Tag: eColectro


Overcoming Hurdles On the Track of a Clean Energy Future

Survey of top 25 U.S. research universities uncovers missing links in technology transfer process

With $70 billion spent and approximately half of U.S. basic and applied research taking place at US research universities, one might guess that the inventors and founders have the necessary resources to succeed. But a recent survey conducted by NEXUS-NY’s clean energy proof-of-concept center reveals that this is not the case.

“We surveyed the top 25 research universities in the U.S. and found there is limited to no available proof-of-concept funding, a lack of business and entrepreneurial expertise, and poor understanding of customer-solution fit,” says Doug Buerkle, Executive Director of NEXUS-NY.

By answering if the technology can be translated into a product that solves a compelling problem, proving the technology works, and helping companies acquire a customer base to validate business interest, NEXUS-NY aims to help scientific founders overcome these hurdles.

“We’ve found it doesn’t take a lot of money to move the needle for a given tech when it accompanies the structure and support provided by NEXUS-NY. People are the key, and customer engagement can’t start too early. But it can be harmful if done improperly,” added Buerkle.

For the past three years NEXUS-NY has been focused on providing the money and resources to catalyze the commercialization of clean energy innovations discovered by New York researchers. In that time, the clean energy seed accelerator has helped form 18 companies; half of which have gone on to raise $16.4 million in additional funding. Four NEXUS-NY graduates have also achieved some initial customer revenue.

3 NEXUS-NY graduates speak about the obstacles of research-derived tech transfer in Upstate NY

During a panel discussion hosted by the Inaugural Licensing Executives Society (LES) Western New York Chapter, three cofounders of NEXUS-NY portfolio companies shared the unique challenges associated with commercializing research-derived innovations. The discussion included how these founders have pushed forward, and explored suggestions as to how regional communities can work more effectively to overcome existing hurdles.

Be transparent throughout the university tech transfer process

Dr. Ryne Raffaelle is the VP of Research at the Rochester Institute of Technology and cofounder of Cellec Technologies.

Cellec Technologies uses patented carbon nanotube (CNT) technologies to increase the performance of high-end lithium ion batteries by 40% for defense and intelligence applications.

Given his position as VP of Research with RIT, spinning out a company that he would be associated with would probably set a new record in terms of possible of conflict of interests.

A core challenge for us was Cellec’s collaboration with RIT’s Battery Prototyping Center. Although this state funded center exists to support the emerging battery industry, it falls within my organizational responsibilities at the university. There was only one way to avoid conflict of interest – tell everyone, and make sure there is plenty of independent oversight,” says Dr. Raffaelle.

In addition to startup founders working with their university, Ryne also suggests working together as a region. RIT has been an NSF I-Corps site for many years, having recently teamed up with Cornell and the University of Rochester on a successful NSF I-Corps node proposal. This new node will provide another resource for scientists who hope to develop technologies, products and processes that benefit society. Ryne believes getting involved with collaborative programs like I-Corps is a great way to harness resources from outside a founder’s university and learn from others.

Universities can help the transition by waiting for profitability

Dr. Jon Owejan is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at SUNY Alfred State and the cofounder of Phase Innovations.

Phase Innovations is developing a low-cost, advanced air conditioning system without chemical refrigerants, and which uses less energy than conventional systems.

Jon feels, to help catalyze commercialization of research startups, universities should treat tech transfer as licensing agreements that don’t kick in until the company is making money.

“Inventors of research-based technology are highly trained individuals. They could go elsewhere and make significant salaries. Instead they are committed to building something, and that commitment should be valued as part of a partnership with the universities,” says Dr. Owejan.

Jon recognizes that universities are not nonprofits, and just as they charge other companies and government agencies to use their facilities, founders should be prepared to negotiate a percentage of their business as part of this process.

Funding people is the key to moving technology forward

Dr. Gabriel Rodríguez-Calero is the cofounder of Ecolectro, a polymer company derived from Cornell University.

Ecolectro has developed structurally robust and highly conductive polymer membranes for a range of applications, including electrolysis and fuel cell systems, which are produced for less cost and promise double durability.

After finishing his PhD, Gabriel decided to start a company based on a polymer technology developed at the Energy Materials Center at Cornell University. During this time he began postdoc research at a half time capacity, until he realized the full scope of challenges in growing a business.

“I needed to be full time to find ways to move the business quickly, and to find a ready supply of resources. This includes having the necessary funds to produce enough product samples to meet market demands and pay partners – but even so, these funds are often available for technology development, not for people,” says Dr. Rodríguez-Calero.

Nasir Ali is the cofounder of nonprofit Upstate Venture Connect and an angel investor with the Seed Capital Fund of CNY. He says while certain grants may only focus on funding the technology, venture capitalists and investors will fund an inventor’s salary because they are investing in people. “What percentage of your raise goes into having a roof over a founder’s head is directly related to being able to develop the product to the next level,” says Ali.

NEXUS-NY prepares for another year of taking university research to market

Interviews are being conducted for NEXUS-NY’s 2017 Cohort, and participants will be announced soon. Sign up for NEXUS-NY newsletters to stay informed on the latest clean energy technologies in Upstate NY, solving big problems for real customers.

HTR Pre-Seed Workshop, Clean Energy Ideas Wanted!

Thinking about applying to NEXUS-NY? Get a head start by joining HTR’s Pre-Seed Workshop

Are you ready for innovation? NEXUS-NY isn’t holding back the “energy” this Fall, with Demo Day 2016 scheduled for October 5, Cohort 4 applications opening on October 18 and the next High Tech Rochester Pre-Seed Workshop kicking off on October 27!

Apply to HTR Pre-Seed WorkshopLimited to ten teams, the HTR Pre-Seed Workshop is your chance to collaborate with top inventors, entrepreneurs and tech pros from across New York State, giving you the resources needed to turn your idea into a business.

“As a result of our Pre-Seed Workshops, over 100 new companies in NYS have been formed, and they’ve secured over $50 million in the past five years,” says HTR Technology Commercialization Manager Mike Riedlinger. “What I believe has made the program so successful is the team of people we assemble around each idea champion.”

Designed as a structured two-day program, each inventor (or “idea champion” as Mike likes to say) is paired with industry experts, including IP attorneys and financial specialists. Students from the University of Rochester round out the team by assisting with research, conducting background on the technology and gathering industry information. Teams also receive over $10,000 in support services and market research reports to help make their ideas take flight.

“The workshop is ideal for people who have a clean energy concept or who have worked in the lab to build an early prototype that might be commercialized,” Riedlinger says. “By running through important business model canvas elements, and surrounding inventors with a core team of experts, we’ve seen ideas turn into products, licensed someplace else or created into a service that makes a product, he added.

Riedlinger says companies that have participated in the Pre-Seed Workshop come from across New York State, referencing Ecolectro in Ithaca, NY as a great success story.

EcolectroHTR Pre-Seed Workshop is a clean energy startup spun from Cornell University. The company is researching ways to revolutionize how we power the nation by developing structurally robust and highly conductive polymer membranes for a range of applications, including fuel cells and electrolyzers. Before graduating from the NEXUS-NY Clean Energy Seed Accelerator, Ecolectro Cofounder and CEO Dr. Gabriel Rodríguez-Calero began his path to commercialization as a participant of the HTR Pre-Seed Workshop.

“I heard about the HTR Pre-Seed Workshop through Susi Varvayanis of the Cornell BEST program. I was looking for some help from people who had started a business before. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to achieve, but I needed guidance to turn my idea into something more concrete,” says Rodríguez-Calero.

When he entered the Pre-Seed Workshop, Gabriel and his cofounders were surrounded by subject matter experts including Doug Buerkle, Executive Director of the NEXUS-NY and David Wetter, Cofounder of American Fuel Cells, while Susi participated as the team coach.

“It was a varied and diverse group of individuals with a lot of expertise. I was able to float my ideas by them, and with their help refine the ideas. This is exactly what I needed – a channel of communications,” explains Rodríguez-Calero. “It was an excellent way to get familiar with the business model canvas, Ecolectro’s potential customer base and define the business, all within a very concise two-day program.”

Gabriel says that after coming out of the HTR Pre-Seed Workshop he had a refined idea and understood better the problem he was trying to solve with his solution, which were much different than when he started. “Even if you find out your idea isn’t worth pursuing in a commercial enterprise, the networking and the learning experience is completely valuable. I highly recommend it.”

After completing the HTR Pre-Seed Workshop, Ecolectro took their refined solution and applied for the NEXUS-NY accelerator.

“During the Pre-Seed Workshop we were able to see how Gabriel engaged with his team members, and it was exciting to witness his interest in moving the technology ahead,” says Doug Buerkle, NEXUS-NY Executive Director. “So when he applied for NEXUS-NY, we already had a clear understanding of the technology and his commitment to commercializing it, which are two main factors in our competitive application process.”

Rodríguez-Calero says that becoming familiar with the terminology of the lean startup principles and business model canvas helped him advance in the NEXUS-NY accelerator because it wasn’t his first time hearing and practicing the concepts.

And it’s not only NEXUS-NY who will be keeping an eye out for innovations being launched out of the Pre-Seed Workshop. Each cohort ends with the investor delivering a 10-minute presentation to a panel of successful entrepreneurs, angel investors and early-stage venture funds.

“Many inventors move on to successfully receive SBIR grants or seed stage funding to form businesses based on their efforts from the Pre-Seed Workshop,” says Riedlinger. “Others realize their idea isn’t a fit and pivot to create something new, moving onto great success like Ecolectro.”

Now working out of Cornell’s Kevin M. McGovern Family Center for Venture Development in the Life Sciences, Rodríguez-Calero says he’s in position to raise his first round of investment, and the startup is actively seeking investors. Ecolectro was also chosen as a semifinalist for the 76West Clean Energy Competition, and was recently awarded a competitive NSF SBIR phase 1 grant. Through the grant’s funding, Ecolectro was able to increase the scale of polymer manufacturing by 15 times. The team finished this project on July 31, and have already applied for phase two of the grant. If they receive this additional support, Ecolectro will continue to develop their manufacturing process to make their materials at scale.

“Also exciting is that we’re in active conversations with potential customers to do joint work together. The partnership will entail testing our materials in their products, providing further market validation,” says Rodríguez-Calero.

Now’s your chance to get in on the action! If you have a clean energy idea to test and evolve, apply for the HTR Pre-Seed Workshop. Application deadline is October 14.

eColectro Ready to Scale, Seeking Investors

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. 

eColectro | NEXUS-NY Cohort 2Company: eColectro

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.

eColectro Screenshot from New Energy MagazineNEXUS-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 | ggr@ecolectro.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.