Tag: eColectro


NEXUS-NY Portfolio Companies Raise Millions in Funding

NEXUS-NY portfolio companies continue to attract attention after graduating our clean energy proof-of-concept accelerator.

These clean energy companies have ventured on to raise millions in funding. We caught up with a few of our talented founders to get the latest on their successes.

Molecular Glasses closes $200,000 seed round; Wins 2nd grant from the Department of Energy for OLED testing 

2016 was a big year for Molecular Glasses Founder, Mike Molaire. His team moved into the Eastman Business Park and incorporated their business, which develops organic light-emitting diode (OLED) materials that work like semiconductors. These materials can be used to manufacture lower-cost and higher-performance TVs, smartphones, tablets and lighting devices.

While participating in the NEXUS-NY accelerator Mike began discussing funding opportunities with Rochester-based venture capital firm, Excell Partners. At the end of the program, executives at Excell expressed an interest in working with Molecular Glasses, and began the due diligence process.

Mike’s goal was to raise $400,000. With Excell’s investment requiring 50% matching from other investors, Mike first had to raise $200,000 from individual investors, friends and family. Excell recently started a new MWBE fund sponsored by NY state to support women and minority-owned businesses. Eligibility for that fund requires MWBE certification.

“With Excell’s assistance, we were able to complete this process successfully,” said Molaire. “At the end of December 2016 we secured a $100,000 match and were able to close on the first $200,000. We are now working toward closing the next $200,000 by the end of March. We have a $50,000 match already committed.”

Molecular Glasses will use its first round of seed funding to support patent activities and manage day-to-day operations. Currently, Molecular Glasses has five pending U.S. and twelve international patent applications. Mike says this is an important part of the company’s strategy.

“Our IP is very strong, and needs to be protected both nationally and internationally,” he added. Most of the people we are dealing with in this space are international companies from the far east, Europe, Japan and China. It’s important we maintain our patents.”

Last year Molecular Glasses was also awarded a grant from the Department of Energy, which helped the company fund its benchmark work. OLEDWorks in Rochester produced the 90 OLED devices under contract with the DOE. Mike says having his materials tested in a DOE certified laboratory provided credibility to the benchmark results, specifically 6 to 15x improvement in device lifetime.

“We took full advantage of this resource,” said Molaire. “We’re now working with OLED chemical suppliers, device manufacturers and independent nonprofit centers in Europe and Asia under nondisclosure agreements to continue this process.”

Mike continues to explore various grant options that will assist in the development of the technology. He says it will be exciting to supply these companies with samples so they can conduct their own tests using his materials. Mike believes this process to will be completed within the next 3-4 months.

American Fuel Cell Closes First Seed Round

Together with the support of High Tech Rochester, Excell Partners and independent investors from the Finger Lakes region, American Fuel Cell has closed its first seed round.

American Fuel Cell (AFC) is a premier supplier of individually tailored Membrane electrode Assemblies (MEA) for multiple Fuel Cell Applications. Through uniquely tailored chemical formulations, system level optimization expertise and high speed, thin film manufacturing machinery, AFC is producing high quality, low cost MEAs specific to any fuel cell application.

AFC Cofounder and CEO Dan O’Connell says the seed funding will be used to bring on additional resources and gear up for volume production. This includes acquiring new capital assets and purchase of raw materials. AFC is also looking for Process and Quality engineering talent, as well as those skilled at final assembly.

“The support American Fuel Cell is getting from the area is amazing. Between High Tech Rochester, Excell Partners, Greater Rochester Enterprise, NYSERDA, M&T Bank, Pathstone, SUNY Alfred State and RIT, we’re leveraging academia, industry, and state resources to expand our industry connections and take huge strides in extending our testing capability,” said O’Connell. “We consider ourselves very fortunate to be tapped into the local startup scene and bringing R&D/Manufacturing jobs back to NY state.”

In addition to closing this seed round, AFC has numerous funding opportunities in the pipeline that will accelerate research into the next generation MEA technology.

Ecolectro wins $150,000 with the Grants for Growth initiative 

Gabriel Rodriguez-Calero first heard about Grants for Growth from the Cornell network. As a co-Founder and CEO of Ecolectro, his mission is to advance his business by putting Ecolectro’s materials into the hands of customers early on in the material design process.

“Before applying to a funding source, I like to learn more about the objectives of each program,” explained Rodriguez-Calero. “If there are milestones associated with the program, if the funds can be used for manufacturing and business development, and how the funding can help Ecolectro reach more clients and potential customers.”

Gabriel says Grants for Growth was a perfect fit for what he’s aiming to accomplish. Ecolectro has developed structurally robust and highly conductive polymer membranes for a large range of applications, including hydrogen generators and fuel cell systems. Having already received $12,500 from the Grants for Growth program, Ecolectro was able to do material characterization and better understand the physical properties of their materials. The research also allowed the Ecolectro team to fine tune their value proposition for potential clients. Ecolectro has now moved on to Track 2 of the Grants for Growth program.

“We get a certain amount first, and as we hit milestones we unlock additional amounts of funding,” added Rodriguez-Calero.

In 2017, Ecolectro is busy making materials and doing evaluation work with customers, as well as reaching out to more clients. This process involves talking to clients and finding more potential synergy with system integrators that can use Ecolecto’s materials in their devices.

Ecolectro has recently opened an investment round. The team remains busy shipping samples and working through collaborative efforts with customers. Gabriel says Ecolectro is receiving a lot of customer interest.

“I love doing this. It’s pretty great,” he said. “I came to the university (Cornell) to work on things that had applications beyond pure research. That’s exactly what we are doing at Ecolectro!”

Other NEXUS-NY portfolio companies making big strides include:

  • Lionano recently closed its Series A;
  • Micatu won $1 million in the 76West Clean Competition, and ChromaNanoTech received a $250,000 prize;
  • Conamix received seed funding from Excell Partners, with the help of High Tech Rochester;
  • AMBIS Technologies partnered with CASE-RPI and the Mmofra Foundation in Ghana for a pilot testbed project;
  • And Dimensional Energy took home first place at Columbia University’s Energy Symposium 2017 Venture Showcase

Since the start of our clean energy accelerator, NEXUS-NY has worked with 30 participants, engagements from which 18 startup companies have been formed. With our help, numerous university licenses have been received, and each of the NEXUS-NY portfolio companies have completed, or are in the process of completing, successful pilot/customer evaluations.

We’re now working with 9 new NEXUS-NY portfolio companies in our 2017 cohort. Here’s a look at the next generation clean energy talent from across New York.

Stay updated on clean energy news, events and funding opportunities. Sign up for NEXUS-NY newsletters. You can also follow us on Twitter and LinkedIN.

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.