Tag: NEXUS-NY Cohort 1


NEXUS-NY Grads Receive Competitive DOE Grants

American Fuel Cell and Avatar Sustainable Technologies Awarded DOE Grants in Round 2 of Small Business Voucher Program

The DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) has started a new innovative Small Business Vouchers (SBV) program to accelerate the transformation toward a clean energy economy.

As part of the program, several small businesses work directly with experts at DOE national laboratories to help commercialize the next generation of clean energy technologies. This national effort provides millions in funding for U.S. companies, and access to the resources available within the national laboratory system.

“Small businesses will get access to NREL’s expertise and facilities to overcome research and commercialization challenges while NREL staff gain better insight into industry needs,” stated NREL Commercialization Program Manager Matt Ringer is a press release.

SBV vouchers range from $50,000 – 300,000. Industries include Wind, Bioenergy, Solar and Fuel Cells and Advanced Manufacturing.

NEXUS-NY graduating companies, American Fuel Cell (AFC) and Avatar Sustainable Technologies are among two of the businesses selected for Round 2 of this prestigious collaboration. Out of hundreds of applications, only 43 vouchers were awarded in this round. AFC and Avatar were also the only winners from New York state.

“American Fuel Cell applied for a grant under the voucher program in partnership with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to work on high-speed, thin film coating manufacturing quality control,” says AFC CEO and Co-Founder Daniel O’Connell. “The program through the DOE is significant at $200,000 with additional cost share from AFC.”

While O’Connell says that winning the award was a long shot, his team is very excited about the potential. “We’re looking at completing this program with Kodak and Oak Ridge Labs to ensure we get a quality product out of the process,” he added.  

American Fuel Cell is the premier supplier of individually tailored Membrane Electrode Assemblies (MEA) for multiple fuel cell applications. In a recent interview with NEXUS-NY, O’Connell shared with us how AFC is powering the future, and bringing high tech fuel cell jobs to the Rochester area by creating high performance, low cost MEAs.

Across the nation, small businesses provide a tremendous opportunity to accelerate America’s clean energy economy. Small businesses develop innovative technology and produce more than 15 times as many patents per employee as larger patenting firms, according to the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy.

American Fuel Cell will begin the new project with the Department of Energy this October. Work will continue throughout 2017. The first step is to execute a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), which O’Connell says was recently signed.

“Initially AFC will provide samples to Oak Ridge for defect analysis. Oak Ridge personnel will then visit our facility in Rochester to see the equipment we have and determine how best to error proof our production process and reduce waste, thereby lowering our cost,” explains O’Connell. “We expect to be in volume production over the duration of the project starting in early 2017.”

A second company that graduated from Cohort 1 of the NEXUS-NY accelerator was also awarded a DOE Small Business Voucher. Avatar Sustainable Technologies produces cellulosic sugars from solid waste. The papermill waste is processed into fermentable sugars that can be converted into environmental-friendly commercial products, including several biofuels and bioplastics applications.

“We couldn’t be more pleased,” said Avatar Founder Bhavin Bhayani. “I’d like to thank NEXUS-NY, Syracuse COE, ESF, SUNY ESF, CenterState CEO and several others who have helped us lay the foundation.”

Avatar is based in Syracuse, NY. The clean energy startup will collaborate with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) as part of the DOE SBV program.

“It’s amazing that two companies from the NEXUS-NY program received this funding. It really speaks highly of NEXUS, HTR and the innovative clean energy startups in Upstate NY,” says O’Connell.

More details on the application process for Round 3 of the Small Business Vouchers program will be release this Fall. You can find Process & Timeline information, as well as Eligibility requirements at https://www.sbv.org.

Micatu Changes the Way the World Senses with Light

Micatu: Upstate New York’s Next Generation Optical Sensor Company

Micatu Co-founder & CEO Michael OshetskiNew York native, Michael Oshetski, is proud to be an entrepreneur. As the CEO of Micatu, Mike speaks with passion about his company and plans to not only revolutionize optical sensor technologies, but create high-paying jobs for the Southern Tier region.

A recent semifinalist in the 76West Clean Energy Business Competition, Micatu provides next generation optical sensor technologies that create more efficient and sustainable measurement capabilities in the areas of smart grid, wind, power, transmission and aerospace. Micatu combines these technologies with engineering, manufacturing and OEM professional services anchored on the team’s more than fifty-years of optics experience.

“I was born and raised in Chemung County and went to RIT. I’ve started this company out of my garage. It would be an honor to move forward in the 76West competition. If a company from the Southern Tier wins, we all win. There’s no better time than right now to do business in New York,” beamed Oshetski.

Micatu was founded in 2011. Oshetski and co-founder Atul Pradhan were sitting in an airport in Hong Kong. Mike turned to Atul and said, “You wanna start a company?” It was as simple as that and the duo hasn’t turned back since, stating they have incredible achievements over the last five years. Micatu now strives to do what the Internet did for communications.

“Some people said we were crazy. Others called us brilliant,” laughed Oshetski. “So in the true spirit of being entrepreneurs, we took a calculated risk that, so far, has paid off. Everyone starts somewhere, and I believe as long as you’re passionate and true to your values, you’ll be successful.”

Micatu Seeks to Create High Paying Tech Jobs for the Southern Tier

Over the course of five years the company has already surpassed major milestones moving from Mike’s garage, to IncubatorWorks in Painted Post, NY, and now occupying a 10,000 sq ft facility at the IST Center in Horseheads, NY.

Already employing 20 people, Oshetski said based on demand for the technology and the company’s sales forecast, Micatu is ready to expand once again. The Micatu team is projecting to hire at least one new employee each month for the next five years and expand operations to a 70,000 sq ft facility in Chemung County. Oshetski said recent company developments will help them achieve this growth.

“Micatu is on the frontline of smart grid and distribution grid technology, putting us in a great position to grow threefold in the coming years. With more orders at larger volumes coming in, we’re under the gun to scale production quickly. We’re also shipping internationally now,” explained Oshetski. “We’re ready to create more high-paying tech jobs in the Southern Tier, and proud to know for every one job we create, five additional jobs are created for the community based on the Jobs Multiplier Effect.”

Micatu Optical Sensor Technology

The Need for Integrated Volt/VAR Optimization (IVVO)

When electricity is delivered to a customer’s home or a business, it must be delivered at a level between +,- 5% to remain within ANSI standard C84.1-2011 regulations. On a 120V system, this range is defined as 114 volts to 126 volts to ensure all electrical devices can operate properly. Most utilities address this challenge by over producing energy to ensure the high end of the voltage range is maintained.

“Utilities face both a legislative and operational challenge of ensuring they are delivering  efficient voltage within this range when it arrives at the customer’s home or business,” said Oshetski.

Overproduction of energy increases distribution losses and increases requirements for peak demand production. This problem is further exacerbated by the introduction of renewable energy generation which further leads to grid instability.

What the Micatu team was able to discover is utilities are actively seeking deployment of Integrated Volt/VAR Optimization, which allows them to control the voltage on the distribution grid and produce what is actually needed for each feeder circuit.

Micatu is Revolutionizing Optical Sensor Technologies

Focused on making the power distribution grid smarter, Micatu’s technology hangs on the power grid and measures voltage and currents very precisely. This helps the distribution grid to become more efficient, and enables analytics and integration as renewable power sources.

“Deployment of Micatu’s sensors for Integrated Volt/VAR Optimization typically results in a 1% energy savings for each 1% in voltage reduction. Micatu provides a cost effective solution, which is also one of the most accurate solutions for measurement of voltage and current on the smart grid today,” said Oshetski.

He continued to explain how over time, more renewables and co-generated sources will cause the grid to be less stable. Micatu technology was created to provide greater stability, allowing operators to figure out how much energy the grid is making, as well as calculate the demand.

Oshetski is now preparing to share this insight with the high-tech optical ecosystem at the 2016 Annual NFOC Communications Conference. Invited by leaders of the telecom and communications industry, he said he looking forward to talking about next generation of optical applications that will fundamentally create a new industry for optical sensing solutions.

“It’s exciting to see how Micatu’s optical sensor technology can have a big impact on the efficiency of power transmission and generation on our power grid. We have the potential to reduce greenhouse emissions, lower operating costs for utilities and ultimately savings for the end users,” said Oshetski.

The NFOC Communications Conference will take place on September 21-22 at the Turning Stone Casino and Resort.

Micatu Graduates from NEXUS-NY with Go-to-Market Products, Services

Something that sets Micatu apart from other companies is the startup’s two-pronged business model. In addition to offering a product, Micatu’s experienced consulting team knows how to take their product and make it solve problems for other companies. Oshetski said these professional business services are inherent to their product.

“Not every customer is the same and some require a unique solution,” he said. “Micatu provides additional value add services by integrating our technology into the final solution. This process saves millions in kw of energy, which in addition to being efficient, is good for the environment. We’re very much linked to making the environment more green.”

This connection to sustainability made Micatu a perfect match for the NEXUS-NY Clean Energy Seed Accelerator. As a proof-of-concept center in partnership with High Tech Rochester and partially funded by NYSERDA, NEXUS-NY helps catalyze the commercialization of early-stage technologies across New York state. During the NEXUS-NY program, Micatu was challenged to develop their idea into a technology for condition monitoring in wind turbines. To achieve this, Oshetski said the team focused on verifying their concept by talking to the end user.

“NEXUS-NY was a great learning experience and a huge value add to our company, said Oshetski. “We learned that just because we had developed a better widget, it didn’t mean that people were automatically going to buy it. The customer discovery process triggered a pivot, which required us to concentrate on the points that made sense in the industry.“

Now as a graduate of the NEXUS-NY accelerator, Micatu continues to use 3rd party testing to confirm the performance of their technology in partnership with NYSERDA and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

“We’re very proud of our progress. What takes big companies years to complete, we’ve managed to achieve in less than five as a small company with limited resources. Plus, Micatu hasn’t taken funding from any outside investors, and we’ve been cash flow positive since day one,” said Oshetski. “This didn’t come from having the best business plan in the world, because in our field business plans are outdated before they are complete. We’ve been able to do this by carefully forecasting our revenue and acquiring the employees needed to fulfill our orders. There’s nothing more to it. It’s a simple equation with a lot of points.”

Micatu Strives to Enhance New York’s High-Tech Ecosystem

Micatu also attributes this wave of success to support from the community at all levels. “Small business can’t do everything on their own, but when we work together, we can,” he said.

As our call came to a close I could hear Mike’s kids (5, 2) laughing in the background. Yes, in addition to building a successful startup, Mike has also been busy starting a family, But regardless of the challenges, Oshetski said he’s excited about the opportunity to bring more technology jobs to the area and build something bigger than himself.

“We can make the community better, and that starts with good paying jobs,” he insisted. “Right now Micatu pays more than the industry average and we’re proud of that. We inject a significant about salaries each month into the southern tier.  We have a great team of dedicated employees and we’re achieving this success together, for our families and our community.”   

For more details on this company, take a look back at NEXUS-NY New Energy Magazine.

Avatar Sustainable Technologies Produces Cellulosic Sugars from Solid Waste

Transforming Waste Fibrous Sources Into Green Energy & Products

Using a patented process, Avatar Sustainable Technologies produces fermentable cellulosic sugars from refuse of local industries. After completing NEXUS-NY Cohort 1, this clean energy startup based in Syracuse, NY is on its way to commercializing the process, partnering with a variety of companies.

Avatar Technologies - NEXUS-NY Cohort 1Company: Avatar Sustainable Technologies

Description: Avatar Sustainable Technologies takes papermill waste and processes it into fermentable sugars that can be converted to environmental friendly commercial products, including several biofuels and bioplastics applications.

The commercial potential of Avatar is to use the waste fiber rejects from paper mills to make bioproducts, improve the sustainability of the paper industry and offset the use of petroleum based products. This process will not only provide greener, degradable and economical alternatives, but also sustainable solutions by using a resource that is currently being landfilled.

Avatar has scaled this process from bench scale to pre-pilot scale, and the startup is currently working with several biochemical companies.

“We’ve already connected with a bunch of companies who have agreed to work with us on the process,” said Bhavin Bhayani, Co-founder of Avatar Sustainable Technologies. “This includes two Fortune 500 companies and leading companies in the paper and biotech industries.”

Location: Center of Excellence – Syracuse, NY

Achievements: In June 2015, Avatar received a competitive NSF SBIR grant from the National Science Foundation for $149,700. The funding was primarily used to research breaking down waste rejects from recycled containerboard mills. The results were successful, providing optimal process operational windows for yields, purity and downstream bioconversion efficacy. Avatar was also able to take the process from bench scale to pre-pilot scale.

“It’s not just the Avatar technology, it’s about the business model because we are connecting the paper companies with the biochemical companies,” explained Bhayani.

Founding Team: Bhavin Bhayani (Co-founder); Dr. Bandaru Ramarao (Co-founder). Avatar Sustainable Technologies also works with several PhD and Master students from Syracuse, NY who assist with wet work in the lab to complete optimizations.

“This particular area is quite competitive. After completing my PhD I received a couple big job offers,” explained Bhayani. I could have easily taken a job and stopped working on this venture, but my wife and family encouraged me to keep going. They reminded me of my passion for the research and helped keep my spirits up throughout this entrepreneurial journey.”

NEXUS-NY Research: Over the course of the 10-month NEXUS-NY seed accelerator, the Avatar team was charged with speaking to 50 customers as part of their discovery process. By Demo Day in NYC, Bhayani and Ramarao had created a network of over 150 people.

“NEXUS-NY taught me a lot. The program pushed me to go out and speak with people. So for me, it wasn’t about the funding, it was about getting out there, and without NEXUS I don’t think we would have made it this far,” said Bhayani. “I remember Demo Day in NYC. Doug (Buerkle, NEXUS-NY Founding Executive Director) joked with me about bail money because I would wait outside companies I was interested in. When someone stepped outside I would run up and ask them questions,” he laughed. “Perhaps I should have been in public speaking instead of a PhD.”

Next Steps: After completing a successful Phase 1 of the NSF SBIR, Avatar has applied for an additional grant with the National Science Foundation. The money from Phase 2 will go towards scaling their process to produce higher quantities and get more results out of it. To best compete and commercialize their product, Avatar needs to move away from small bench scale in the lab and automate their process. Bhayani hopes to hear back from NSF this summer.

Bhayani is also in the running for the prestigious Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Award. Developed in partnership with the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, the award spotlights innovative, yet practical solutions created by young people that help make sustainable living commonplace. Out of nearly 950 applicants, Bhayani has made it to the finals. Six people will soon be selected as winners, receiving approximately $300,000 in financial support and mentoring.

“Again, it’s not about the money, it’s about being recognized by Unilever, which could open up partnerships around the world already making packaging and other applications,” said Bhanyani. “That would be ideal!”

Contact: 315.212.1159 | bhavin@avatarsustainables.com