy, and they have secured an MOU with their first big customer for thousands of units. Due to this activity, American Fuel Cell is ramping up production to make these units within the November timeframe, and they are looking to add more staff to their team in order to ensure success.
“We couldn’t have made this progress alone. From the NEXUS-NY program we did some outreach to our customers and they were consistent in their message. They told us we needed to get the cost down of the membrane electrode assemblies inside the fuel cell. So that’s our product, and that’s what we’re focused on,” explained O’Connell.
Today, American Fuel Cell has a sellable product with a proprietary “secret sauce” formulation, and low cost manufacturing utilizing the thin film roll coating capability at Kodak. This product is not only ready for the forklift and backup cell tower application markets, but also puts American Fuel Cell in position to enter into the “other electric vehicle” market.
O’Connell says right now there is a lot of focus being placed on battery operated vehicles, including where they’re headed and how that market is going to expand. But he tells us that the fuel cell vehicle industry is also something to watch. Toyota is already in production with a fuel cell vehicle, which makes clean, efficient energy. O’Connell says fuel cell vehicles have some advantages because they have a fast refill time and extended range compared to a battery vehicle.
O’Connell closed his High Tech Rochester Demo Day presentation by telling a “what if” story:
“There were 85 million vehicles sold last year in the world. What if just a little over 1% of those vehicles turn out to be fuel cell vehicles. That’s 1 million fuel cell vehicles a year. Each fuel cell vehicle uses around 350 membrane electrode assemblies. Do the math, and that comes out to a million MEAs a day! So I ask you, why wouldn’t we want to manufacture those MEAs here in Rochester? Why wouldn’t American Fuel Cell want to go after that market? And why wouldn’t we leverage the Kodak equipment to make Rochester the MEA manufacturing capital of the world?”
By working with NYSERDA, American Fuel Cell received a grant to help ramp up its production. The company has also acquired great resources with the NEXUS-NY program to build strong relationships with RIT, Cornell and SUNY Alfred State for some of their testing. The company is now looking to raise enough money to complete existing orders and prepare themselves, and Rochester, to power the future.
With a new innovation district forming in downtown Rochester, Jim Senall said he’s excited about High Tech Rochester being the anchor.
By 2017, Senall said HTR will have a new downtown accelerator at the Sibley building, which is being redeveloped as a mixed-use facility. RIT Center of Urban Entrepreneurship is next door, and multiple other buildings within that close geography will support the lifestyle that new entrepreneurs want to have.
In the interim, HTR will be opening up its own temporary space in downtown Rochester this Fall. HTR is looking for some pioneers – entrepreneurs in the community that want to help build an amazing facility in downtown. HTR has a $3 million capital campaign to raise for the cause. The fundraising is underway with about $1.5 million raised already.
Senall requests that if you’ve had success and you want to give back either as a mentor or supporter, to contact High Tech Rochester on how you can get more involved.
Are you an entrepreneur looking to raise capital? Know an enterprise that’s raising capital? Apply to pitch at Investors’ Circle’s Beyond the Pitch: San Francisco on September 13.
This is a full-day, impact-oriented pitch event that will include 10-12 companies and an audience of angel investors, family offices, foundations, and early-stage funds. For-profit social entrepreneurs are encouraged to apply.
Applications are due by midnight on July 7. Apply here!
Selected companies receive pre-event coaching from expert Investors’ Circle staff, elevator pitch training session, GIIRS rating and assessment, IC-facilitated due diligence if there is investor interest, and more.
NEXUS-NY will also soon be accepting applications for Cohort 4. Sign up for newsletters to stay updated on next steps. The application process is slated for October 18 – November 11th.
Funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and administered by High Tech Rochester, NEXUS-NY is a proof-of-concept center chartered with accelerating the transition of clean-energy technologies from New York’s research labs into the marketplace with educational, financial and business support.
eColectro is one of the startups that participated in NEXUS-NY’s second cohort. In 2016, eColectro joined the Cornell’s Kevin M. McGovern Family Center for Venture Development in the Life Sciences. Over the past several months, Founder/CEO Gabriel Rodriguez-Calero has been working hard on research. He is now in position to raise his first seed round, and it actively seeking investors.
Description: eColectro is developing structurally robust and highly conductive polymer membranes for a range of applications, including fuel cells. eColectro’s alkaline membranes enable the replacement of platinum catalysts with non-precious metal alternatives within fuel cell membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs). Fuel cells manufactured using this technology can be potentially produced at half the cost of current state-of-the-art systems while promising to double durability.
Location: Kevin M. McGovern Center for Venture Development in the Life Sciences at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Achievements: eColectro continues to research ways to revolutionize how we power the nation. In December, 2015 eColectro received the Small Business Innovation Research Award (SBIR) from the National Science Foundation for approximately $150,000. In phase 1 of this project, eColectro will develop alkaline anion exchange membranes (AAEM) to enable lower cost, and durable fuel cells. The technical objectives of this process are to decrease the number of steps in the synthesis pathway of AAEMs, while simultaneously reducing time and increasing yields. Proving these technical developments is crucial for scaling and commercializing eColectro.
Founding Team: Gabriel G. Rodriguez-Calero, PhD (CEO); Robert Lewis (CRO); Kristina Hugar, PhD (CSO); Geoffrey Coats (Cofounder); Hector Abruna (Cofounder)
“We’re researching polymers to make the whole system less expensive and longer lasting. Our core competency lies in making membranes that can enable the removal of precious metals from electrodes,” says Rodriguez-Calero.
NEXUS-NY Research: Throughout the second phase of the NEXUS-NY program, eColectro has been working to de-risk their technology by building a prototype, while continuing the customer discovery process and developing their go-to market plan.
Next Steps: eColectro team members are continuing their research of membrane technology, which could result in the complete removal of platinum from their catalyst layer. This is a result of alkaline chemistry, which allows for cheaper metals that can remain stable and will not corrode under operating conditions, like stainless steel or nickel. The company will now partner with other companies and universities who are actively using the various final applications of their technology.
Contact: Gabriel G. Rodriguez-Calero | email@example.com
To learn more about how eColectro is changing the world, take a deep dive into their technology featured in NEXUS-NY’s latest edition of New Energy Magazine.
The association between searching for a grand unified theory of the universe and searching for one’s first customer might not seem obvious, but there are some clear connections. That’s why NEXUS-NY has invited Dr. Brian Greene, an expert on superstring theory, to give the keynote speech at an event promoting some of the region’s most promising clean energy startups.
The primary job of any technology startup is to avoid death by acquiring resources as quickly as possible. Startups have many advantages as compared to large companies; most notably they can operate very nimbly. What they lack are resources: financial, human and strategic (customers, partners, suppliers, etc.). Entrepreneurs are most likely to attract required resources when they are able to precisely hone their message for multiple intended audiences.
Anyone who has read Dr. Greene’s books will agree; he is a master of explaining the complex in simple terms. The Washington Post described him as “the single best explainer of abstruse concepts in the world today.” After listening to his talk, no tech entrepreneur will be able to claim their invention cannot be explained clearly and concisely to a wide range of audiences.
The field of astrophysics has produced some of the greatest and most stunning discoveries and has attracted some of brightest minds of all time. From Cavendish measuring the earth’s gravitational constant in the 18th century, to Young determining the wave properties of light, to Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity, to Hubble determining our universe is expanding, and so on.
Dr. Greene’s talk will focus on innovation, exploration, and discovery and how they are deeply ingrained in human nature, and how the keys to their success transcend disciplines. Professor Greene’s presentation explores how we can unleash our innate drive to innovate. It is clear that innovation is desperately needed in most scientific fields. Even despite the work of all prior physicists, the composition of 95% of the matter in the universe is still unknown. Similarly, access to cheap, abundant, and clean energy remains elusive.
I hope you’ll join us on 10/27 to hear Dr. Greene’s speech and from our startups. For those with school age children, I encourage you to bring them along. There is one thing we know for certain… we need our best and brightest minds trained on tackling the big challenges which remain. We also need entrepreneurs to translate scientific discoveries into products and services which will benefit society.
NEXUS-NY, a clean energy accelerator, has selected its second cohort of business discovery teams to participate in a rigorous and structured program that guides participants towards three primary objectives: to assess product-market fit; to develop proof-of-concept prototypes; and to obtain third-party validation of their business model and technology.
Funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and administered by High Tech Rochester (HTR), NEXUS-NY (New Energy Xcelerator of Upstate New York) is one of three NYSERDA-funded proof-of-concept centers (POCCs) chartered with accelerating the translation of clean energy technologies from New York’s research labs into the marketplace.
“We are happy with the progress made by participants of our inaugural cohort,” says NEXUS-NY Executive Director Doug Buerkle. “Participating teams have launched seven new startup companies and two of those have received investor term sheets.
“Follow-on grants have already exceeded $500 thousand and several companies have achieved and/or are working towards a first customer sale and/or successful customer pilot testing. It’s still early, but I expect the second cohort will do even better.”
The program is run in two phases. The initial phase lasts three months and requires business discovery teams to directly interact with industry participants in order to build and test a viable business model.
Upon completion of Phase 1, some teams will move on to the second phase, where they are eligible for additional support including, on average, $50,000, for further prototype development.
Four Cornell project teams are working with “New Energy Xcelerator in UpState NY,” a program that focuses on commercializing clean energy innovations, according to Doug Buerkle, executive director of NEXUS-NY.