NEXUS-NY Blog


Two NEXUS-NY Companies Make 76West Clean Energy Competition Finals

Biological Energy (Cohort 2016) and MicroEra Power (Cohort 2017) have been selected as finalists for the $2.5 million 76West Clean Energy Competition.

Biological Energy is located in Spencer, NY. The company has developed a breakthrough, patent-pending technology for wastewater treatment that reduces energy use, increases water treatment capacity, and eliminates greater than 95 percent of environmentally harmful nutrients, which leads to significant reductions in residual bio-solids such as landfill waste. This is their second year competing in the 76West Clean Energy Competition.
MicroEra Power is a Rochester-based company commercializing novel. ultra-efficient stationary power generation solutions for commercial customers that help produce monthly energy savings and reduces generator footprint.
76West Clean Energy Competition finalists were selected from 15 semifinalists and dozens of applicants from across the U.S. A special ceremony announcing the winners will be held on August 16 in Binghamton, NY.
Follow NEXUS-NY on Twitter starting at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, August 16 for REAL-TIME TWEETS throughout the competition to see who wins -> twitter.com/nexusny 
Last year’s 76West Clean Energy Competition winners included two NEXUS-NY companies. Micatu, Inc. won the $1 million grand price. ChromoNanoTech received $250,000 in funding.
In the News:

Shell GameChanger – Impacting the Future of Clean Energy

Shell GameChanger has funded numerous game-changing ideas over the last few years,  through ‘proof of concept’ to rapid worldwide deployment.

Established over 20 years ago as an opportunity to “bring Silicon Valley inside,” GameChanger is one of four innovation vehicles at Shell. The program, now global, focuses on the proof-of-concept phase by providing businesses with a quick and cost-efficient way to show the technical and commercial viability of their idea or business plan.

In an exclusive interview with GameChanger James Unterreiner, we learn more about how Shell GameChanger is actively seeking, supporting and investing in novel ideas that have the potential to disrupt the future of energy, why NEXUS-NY makes a great innovation partner, and how clean energy entrepreneurs can get on James’ radar.

“I help startup companies de-risk and commercialize technology that will drastically impact the future of energy, said James. “We aim to cross the innovation “Valley of Death” by engaging industry experts for guidance, identifying and engaging partners early, then looking at implementation and deployment of technologies globally, both within existing and new businesses.”

How can Shell GameChanger help clean energy inventors?

Shell GameChanger has a team of seven passionate individuals split between Houston, USA and Amsterdam, the Netherlands. These representatives focus on the most relevant technologies, and how they can drastically impact our future.

“We provide pre-seed and seed funding, working with early-stage tech companies to de-risk their technology or business plan,” explained James.

Each project is divided into phases, where founders receive assistance and funding. Assistance includes connecting participants to industry experts, mentors, and potential partners. Funding for the first phase is typically around $200,000, and can extend up to $1 million through a company’s lifecycle in the Shell GameChanger program.

Some of the disruptive ideas brought to life through GameChanger include Kite Power Systems, Brent Sonar Sphere and Swellflex.

Why did Shell create the GameChanger program?

Established 20 years ago in an effort to “bring Silicon Valley inside,” James said the original process was focused internally.

“Shell developed the GameChanger program to give people an opportunity, and provide them assistance to develop their ideas. There are a bunch of smart people that have ideas, but maybe those ideas are too radical to promote through their traditional job roles.”

GameChanger evolved when the program started recognizing other solid ecosystems outside of Shell. The scope was broadened to “go where the relevant technology is,” and now aims to identify ideas around the world to be commercialized.

“We’re always looking at the tech through the lens of where Shell can provide assistance, which includes more than funding. We also pair each business with an industry expert to best achieve commercialization success, said James. “Of course with a small team, it’s important to plug in where we will see good results. Right now, there are a lot of clean energy ideas coming out of New York.”

What innovation areas does Shell GameChanger target?

Shell GameChanger focuses on two main areas: Oil & Gas and New Energy. James leads the New Energy focus, which includes Solar Fuel Innovations, Grids of the Future and Digitization Machine Learning and New Routes to Oxygenated Intermediates.

“I want to see how companies are using renewable resources to generate hydrogen, or creating new tech in electrical vehicles and grid generation to transform the space,” said James. “And with an abundance of data that needs to be processed, extracted and understood, I’m always keeping an eye out for how machine learning can be applied to traditional oil and gas, or new energy technologies.”

How did you learn about NEXUS-NY and what made you want to partner?

The Shell GameChanger program is actively exploring ideas to commercialize from within the NEXUS-NY portfolio of companies. After being introduced to NEXUS-NY through an article that came across his desk, James reached out to Executive Director Doug Buerkle to discuss Shell’s areas of interest.

“Doug assisted by presenting the portfolio companies that may be relevant to GameChanger,” said James.

So far, three NEXUS-NY companies have applied for the GameChanger program. Each of these companies are in the very early stages of the screening process, but James said all are relevant to Shell. The general time for the application process takes a minimum of three months.

The goal of the Shell GameChanger program is for companies to succeed. James said this process takes multiple players, and that’s one of the reasons why GameChanger takes an open innovation approach and seeks to work with clean energy incubators and accelerators like NEXUS-NY.

“While Shell can provide funding and subject matter experts (knowledge about the industry and how the tech may be relevant), NEXUS-NY specializes in providing business advice and legal counsel. These resources are a great complement to our services,” added James.

What is the criteria for companies to get involved?

Shell GameChanger is open to companies that are focused on energy. Criteria to participate includes the value of the opportunity, novelty of the idea, if Shell provides the necessary resources will the company progress forward and strategically, why Shell?

“First off, we’re looking for the next billion dollar companies and for this to happen we need to focus on revolutionary ideas. That said, it’s important to us that we can bring the right resources to the partnership to assist the company,” said James. “And from a strategic standpoint, we need to consider how the technology can pair with a Shell opportunity.”

How can inventors and entrepreneurs take advantage of this opportunity?

“GameChanger is always looking for technologies that could transform the energy industry. If you want to get on our radar, explore our areas of focus and submit a proposal,” encouraged James.

Proposals are open for innovations in New Energies, Oil & Gas and other ideas. View call for proposals here.

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NEXUS-NY helps research-derived innovations find commercial success

NEXUS-NY works with scientists who want to actively explore the commercial potential of their research-derived, energy innovations.

We improve the likelihood of commercial success through our financial & business support and by providing a structured commercialization process. Since its inception, NEXUS-NY has worked with 39 business discovery teams (mostly university-based pre-ventures and the occasional pre-seed company). To date, we’ve helped launch 19 startup companies, 12 have raised more than $18.1M in follow-on funding. 5 of our alumni have achieved the most important early milestone – the sale of products to paying customers!

Scientific innovation has the potential to significantly improve the human condition. Unfortunately, most research-derived innovations languish due to inadequate resources and insufficient commercialization expertise. What if there was a better way to rigorously test the commercial potential of scientific innovations and to accelerate the most promising ones? At NEXUS-NY, we work with Sciencepreneurs to do just that.

NEXUS-NY Sciencepreneurs share or aspire towards several common traits:

–        They recognize commercialization is a full contact sport. They are willing to get out of their labs to actively engage, and learn from potential customers and industry participants.

–        They enjoy learning about problems just as much as they like developing solutions.

–        They recognize that commercial solutions require more than just “better technology.” Customers are seeking solutions which directly address significant business drivers without adding disproportionate business risk and without unduly affecting upstream or downstream processes.

–        They invent cool things which promise a step function improvement as compared to existing and other emerging solutions. They endeavor to understand the technology and IP landscapes and can easily cite their unique and compelling advantage(s).

–        They recognize the inherent biases which accompany scientific discovery (see confirmation bias). They actively look for and listen for reasons why their innovation might not achieve commercial success.

–        They know we all have personal limitations and blind spots. They actively and enthusiastically engage those with complementary skills.

–        They are good story-tellers. They enjoy talking about their technology and can explain their science and its benefits to technical and non-technical audiences alike.

Over the past few years we’ve learned a lot about how, and how not, to accelerate the commercialization of research-derived innovations. In this series of blog posts, I will highlight our key findings so as to help scientists determine whether to join us; and in hope that other organizations might benefit from our successes and mistakes.

From Customer Discovery to De-Risking Technology – It’s Time for NEXUS-NY Phase 2

After three months of intense preparation, the NEXUS-NY midterms mark a milestone in our program.

At the beginning of 2017, nine innovative early-stage technologies were selected to join NEXUS-NY’s proof-of-concept center based on their potential to make an impact, and solve big energy and environmental problems. These teams entered into a structured process for testing the commercial potential of their innovations, guided by a network of business advisors and supported by early-stage funding for prototyping and customer development.

Now it’s time to assess how much each team has accomplished, and determine who will move forward into Phase 2 of our clean energy accelerator. Panelists comprised of industry experts helped answer this question by judging team pitches and providing feedback during our midterm presentations.

“I’m always blown away by how much progress these very early stage NEXUS teams are able to make in a few short months. By getting out and talking with potential customers early on, the insights they gain are remarkable, and significantly accelerate their path to market – with products and services that solve real problems,” said Jim Senall, President of High Tech Rochester.

NEXUS-NY Cohort 4 Midterm JudgesAlongside Jim on the judges’ panel was entrepreneur Dorrance Lamb, Tim Wilson, Chairman of Rochester Angel Network, and Jeff Peterson, Program Manager with NYSERDA. “This years cohort is no different. From next gen combined heat and power, to photovoltaics, to LED displays, the technologies and markets are different, but the process and results are the same. I look forward to seeing even further advancement after Phase 2 has completed,” added Senall.

In Phase 2 each team will receive up to $75,000 for further prototyping, IP services, investor due diligence reporting, entity formation and travel, along with help securing additional grants and investments.

Let’s take a closer look at a few of the teams advancing forward with NEXUS-NY!

A novel way to generate heat and reduce energy.

From refrigerators and sump pumps, to cell phones and computers, when your power goes out, Firepower saves the day.

Firepower - Syracuse University - Ryan Milcarek Firepower is a novel fuel cell-assisted, resilient heating and power technology derived from Syracuse University. Dr. Jeongmin Ahn, director of the Combustion and Energy Research Lab, originally developed part of the concept with his colleague Dr. Khalifa. It’s a way to create a self-powered, grid-independent and self-contained furnace made possible by having a fuel cell that operates directly in a flame.

“This is completely different than anything else in the industry. We’re addressing a problem that furnace manufacturers have never been able to address before.” said Ryan Milcarek, Entrepreneur Lead of Firepower. “Using this technology, your furnace generates heat and electricity enabling it to power itself and give homeowners a choice of what else to power.”

Ryan was working with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Industrial Assessment Center program and interested in HVAC. When he came across the patent at Syracuse University, he liked the idea of a furnace and a fuel cell, so he decided to do his PhD on the technology.

“Heat is a need, and we need power for that heat. But when the power goes out, we have no heat,” explained Milcarek. “Last winter when my power went out and I had a 10-month-old in the house, I was concerned.”

After graduating, Ryan stayed with the project because he believes in its commercial potential. In addition to providing an alternative source of power, Ryan says the technology is a  low-cost system that reduces NOx emissions and saves energy. “In all, Firepower is tackling a $1.8 billion industry,” he added.

Firepower has also received a significant amount of funding to take its early-stage technology and do something with it. This includes an AMTEC grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, and a NYSERDA PON 2606 for single cell testing. NEXUS-NY and the Syracuse Center of Excellence have further supported Firepower, and Ryan was the recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Syracuse University’s tech transfer office is now working with Ryan to help the Firepower team license the technology so they can form a company and further accelerate their commercialization efforts. The NYS Science and Technology Law Center at Syracuse University is also assisting with IP and market assessment

With a nondisclosure agreement already in place with a large component manufacturer that is ready to sell their technology, Ryan says the next step is for Firepower to develop an actual furnace. “We already have a working prototype, now we need to prove the electrical efficiency, and test some materials.”

Ryan believes Firepower is two years away from commercialization.

Opening a new market with affordable, flexible and lightweight solar panels.

Lux Semiconductors - SUNY PolyFounded by two PhD students in their research lab at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, Lux Semiconductors is drastically reducing the cost of lightweight and flexible solar cells.

Shane McMahon and Graeme Housser met while working in the same research group, one dedicated to clean energy technologies. Familiar with thin film solar, the two partnered together to combine their technical and industry knowledge to create a high quality product not found on the market today.

“The solar industry is growing at an average rate of 60% year over year, and all of this growth is based on standard silicon solar panels. These panels are great, but they can’t be installed everywhere that people want to put them, because of their shape and weight,” said Graeme. “So we are developing a new technology to produce lightweight, flexible solar cells, and importantly without sacrificing performance or affordability.”

Having interviewed over 60 potential customers in Phase 1 of the NEXUS-NY program about their flexible and lightweight solar cells, Shane and Graeme feel confident they’re on the right track.

“Ensuring that our technology has product-market fit is what the customer discovery process is all about. Through constant interaction with potential customers, we’ve been able to identify new ways to direct the development of our technology that will deliver the most value to our future customers,” said Shane.

“We were a little naive when we first started, we wanted to take on the entire solar industry,” added Graeme. “We quickly learned that we need to focus on a niche application first, and then scale from there.”

Shane and Graeme have found three major markets in the solar industry that Lux Semiconductors could target. The first is portable power applications, where solar packs are used for extended military deployments, emergency responders, and outdoor enthusiasts. The second is building and vehicle-integrated solar panels, such as awnings, solar canopies, carports, trucks with overnight cabins, small boats, and RVs. And the third is commercial and industrial weight-constrained rooftops, where nearly 40% of all malls, big-box retailers, and industrial warehouses across the U.S. have weight-constrained roofs.

“Portable power looks like a solid entry market. It’s lower scale with high margins, but not as big as integrated buildings or industrial rooftops,” said Graeme. “It’s our plan to scale up to those other larger markets over time.”

Now accepted into NEXUS-NY Phase 2, Lux Semiconductors will focus on creating high quality,  thin film substrates that are used as the underlying materials for solar cells.

“We are planning to purchase additional equipment to fabricate our unique substrate materials, which we expect to be nearly 100 times cheaper per unit area than today’s industry standard wafer version,” said Shane.

Lux Semiconductors already has several partners who are interested in testing their samples in their devices.

Quick and easy assembly of small LED chips into a grid array.

SelfArray - RPI - Mark DurniakSelfArray’s novel system utilizes diamagnetic levitation for the self assembly of LED’s for displays. This assembly process is not only quick and easy, it helps enable digital billboards, which are more energy efficiency, brighter, and with higher contrast.

SelfArray was developed by electrical engineering professor James Lu in the Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications (LESA) Engineering Research Center at RPI. The company was incorporated in 2015, and after receiving NSF SBIR funding last year, Dr. Mark Durniak was added to the team as a full-time principal engineer.

“Dr. Lu had been following my research. So when I graduated we connected about bringing his technology to market,” said Mark.

SelfArray CEO Clint Ballinger heard about NEXUS-NY during an information session at RPI. The team has spent the last several months working on customer discovery and prototyping.

“Originally developed for lighting panels, we learned through market research that, though our technology could deliver very high resolution for TV sized displays, competing with the LCD market wouldn’t be wise, said Mark. “We now believe the technology is better suited for large-scale indoor digital displays.”

SelfArray is on track to complete Phase 1 of their National Science Foundation (NSF) deliverable, which includes a low resolution display. Mark said this is a good first step, but the industry wants to see something more in line with products today.

“When you walk into the Apple store you see a 1mm pitch display in the back,” explained Mark. “With our novel system utilizing diamagnetic levitation, we can assembly those large displays in minutes rather than weeks.”

SelfArray’s go to market strategy involves selling directly to top display makers. They are now working with an LED supplier to join forces with a display maker and further test their technology. Mark anticipates the company will be generating revenue as early as 2018, with a product launch scheduled for 2019.

With funding from NEXUS-NY Phase 2, SelfArray will push forward with these objectives. They are also seeking to raise an additional $1 million from individual investors.

Several Other Teams Move Forward to NEXUS-NY Phase 2

Among them include:

Active Energy Systems (Cornell University)
Thermo-mechanical energy storage system for data centers. AES utilizes waste heat and phase change materials to enable high round trip efficiencies at low cost.

Printed Photovoltaics (Rochester Institute of Technology)
Lightweight, moldable, printed solar cells for indoor applications. Printed PV enables extended life of wireless IoT devices.

Sunny Clean Water (University at Buffalo)
Nanomaterial and system that enables rapid water evaporation for two key applications: water desalination and purification; and increased throughput of salt recovery in mines.

Continue to follow the progress of these passionate inventors and entrepreneurs. Sign up for NEXUS-NY newsletters to receive special invites to industry events, including Demo Day this fall in Rochester, NY.