72 Research Teams & Early-Stage Clean Energy Companies Apply for Next Round of NEXUS-NY Seed Accelerator
New York’s energy ideas are being watched around the globe, thanks in part to its vast number of top research universities, including Cornell, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the SUNY system. As part of their mission to accelerate clean-energy technologies from New York’s research labs into the marketplace, High Tech Rochester sought to attract these potentially groundbreaking technologies to its next cohort of the NEXUS-NY program. Now in the final stages of reviewing applications, many of which were submitted by acclaimed university researchers, NEXUS-NY hopes to produce some of the most promising clean-energy companies of 2016.
“We made an effort to reach out to universities where we didn’t have a lot of applications historically,” said Doug Buerkle, NEXUS-NY Founding Executive Director. “This year we received applications from almost every major research university in the state.”
From Western New York to the Southern Tier, and even a handful of applications from NYC, 14 different universities from across New York applied to join Cohort 3 of the NEXUS-NY clean-energy accelerator.
NEXUS-NY is one of three NYSERDA-funded proof-of-concept centers. Participants in the NEXUS-NY program are provided educational, financial and business support to catalyze the commercialization of their technologies.
Six dozen research teams & early-stage clean energy companies applied for NEXUS-NY Cohort 3. Each application was first screened to assure compliance with program objectives and then forwarded on to an independent screening committee. The committee is comprised of clean energy subject matter experts and those who specialize in analyzing new ventures and new technologies.
A specific set of criteria ultimately determines if a candidate is right for the NEXUS-NY program. The criteria include:
- Technology state. Applicants will ideally propose technologies with TRL levels between 1 and 3. Extra consideration is given where significant research has been conducted and/or fundamental research has been funded by DOE or NSF, etc.
- Business state. NEXUS-NY applicants will ideally be at the pre-venture state. Some early-stage ventures are considered if they are still searching for problem-solution fit and have not yet engaged in a significant way with customers.
- Strength of IP. Intellectual property rights and patent law is an emphasized criteria for the NEXUS-NY program as IP strength commonly leads to increased innovation.
- Potential energy benefit. If successful, how much energy would the applicant generate or save and/or how much CO2 might be reduced or mitigated?
- Fit with the NEXUS-NY program. This criteria encompasses many things: There should be an obvious commercial objective; the applicant should hope to gain more than just seed capital; and the applicant needs to be willing to commit the necessary time and effort to the process of commercialization.
- Commercialization potential. Is there reasonable technical merit and/or a belief that the applicant might be commercially successful or can disrupt their intended market. If the proof-of-concept is successful, they will ideally go on to obtain follow-on funding and/or grants, and advance to make a big difference.
This year, 24 finalists were selected for one-on-one interviews to join NEXUS-NY’s next cohort.
“We receive a lot of great applications that don’t always align well with the NEXUS-NY program,” said Buerkle. “Perhaps the entrepreneur is in the idea stage instead of the tech stage, or they have already made good progress developing prototypes or customer relationships.”
As NEXUS-NY is committed to commercialization, judges take great care to emphasize the responsibilities associated with their 12-month program, which includes a 2-phase process.
In Phase One of the NEXUS-NY program, the discovery teams develop and test numerous business hypotheses through interactions with industry participants. The desired outcome is to validate whether a viable and scalable business model exists, and to decide how best to pursue their commercialization objectives. Each team then competes for a spot in Phase Two.
In Phase Two, teams de-risk their technology by building prototypes, while continuing to engage customers and develop their go-to-market plans. Some teams will form companies during this period, and those companies will seek third party validation of their technologies and business models. As Phase Two concludes, teams prepare for Demo Day, a formal presentation of their technology and/or business to a wide audience of prospective collaborators and investors. These events are held in western NY and New York City.
NEXUS-NY historically receives many applications around fundamental materials science technology, such as battery materials or materials for hydrogen generation. Interesting system level technology, people working on novel heat pumps, high-efficiency wind turbines, and systems that can improve the efficiency of wastewater facilities are also commonly seen from applicants. New this year, NEXUS-NY sought to identify a couple high potential technologies where significant research has been conducted within a university, but which lack a clear “commercialization champion.”
“Many of the most prolific researchers with the best technologies don’t raise their hands to get involved with the commercialization process. We decided to find a few high impact technologies and see if we can build teams around them.” said Buerkle. “This year’s finalists include two technologies which have already won prestigious ARPA-E grants. We’re excited to see how this pilot program evolves.”
NEXUS-NY is soon to announce the research teams participating in their clean-energy seed accelerator. The next program is scheduled to begin in January, 2016.