Tag: Cornell


Dimensional Energy Wins 2017 Venture Showcase

Dimensional Energy takes first place at CU Energy Symposium Venture Forum pitch event in the early-stage category

It’s 4 a.m. and Jason Salfi is behind the wheel en route to NYC to participate in Columbia University’s Energy Symposium. The event featured early and mid-stage companies, including Dimensional Energy, a Cornell research-derived startup that Jason serves as CEO.

“It was a fun day of adventure,” said Jason. “Filled with solid speakers and impressive pitches.”

Dimensional Energy has created an artificial photosynthesis process that converts waste carbon dioxide from power plant emissions into useful fuels and feedstocks of high values. Jason says, think of the process as operating a horizontal chimney:

“We’re creating a platform technology that will allow companies to divert large scale emissions from going into the atmosphere, utilizing what would otherwise be waste (CO2 and other GHGs) by running them through our reactor.”

Dimensional Energy will use the prize money from the Energy Symposium Venture Forum for fundraising related travel, and advanced graphics to best represent how their technology works. Jason says this is part of their big picture communications strategy.

Fully understanding customer requirements

Jason believes Dimension Energy stood out at the Energy Symposium because their technology is a bigger picture look at an untapped opportunity, whereas a lot of other pitches were early-stage, with many assumptions based on how they were going to take over the respective markets.

“Our pitch was more generalized. It laid out an open roadmap for how we’re going to go to market, who we’re talking to, and how a decision process is going to be formalized,” said Jason.

Most importantly, Jason shared how Dimensional Energy fits into the plans of a much bigger industry. These factors (market size and growth potential) echo what each team learns during the NEXUS-NY discovery process.

The power of a solid team

Jason credits the early success of Dimensional Energy to a core team of experts from different disciplines that bring together two departments of Cornell University and fellow NEXUS peer Clayton Poppe.

In 2016, NEXUS-NY piloted a new way to test the commercial potential of university research. David Erickson, Associate Professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell, paired his technology with that of Tobias Hanrath, Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

These principal inventors, along with a diverse team of scientists, entrepreneurs and MBA students from the Johnson Business School at Cornell, have proven the experiment successful.

Learn More: NEXUS-NY Pilots New University Research Opportunity

The ability to capture resources can make or break your startup

In a podcast produced by the New York Academy of Sciences, NEXUS-NY Executive Director Doug Buerkle said, “The thing that differentiates a successful startup from a failed startup is the ability to capture resources….and the way you get resources is if you’re able to tell your story in a compelling way.”

Dimensional Energy first captured the attention of Columbia Energy Symposium organizers during NEXUS-NY’s Demo Day in NYC last year. Jason believes it’s these kind of networking opportunities made possible by NEXUS-NY that are positioning Dimensional Energy front and center of this budding industry.

“The feedback from the judges at the Energy Symposium was positive. They could understand what Dimensional Energy was doing at a higher level,” added Jason. “Our presentation was relatable. It included slides with key takeaways and 40-point font. NEXUS-NY helped shape the way we communicate our technology, and we’ve had success as a result.”

Jason says over the last several months his team has been introduced to a whole new slew of industry partners ranging in size from small researchers from across U.S. and Canada, to corporations like Shell. “NEXUS-NY was the catalyst to getting a broad introduction to these resources, as well as assisting us gain an understanding of the carbon dioxide utilization market, and the needs to be met.”

Dimensional Energy preps for round 3 of Carbon XPrize Competition

Around the time NEXUS-NY’s 2016 accelerator was ending, Dimensional Energy started engaging deeper with the XPRIZE Foundation, which hosts a competition that awards $20 million to the team that designs the best solution for converting carbon into something that can be sold to offset the cost to capture it.

Having already moved into phase two, Jason says the team is currently building a Highlight Reactor as they prepare to compete in the next and final round of the Carbon XPrize Competition. Jason says the prototype will be available soon to test in the lab with a simulator.

“Through a partnership with Cornell’s Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Plant, a 30 mw facility, we’ll pipe emissions into our reactor and see what we get out the other end.”

Dimensional Energy will continue to refine their prototype, and have the results validated by a third party standards XPrize team. This process will determine if Dimensional Energy moves forward to round three, and unlocks $500,000 in funding.

“If we can scale quickly enough and prove out the efficiency of our reactor, it will make sense and align with industry partners to raise the money for the installation,” added Jason.

In total, the XPrize Competition will award $20 million in prize money, with the two winning teams each receiving $7.5 million.

Watch Dimensional Energy’s Promotion Video

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NEXUS-NY Phase 2: On the Path to Commercialization

7 Clean Energy Research Teams Start De-Risking Technology in NEXUS-NY Phase 2

The difference between success and failure is finding focus as early as possible. This is a primary mission of the NEXUS-NY clean energy seed accelerator, and over the last several months, participants have been developing and testing numerous business hypotheses through interactions with industry participants to find this focus. The desired outcome is to validate whether a viable and scalable business model exists, and to decide whether and how best to pursue their commercialization objectives – a process the teams will continue to explore in NEXUS-NY Phase 2.

As Phase 1 of the program came to a close, each team presented to a room of judges and industry experts to share the latest results around their business opportunities. These presentations played a large role in determining which participants would move onto de-risking their technology by building prototypes and seeking third party validation.

When selecting which teams to advance into Phase 2, NEXUS-NY Founding Executive Director Doug Buerkle said, “We asked the entrepreneurs to convince themselves of the business opportunities first. When that happens, it’s usually easy for them to convince us that they’re ready to move to the next level.”

NEXUS-NY selected several judges from the business community to evaluate the team’s business opportunity pitches. The judges looked for answers to key questions. Some of them included:

  • Is there a large market opportunity?
  • Has the team identified a compelling business model?
  • Is the product unique and compelling?
  • Does the technology promise a major energy impact?
  • Can the team make significant progress in the coming 6 months?

Jim Senall, President of High Tech Rochester, was among the judges. He remarked on the quality of the team presentations as being excellent. “It’s always so impressive to see how much the teams accomplish in just twelve short weeks from the kick-off of the program,” said Senall.

NEXUS-NY is one of the many programs run by High Tech Rochester (HTR). Senall says it’s unique in its statewide diversity of teams, and the high-impact technologies that are being developed. In his experience having watched each cohort participate in Phase 1, some teams learn that their initial assumptions may have been wrong, and that there may not be a market for what they are developing. Senall believes this is a good thing, as teams gain valuable knowledge in months versus years. If one particular idea doesn’t pan out, they have the opportunity to move to a different one.

“Each year the NEXUS-NY teams seem to get stronger and stronger. It’s never easy at the end of Phase 1 to select which teams to move on. It’s usually the market that makes that decision,” added Senall. “We look forward to seeing the others take what they’ve learned in Phase 1 and apply it to their next ideas.”

NEXUS-NY Finalists Represent the Most Promising Clean Energy Technology in NY

The teams moving to the next round of the NEXUS-NY accelerator include: BioƎnergySP, Clarkson University, Cornell, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology, SUNY Alfred State and University at Buffalo.

NEXUS-NY Research Teams | RIT at Cohort 3 KickoffRyne Raffaelle and Brad Sparks are leading the charge of the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) team. RIT researchers are working on a novel technology that incorporates patented carbon nanotubes within lithium ion batteries to improve their performance. Sparks says this is what makes their product unique and compelling.

“This has been demonstrated to provide 30-40% more energy than currently available off-the-shelf batteries,” said Sparks. “In particular, this is extremely important for our military and intelligence communities, where extending mission life is critical.”

In addition, the team from RIT is working on a technology that allows these batteries to be stored and shipped safely without charge to meet ever increasing shipping regulations. The core team has been working together for over a decade to develop these technologies.

“We see our primary market opportunities as the military and intelligence communities,” added Sparks. “Specifically, we are looking at developing our high-end batteries for small satellites, remote sensing and unmanned aerial vehicle applications.”

Since joining NEXUS-NY, the RIT researchers have spoken with dozens of potential customers to better focus on the specific market segments. Over the course of the next 6 months in the accelerator, the team will work towards commercialization on the technical side by spending a bulk of their time on improving their initial prototype. Their intent is to reduce the product cost without sacrificing the battery performance. On the commercial side, their goal is to find one or two initial customers to provide market feedback so they can continue to refine their products.

Now in Phase 2, all the researchers will begin building early prototypes and working towards third party validation of customer discovery. Buerkle said, “Typically during Phase 2, teams build prototypes which are aligned with the minimum features that customers want to test based on the interactions they had in first half of the accelerator.”

Theodorian Borca-Tasciuc and Berardo Matalucci represent the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) team. They are seeking to commercialize a novel modular and scalable building system for personalized comfort that can result in energy savings, increased productivity and healthier indoor environments.

RPI presented an early-stage prototype to the judges during the business opportunities event. They are now looking forward to building prototypes that are fully functional, making sure their demonstrations can move from proof-of-concept to real-world applications by verifying their assumptions.

“It’s time to build a complex version of the model. We see it as a portable device, something compact in order to overcome a couple important technical challenges, for example the effects on people and the energy savings,” said Matalucci.

In order to achieve this, the RPI team will take the insights gained from the Phase 1 customer discovery process and from the judges to couple energy efficiency with some other value, having learned that saving energy isn’t as important of a factor to customers as originally anticipated.

“We found that with our product, energy efficiency isn’t a necessity for the customer,” explained Matalucci. “Instead, it’s more important to provide thermal comfort to everyone with  a scalable product, especially one that engineers are interested in.”

Matalucci says this is not a simple task, and there are significant problems his team will have to overcome to deliver multiple benefits, including reducing the installation cost, while still providing high aesthetics.

“We’re close. We have already built something that offers a two-fold value proposition. By providing a system for localized heating and cooling we  can maximize the comfort of people, and on the other side condition a space where and when needed.” This allows our systems to avoid wasting energy, explained Matalucci. “And since our units are stand alone, meaning they don’t need to be plugged into ducts or pipes, which are unsightly, we also reduce installation costs and technical spaces like shafts and drop-ceilings. All of this combined caters to the customer and increases the real estate value of the building.”

Now the RPI team has to focus on being cost-competitive. This is an obstacle they must overcome by somehow containing the return on investment for their modular building systems to five years or less. For larger installations Matalucci says this could be pushed to 10 years, but after that it doesn’t hold the client’s interest any longer.

The team’s last big takeaway was from the judges, who stressed the importance of addressing product customization for manufacturing. For example, if your product is pink instead of gold, or in a circular shape, how customizable you want it to be impacts the costs related to manufacturing. This is a major concern that Matalucci says his team needs to consider – how to contain the cost of manufacturing while offering a product that is customizable.

To help them on their path to commercialization, the RPI team is in the process of hiring a couple of mechanical engineers to work on an advanced prototype. They are also in contact with some students from the Lally School of Management at Rensselaer to assist them in moving forward with patenting and funding applications.

NEXUS-NY Partnerships Help Catalyze Commercialization Process

Something that distinguishes NEXUS-NY from other accelerators is the program’s partnerships with business leaders to catalyze the commercialization of novel clean energy technologies.

As a NEXUS-NY Phase 2 activity, NEXUS contracts with Excell Partners to provide due-diligence support for each team. Excell is a Venture Capital Fund that invests in seed and early stage high-tech startups in New York state. Over the next several months, program participants will reveal more of their technology and business plans through a series of presentations to Excell.

“The first presentations will focus on getting to know the teams and technology; Excell will provide initial feedback, indicating where they see deficiencies in the business case,” explained Buerkle. “During subsequent presentations, Excell will have a chance to see how their advice has been implemented before assigning analysts who will work as part of the research team. This is certainly not the typical start-up/VC relationship. This is much more friendly.”

NEXUS-NY Midterm JudgesNEXUS-NY Phase 2 participants will also continue working with the teaching team which includes a few HTR employees plus several serial entrepreneurs who provide strategic and tactical guidance. New this year, NEXUS-NY advisors, are committing a few hours per week to provide additional support to participants. These advisors are all proven entrepreneurs who would typically not have the time to engage in full mentoring roles, yet they have all agreed to provide high level advice and connections. Advisors include: Christine Whitman, Chairman, CEO and President of Complemar Partners; Alex Zapesochny, President, CEO and Cofounder of iCardiac Technologies; David Dassault, Founder, President and CEO of P1 Industries; Mark Barberio, President of Markapital and board member of Buffalo Angels and Rochester Angel Network; John Frater, local entrepreneur and Adjunct Professor at RIT; and Don Golini, Founder of SANICA Ventures and QED TEchnologies International.

NEXUS-NY Provides Direct Financial Support to Program Participants

In partnership with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), NEXUS-NY will continue to provide participants with funding in Phase 2. Each team has been charged with developing a statement of work that will define what they want to do with the funding. The statement includes what customers they would like to pursue for third party validation, and what they want to test.

“Most of the funding is allocated towards building and testing prototypes.” explained Buerkle. “In the past many teams also form legal entities before the end of Phase 2.”

NEXUS-NY offers additional support for its participants to evaluate their IP and that of potential competitors. NEXUS-NY contracts with the NYS Science + Technology Law Center at Syracuse University, which help participants develop custom IP landscape assessments which meet their individual needs.

Mark Your Calendars for NEXUS-NY Team Pitches

At the end of NEXUS-NY Phase 2, teams will present their technology and businesses to a wide audience of prospective collaborators and investors. These Demo Days will be held in western New York and New York City. They are tentatively scheduled for September and October, 2016.

Now it’s time for the teams to get back to the lab, while continuing to engage customers and develop their go-to-market plans!

Interested in applying for NEXUS-NY? The next phase of applications is available between October 18 – November 11, 2016.

NEXUS-NY Pilots New University Research Opportunity

Two Cornell University research technologies participating in NEXUS-NY Cohort 3, together

NEXUS-NY is piloting a new way to test the commercial potential of university research without scientists fully participating in the rigorous process of its clean energy seed accelerator.

New in 2016, two researchers from Cornell University will spend a few hours a week providing scientific advisory support to entrepreneurs recruited by NEXUS-NY. This experiment has resulted in a combined team, which is exploring two innovations, both as stand-alone technologies and by looking at potential synergies between the two.

“There were a couple of things that made Cornell standout for this pilot program,” said Doug Buerkle, NEXUS-NY Founding Executive Director. “First, Cornell is a leading research institution when it comes to energy innovation.  The second was due to the flexibility and willingness of Cornell’s researchers and administrators to look at novel ways of partnering to commercialize its technologies.”

NEXUS-NY assists New York’s energy researchers by providing financial, educational, and business support. Participants work through a structured and rigorous process, guided by experienced mentors in order to translate their research derived innovations into solutions that solve big problems for real customers, ideally through the formation of startup companies.

Cornell University Professor David Erickson at NEXUS-NY Kickoff Celebration in Rochester, NY

Cornell University Professor David Erickson at NEXUS-NY Kickoff Celebration in Rochester, NY

The first technology is a high-density photobioreactor that optimizes light and CO2 delivery for efficient generation of algae. Developed by David Erickson, Associate Professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University, the technology delivers sunlight efficiently through low-cost, plastic, waveguides. This process increases efficiency and decreases water and energy use as compared to conventional algae reactors.

The second technology is a hybrid organic/inorganic nanofluid. Invented by Tobais Hanrath, Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Cornell University, the technology has combined capabilities of CO2 capture and photocatalytic CO2 conversion.

While it’s not yet clear if these technologies make more sense together or if they should be commercialized alone, Erickson and Hanrath have decided to explore all combinations, recognizing potential synergies for pursuing future university research and commercialization options.

“Right now we’re working together on a combined approach and testing with as much rigor as possible before we explore separate approaches for the university research,” explained Jason Salfi, NEXUS-NY EIR. “Everything we’re doing now can be applied to the technologies separately.”

Jason Salfi is a NEXUS-NY entrepreneur lead for Cornell's research team in Cohort 3

Michael Amadori of Full Circle Feed (left) and Cornell Research Team Entrepreneur Lead Jason Salfi (right) at NEXUS-NY Celebration Kickoff

Salfi, the entrepreneurial lead for this joint Cornell University research team, says they’re first looking at a method to convert CO2 into methanol.  “We’ve managed to take two unique technologies with separate applications and combine them together in a way that might actually have scable promise,” said Salfi. “The great thing is we’re already starting to get some interest from equipment manufacturers that may be interested in incorporating our conversion technology. Essentially, we’re hoping to create a better economic value proposition by upcycling carbon dioxide.”

Historically NEXUS-NY was not able to access some of the best technologies because principal investigators for those technologies often don’t have the time or interest to participate in its full commercialization process. NEXUS-NY requires researchers to meet frequently with potential customers and industry participants in order to seek problem-solution fit and to inform their go-to-market strategies.  This is a time intensive part of the program.

“By bringing experienced entrepreneurs into contact with innovative scientists, we think we may be able to enhance our program by creating more frequent and more successful commercialization outcomes,” explained Buerkle. “We’re piloting the approach this year.  We’ll track it carefully and determine how to move forward in the future. We believe it is an interesting approach and are excited to see how it goes.”

At the onset of this process, Cornell suggested several potential technologies for the program. When working through the NEXUS-NY screening process, Buerkle interviewed Hanrath who indicated his technology required a type of photobioreactor, which sounded similar to what David Erickson had built under a separate ARPA-E project. When Buerkle found out the two had never spoken, he made the introduction.

With the technology in place, it was time to team the scientific advisors up with experienced entrepreneurs to propel business development.

NEXUS-NY is affiliated with High Tech Rochester (HTR), a nonprofit whose mission is to catalyze entrepreneurship and innovation-based economic development. HTR runs a statewide Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) program for NYSERDA, which provided NEXUS-NY with a vetted pool of energy entrepreneurs.

“Over the past two years, we’ve created close relationships with a subset of these entrepreneurs, allowing us to select people we know and trust,” said Buerkle.

Clayton Poppe is an entrepreneur lead on Cornell's NEXUS-NY research team

Cornell Team Entrepreneur Lead Clayton Poppe (left) and Bill Bernier of Cohort 2 Team, ChromaNanoTech (right) at NEXUS-NY Celebration Kickoff

NEXUS-NY introduced several of these entrepreneurs to Erickson and Hanrath, who ultimately selected Clayton Poppe and Jason Salfi as entrepreneurial leads.

“I applaud NEXUS-NY for moving forward with this experiment;  I think it could be a big part of their program moving forward,” said Salfi. “We recently added four Johnson school MBAs as well as a few scientists from the Hanrath and Erickson groups to our team; as a result, we’ve built a diverse team of MBAs, PIs, scientists and entrepreneurs, including Clayton and myself,” said Salfi. “In only 6 weeks, this talented crew is working very well together.  It’s a real testament to the talent NEXUS-NY is attracting to its program.”