Tag: Excell Partners


Leveraging Upstate NY funding sources to spur next generation clean energy companies

The NEXUS-NY Clean Energy Accelerator has worked with dozens of emerging clean technologies – ranging from renewables and energy storage, to wind turbines – all of which have great potential. But with the continued decline of cleantech angel investments and venture capital, clean energy company founders frequently stress difficulty locating funding sources to commercialize their inventions.

 

VC investment in cleantech companies on the decline

 

Hear from some of our founders on Overcoming Hurdles on the Track of a Clean Energy Future

NEXUS-NY aims to assist clean energy companies with their proof-of-concept and go-to-market strategies. These fresh commercialization tactics include ensuring the availability of capital to help bring breakthrough cleantech to market. Whether in the form of solar panels, new kinds of batteries, or even environmentally-sustainable dog treats, providing new and more diverse approaches to finding funding sources for New York’s great cleantech companies is a NEXUS-NY priority.

“For the past four years, NEXUS-NY has been focused on providing the resources and know-how to catalyze commercialization of clean energy innovations discovered by New York researchers,” said Doug Buerkle, Executive Director of NEXUS-NY. “In that time, our clean energy seed accelerator has helped form 20 companies; half of which have gone on to raise roughly $20 million in additional funding. This is a testament to our program and the strong partnerships we have developed with equity investors such as Excell Partners.”  

Upstate NY VC firm believes in partnerships to help commercialize innovative clean technologies

Excell Partners, Inc. is a seed stage venture fund that invests in emerging technology spinning out of Upstate NY universities and our regional communities. With a portfolio of nearly 50 companies and counting, Excell is playing an important role in accelerating the commercialization of game-changing new technologies, including cleantech.

“Rami (Katz) and I have known each other for years,” said Theresa Mazzullo, CEO of Excell Partners.“ He was working for High Tech Rochester and our paths would cross regularly. Our organizations have been strong collaborators from the start.”

High Tech Rochester (HTR) is a nonprofit with a mission to be a catalyst for entrepreneurship and innovation-based economic development. HTR provides a suite of services including technology commercialization for very early-stage opportunities, business incubation for high-growth startups and growth services for existing manufacturing companies seeking to improve their top and bottom-line performance. The NEXUS-NY clean energy proof-of-concept center (POCC) is one of the programs under the HTR umbrella.

“When NYSERDA came out with the POCC program, we knew it was something HTR wanted to pursue,” said Jim Senall, President of High Tech Rochester. “We were excited about the prospect of leveraging our previous lean startup experience, and applying that to very early stage opportunities, that were mostly physical sciences based, and not even actual companies yet. With partners like Excell Partners, we knew we could build a world class program, and we couldn’t be happier with the results so far!”

Excell Partners, Inc is a statewide brand. Whether the fund is interested in investing in companies out of Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse, Excell’s leadership team first looks for venture development agencies like High Tech Rochester, and resource programs such as NEXUS-NY that are wrapped around the technology.

“Everything is about relationships. Life is about relationships. It’s that simple. We’ve known HTR for a long time. There’s a comfort level and mutual trust with all the people in the organization,” said Theresa. “Upstate and the Finger Lakes region have been operating on fumes for so long. I feel we’ve made great strides with very little resources, and this is because we try to see how we can help each other regularly. You don’t typically see this kind of relationship in other places. We’re proud of it,” added Theresa.

“We realize there are limited funding sources to go around, so we’re very thoughtful in how we approach each investment,” said Rami Katz, COO of Excell Partners. “It’s about partnering instead of going it alone.”

The collaboration between NEXUS-NY and Excell starts early with due diligence

Standing on the policy of how Excell and NEXUS-NY work together, Rami says the proof-of-concept center does a great job at sourcing and vetting early-stage clean energy technology from across the state.

“Before we decide to invest, Excell enacts a thorough due diligence process that includes five strategic steps. By design, and throughout our partnership, we have originated these steps into  the NEXUS-NY application process. This helps us provide feedback on the promise of the young companies very early in the process, much earlier than most VCs.”

This collaboration allows for the team of coaches at NEXUS-NY to work closely with the companies and founders, while Excell provides an outside perspective. Each NEXUS-NY participant meets with Excell at least twice throughout the accelerator. These meetings, and Excell’s feedback, are structured to identify specific gaps that must be addressed in order for a specific company to improve its chances of obtaining venture funding.

“This process is what truly differentiates Excell Partners from other venture funds. The first meeting is what we consider a ‘friends and family session.’ We tell them to stand up straight, get rid of a slide from their pitch deck and slow down their presentation,” explained Theresa. “The second round includes pairing the teams with domain experts. These professionals help challenge the tech at a deeper level.”

To date, Excell Partners has invested in four NEXUS-NY portfolio companies

Excell Partners reviews approximately 1000 deals a year. This gives them an overall picture of what is available in New York State. About 150 of those applications are reviewed in depth, and roughly 50 are considered for investments.

“Our experience gives us a good feel for what makes a good opportunity. We make sure the market is large enough, there are resources in the founder’s community to help the company grow faster, and check if they have the right management team in place,” said Rami. “If we feel confident in these areas we look for elements in which we can help close the gap, and ultimately push the venture forward.”

Participants of the NEXUS-NY program receive up to $75,000 of equity-free direct financial support, which is largely supported by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

NEXUS-NY portfolio companies Excell Partners has invested in include:

American Fuel Cell (Rochester) – Premier supplier of individually tailored Membrane Electrode Assemblies (MEA) for multiple Fuel Cell applications;

Conamix (Ithaca) – Commercializing new Cornell technology that has the potential to dramatically increase the performance of lithium ion batteries;

Full Circle Feed (Syracuse) – Healthy, environmentally-sustainable dog treats made from meats, vegetables, fruits and breads from restaurants that make more that can be served; and

Molecular Glasses (Rochester) – Develops organic semiconductors for OLED and organic electronic applications, which can be used to manufacture lower-cost and high-performance TVs, smartphones, tablets and lighting devices.

“We realize the amount of money we put in alone isn’t always sufficient. The company may need additional capital in 18-25 months. So we address this up front by leading the deal and committing to helping the company seek other funding sources or capital matches,” explained Rami. “This is why building strategic partnerships is so important to us, as seen in several successful co-investments with HTR, as well as other funds and venture development organizations across New York State.”

Recently Excell was selected by Empire State Development as the only fund manager for a pilot minority grant. Through this appointment, Excell was able to assist in getting Molecular Glasses certified as a M/WBE business, and eligible for matching funds from the state. “With Excell’s assistance, we were able to complete this process successfully,” said Mike Molaire, Founder and CEO of Molecular Glasses.  Molecular Glasses was selected as one of five companies in the state to receive funding to spur M/WBE innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation.

“Our mission is to assist clean energy companies commercialize. Continuing to partner with local investors like Excell Partners, and connect our founders to more novel sources of funding such as Shell’s GameChanger program, is a strategy we stand by at NEXUS-NY,” added Buerkle.

Ready to commercialize your clean energy innovation? Apply online to pitch Excell Partners or contact NEXUS-NY to learn more about our proof-of-concept accelerator.

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.

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.