Tag: Phase Innovations


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.

Phase Innovations – Advanced, Low Cost Air Conditioning System

Over the past year, several university researchers and pre-revenue companies have been working diligently with NEXUS-NY to accelerate the commercialization of their early-stage, clean-energy technologies. Now with the educational, financial and business support of the NEXUS-NY clean energy seed accelerator, Phase Innovations will continue commercializing their membrane heat pump (MHP) technology. Researchers with Phase Innovations have worked to test many different materials and designs for the development of their advanced prototype. These materials are showing improved performance and cost, and their air conditioning technology has been identified as very promising by the Department of Energy.

Phase Innovations - SUNY AlfredCompany: Phase Innovations

Website: phaseinnovations.com

Description: Phase Innovations is developing a low-cost, advanced air conditioning system without chemical refrigerants that uses less energy than conventional systems. The company’s technology is based on water permeable membrane modules that enable precise control of temperature and humidity in any climate. Capacity is easily scaled between residential and commercial applications. The unique, patent pending design offers customers the option to use low temperature waste heat, as opposed to electricity to drive the cooling process. The two-ton cooling module for Phase Innovation’s initial customer validation prototype is anticipated to occupy a footprint of about one cubic meter.

Location: SUNY Alfred State, 10 Upper College Dr, Alfred, NY 14802

Founding Team: Nathan DeMario, Cofounder; Matt Lawrence, Cofounder; Jon Owejan, Cofounder; Tanya Waite; Business Advisor; Steve Wood, IP Advisor

NEXUS-NY Research: Like most other teams, Phase Innovations consists primarily of technical people with backgrounds in research, engineering, and design. This experience is an exercise of technology transfer – a process that involves not only technical expertise, but also requires business acumen and clear communication with the many different parties to bring the technology to market.

It has been challenging, but developing these skills makes us all much better at what we do. As one of our team members says, ‘What is the point of research if we don’t find a way to make breakthroughs like this available to everyone?’ This experience has tremendous benefit to all involved, and without this opportunity, many technologies, like those developed through the NEXUS NY program, are destined to live only in a lab or journal article. – Jon Owejan, Cofounder, Phase Innovations

Phase Innovations: Cofounders Nathan DeMario and Jon OwejanNext Steps: After graduating the NEXUS-NY clean energy accelerator, Phase Innovations will move forward with product validation and market development.

“Product validation is, obviously, the most exciting thing for a new company like ours,” says Owejan. “To see something go from the idea stage to the prototype stage is very satisfying.”

Additionally, validation and optimization are well suited to the skill set of the Phase Innovations’ technical team, whereas Jon says market development, however, is new to most of the team.

“The customer discovery process helped us establish dialog with many interested parties, so we have a very clear picture of customer expectations. But as you might expect, we are apprehensive of getting the product out to customers.  Will they like it?  Will it truly be the answer for a persistent customer problem?  We won’t know until we actually install the system at a customer’s business.  It’s going to be a very exciting next few months,” says Owejan.

Contact: 585.905.8140 | jowejan@phaseinnovations.com

NEXUS-NY 2016 Demo Day

7 Clean Energy Startups Changing the World

To date, NEXUS-NY has helped launch 15 startup companies. Eight graduates have gone on to raise more than $6.5MM, and four have generated initial customer revenue.

Interested commercializing your clean energy technology? Apply to NEXUS-NY.

Now meet the graduates of the 2016 Cohort of NEXUS-NY. Each presented at our annual Demo Day in Rochester, NY after completed the NEXUS-NY clean energy seed accelerator program.

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

Ducted Turbines International (Clarkson University)
DTI is a wind turbine company working to provide the lowest cost per kWh in the small turbine market (<10kW).

MIMiC (RPI)
The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is developing modular, switchable heating and cooling systems that reduce building energy consumption, while increasing occupant comfort.

Dimensional Energy (Cornell University)
Dimensional Energy is breaking new ground in artificial photosynthesis by converting waste carbon dioxide into green fuels using only sunlight as an energy source.

NanoHydro (SUNY Buffalo)
NanoHydro has developed a novel, proprietary nanomaterial capable of generating hydrogen gas from water, on demand and at room temperature.

BioEnergySP
BioEnergySP is working to commercialize its patent pending industrial equipment for wastewater treatment. Its Electroactive Attached Growth (EAG) modules save energy and expand treatment capacity for municipal and energy customers.

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

About NEXUS-NY
NEXUS-NY is a clean energy seed accelerator. Each year we provide financial, business and educational support to around 10 entrepreneurial teams, which are selected through a competitive application process. Program participants are eligible to receive $50,000 or more of equity-free financial support, plus additional service from NEXUS-NY mentors and partner organizations. Our entrepreneurs come from research universities and the general community, and share several common traits:

  • They are passionate about their technology and want to start a great company
  • They want to solve big problems for real customers
  • They recognize the need to demonstrate their technology and business model though meaningful proof-of-concept prototypes and customer interactions

NEXUS-NY provides a structured customer commercialization process organized around answering three fundamental questions:

  • What is the best commercialization pathway for a given technology? Could it be through a startup?
  • Does technology work in a way that’s relevant to intended customers?
  • Will a customer actively engage to help validate the technology and business model?

The most promising graduating companies are eligible to receive follow on equity investments. NEXUS-NY is a program of High Tech Rochester (HTR) and is funded largely through a proof-of-concept center grant from NYSERDA.

Stay on the pulse of clean energy news, deals and events. Sign up for NEXUS-NY newsletters.

NEXUS-NY 2016 Teams Ready for Demo Day

NEXUS-NY is a clean energy seed accelerator. Each year the program provides financial, business and education support to entrepreneurial teams selected through a competitive application process.

Participants primarily come from NY research universities and share several common traits:

  1. They’re passionate about their research and want to start a great company
  2. They want to solve big problems for real customers
  3. They recognize the need to demonstrate their technology and business model through meaningful proof-of-concept prototype and customer interactions

Innovation Together - Proof of Concept CentersVIDEO: Innovating Together – Proof of Concept Centers

Mae-ling Lokko, founder of AMBIS Technologies and NEXUS-NY graduate featured by NY American Science and NYSERDA on the power mentorship through the NEXUS-NY’s proof-of-concept center.

“Our program strives to determine if someone should start a company, see if the technology actually works, and gain 3rd party validation of the technology and business model,” explained NEXUS-NY Executive Director Doug Buerkle. “In prior cohorts, many companies fell short of validation until well after the program ended. But for the 2016 teams, validation is a strong theme. Four of our graduating companies are, or will shortly be, conducting some type of customer demonstration study. This process validates the technology in a relevant environment and sends a strong signal to the rest of the market.”

Excited to showcase the 2016 participants in the NEXUS-NY program on Demo Day, here’s a racap of where the seven teams stand to date, and “Doug’s Take” on each team pitching on October 5 at the Rochester Public Market. Join us in celebrating their groundbreaking achievements! 

BioEnergySP – Saving Energy for Wastewater Treatment

BioEnergySP is a newly incorporated clean energy company that has invented novel 4th generation compartment free Microbial Fuel Cells. This patent pending industrial equipment Electroactive Attached Growth (EAG) technology saves energy for municipal and industrial customers, allowing facilities to significantly reduce operating expenses or to expand with minimal capital outlays.  Since the start of Phase 2 of the NEXUS-NY program, the leaders of BioEnergySP are excited to have built their first Pilot Scale prototype, which will be deployed in October in a New York State Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“This is an exciting milestone for our company that could not have been achieved without the mentorship and help of the NEXUS-NY program,” said Entrepreneurial Lead Adrian Cosma. “The pilot this fall will allow us to validate our technology and will get us one step closer to commercializing our technology. Recently we validated our technology in the lab, and there is the opportunity to offer tremendous value for our customers while having a positive effect on the environment.”

Doug’s Take: “Another great success story. In addition to being a 76West semifinalist, BioEnergySP has established a partnership with a leading engineering and construction firm that is going to build their pilot.  Their first system will be deployed at a New York wastewater treatment facility in the very near future.”

Cellec Technologies (RIT) – High-end Lithium Ion Batteries

Cellec Technologies is using patented technologies to improve the performance of high-end lithium ion batteries for small satellites, remote sensing and UAV applications in the defense and intelligence communities. The team is primarily composed of researchers from Rochester Institute of Technology. The Cellec team successfully exited phase 1 of the NEXUS-NY program in April, 2016 and has since been working on phase 2 deliverables. The team is working with several potential customers and expects to have its first orders shortly.

“Our efforts have primarily focused on improving our battery cell prototypes to meet customer deliverables. We have developed initial pouch cell batteries that show a 40% performance improvement over commercially available alternatives; while searching for ways to reduce the total cost of the battery cells without sacrificing performance,” explained Entrepreneurial Lead Brad Sparks. “Our multiple patents provide intellectual property protection and we have worked with the NYS Science + Technology Law Center to map the patent landscape.”

Doug’s Take: “RIT has built a functional prototype and could be in position to announce their first customer at Demo Day. This customer will deploy Cellec’s technology in a very unique and exciting application.  While many advanced battery companies are promising high energy density, these guys have demonstrated performance in prototypes which have been cycled hundreds of times.”

Dimensional Energy (Cornell) – Transformative CO2 Conversion Technologies

Growing concerns about rising CO2 emissions and related climate change have added urgency to the endeavor of carbon capture and conversion. To do so, Dimensional Energy focuses on creating artificial photosynthetic systems for hydrocarbon production. The technology at the heart of this clean energy startup integrates advanced light harvesting technology with novel nanostructured photocatalysts. While the prospect of mimicking natural photosynthesis to convert sunlight and CO2 to fuels has intrigued scientists and engineers for years, Dimensional Energy is exploring recent breakthroughs in catalyst development as an opportunity to develop CO2 conversion technologies based on materials that nature has not yet had the opportunity to work with.

“We embrace the high-risk, high-reward nature of this challenge as an opportunity to develop potentially transformative CO2 conversion technologies,” said Entrepreneurial Lead Jason Salfi. “The ambitious strategy outlined in our presentation builds on a solid platform of prior engineering and entrepreneurial experience within our team and access to state-of-the-art experimental facilities at Cornell University.”

Doug’s Take: “While it’s still early, the Cornell team has recently started generating promising data in their lab.  During their tenure in NEXUS, they’ve entered the $20MM Carbon XPRIZE competition and have won an Atkinson Venture Award from Cornell.  They are close to marrying their bioreactor and catalyst technologies into a single prototype. I believe they’ll have a very interesting story to tell come demo day.”

Ducted Turbines International (Clarkson University) – Twice the Energy Capture of Conventional Turbines

The Clarkson University team has been busy this summer turning their research into a company called Ducted Turbines International, as well as ordering parts, designing geometry and building the prototype that will soon be tested at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

“Waterloo has the size we need to place our turbine test rig right inside the wind tunnel,” said DTI product commercialization consultant Paul Pavone. Pavone and Visser describe how the turbine test rig will provide the data needed to validate the Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD) modeling. The design was first generated on a computer, with the help of two Clarkson Ph.D. students to optimize the duct efficiency and performance of the rotor blades. “We’re looking forward to meeting this milestone soon and revealing preliminary data at NEXUS-NY Demo Day in October,” added Pavone.

Doug’s Take: “The Clarkson team appears to be making great technical progress, and has also developed some exciting partnerships. Paul Pavone joined this team through an introduction from a NEXUS-NY mentor, and they’ve recently started working on some manufacturing opportunities with P1 Industries, a company led by NEXUS-NY advisor, Dave Dussault.  All these little pieces came together through the NEXUS-NY program.”

MIMiC / Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (CASE) – Modular Indoor MicroClimate

The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is working on a technology for localized heating and cooling, which reduces energy consumption and increases occupants comfort. The RPI team, known as MIMiC, plans to go to market initially with a novel modular unit using thermoelectric technologies, which has low energy draw and no moving parts. The technology enables supplemental heating and cooling in a single device without the need to dump heat outside, a huge opportunity to revolutionize portable devices.  

Since the beginning of Phase 2 of the program, we have focused our efforts to strengthen the business case and push forward the functional prototype,” said Berardo Matalucci, PhD Candidate at CASE leading the RPI team. “We understood that there is a clear and compelling business case for novel heating and cooling technologies. However, we need to show a functional prototype to convince our clients that the technology works. We envision a future in which building occupants can set their own preferences without increasing energy consumptions. The NEXUS-NY program has brought us unique help and support to derisk the technology, while accelerating the commercialization process,” he added.

Doug’s Take: “Berardo and his team have made fantastic progress on their prototypes.  This business opportunity carries a lot of technical and market risk, but Berardo and Theodorian continue to make very strong inroads in both areas. They’ve identified a potential pilot customer museum in NYC. Attendees can expect RPI to display a highly refined prototype at Demo Day.”

NanoHydro (University at Buffalo) – Hydrogen Storage & Generation Technology

NanoHydro, winner of the NYSERDA Energy / Sustainability award at the NYS Business Plan Competition, has been engaged in overcoming technical and business milestones during phase 2 of the NEXUS-NY program. At this stage, the team’s biggest milestone has been investigating and validating a process for large scale production. With this research, NanoHydro is looking to move from an expensive gram scale production method, to a kilogram scale production method using an inexpensive precursor. NanoHydro founder Parham Rohani started this research in collaboration with Buffalo Manufacturing Works. NanoHydro is also investigating hydrogen generation performance of their nanomaterial in pellet form.

“We’ve learned several invaluable lessons in this process that will help us in near future,” said Rohani. “In parallel with our lab research, NanoHydro has been deeply engaged in business plan development, customer discovery and market research. We believe that the hydrogen storage market for portable/remote applications is unserved and significant, and that our hydrogen storage/generation technology has great potential to successfully accelerate electricity generation using fuel cells in wide variety of applications,” he added.

Doug’s Take: “Parham knows his hydrogen producing nanomaterials work, the real question is if he can make the material in high volume. That’s why his new partnership with Buffalo Manufacturing Works on scale up is so important. Parham’s technology is being noticed by key customers; he will be presenting at the Defense Innovation Technology Acceleration Challenges in Austin, TX this November. This is a great potential funding and collaboration opportunity for NanoHydro.”

Phase Innovations (SUNY Alfred State) – Innovative New Cooling System

The team from SUNY Alfred State has invented an advanced cooling system that uses water instead of chemical refrigerants to cool buildings. Over the last several months, the researchers have formed a company called Phase Innovations and have diligently worked to test many different materials and designs for the development of their advanced prototype.

“We have identified a new class of materials that has a lot of promise for improved performance and cost,” said Entrepreneurial Lead Steve Wood. “The 2-ton cooling module for this initial customer validation prototype is anticipated to occupy a footprint of about one cubic meter.”

Doug’s Take: “We’re really happy with the progress the Alfred State team has made over the last 8 months.  They have a functional prototype and a pilot customer lined up for when they graduate the NEXUS-NY program. You can’t ask for anything more. They are working on membrane heat pump (MHP) technology, one that has been identified as very promising by the Department of Energy..”

Interested in the NEXUS-NY Proof-of-Concept Center?

Cohort 4 applications for the NEXUS-NY Clean Energy Seed Accelerator open on October 18. Researchers and aspiring entrepreneurs will have until November 11 to submit their ideas. Get a head start on the application process!

Phase Innovations Identifies New Class of Materials

Over the last several months in the NEXUS-NY program, SUNY Alfred State startup, Phase Innovations, has been hard at work diligently testing many different materials and designs for development of their customer validation prototype.

Dr. Jon Owejan, assistant professor of mechanical at Alfred State, along with mechanical engineering technology student Nathan DeMario, have invented an advanced cooling system that uses water instead of chemical refrigerants to carry heat out of buildings.

Featured in an article by The Research Foundation for the State University of New York (SUNY RF), Phase Innovations is using waste heat to improve chilling efficiency. Owejan said, “It’s an enhanced evaporative system that is energy efficient, small in size, and uses no toxic refrigerants.”

Steve Wood, assistant director of innovative services at SUNY RF is also working with Phase Innovations. He says some of the materials tested have performed less than expected, giving the researchers additional hurdles to vault, but the team has been able to assemble a viable bill of materials that will work for this initial prototype.

“Although some of these materials are more expensive than we had hoped, we have also identified a new class of materials that has a lot of promise for improved performance and cost,” added Wood.

Phase Innovations has also made several quantum leaps on their system design. This progress has increased simplicity of component design leading to fewer differentiated parts and decreased cost of manufacturing.

“The 2-ton cooling module for this initial customer validation prototype is anticipated to occupy a footprint of about one cubic meter,” explained Wood.

Come NEXUS-NY Demo Day, Phase Innovations will reveal several prospective customers who are willing to help the startup validate their prototype by providing space for a testing environment in actual operating conditions. Wood says one prospective customer in particular is a local plastics manufacturer that is very dedicated to renewable energy and energy efficiency, which makes a perfect fit with Phase Innovations’ goals for their advanced cooling technology.

“We’re really happy with what the team at Alfred State is doing. They have a function prototype and pilot site lined up for when they graduate the NEXUS-NY program. You can’t ask for anything more,” said Doug Buerkle, NEXUS-NY Executive Director. “They’ll now dig deep throughout the next several weeks leading up to Demo Day to finish their prototype and generate some data.”

NEXT -> Join us in celebrating Phase Innovations and all the NEXUS-NY Cohort 3 teams at Demo Day on October 5. Register for this cutting-edge event featuring the latest in clean tech innovations, live music, local food trucks and more!

NEXUS-NY is also soon to open applications for Cohort 4. Mark your calendar and get ready to submit your applications from October 18-11. Here’s the application for to get a head start.