Clean Energy Takes Center Stage at February Networking Night

CEO and founder of Heat Inverse, Romy Fain, holds a microphone and speaks to an audience in front of a projected presentation on her company while three other panelists watch from the background.

“One thing about clean energy is that it is now, and it is the future,” said Rev Entrepreneur in Residence Brian Bauer to open February’s networking night dedicated to “The Future of Clean Energy in the Southern Tier.” Bauer moderated a panel of four innovators working in the clean energy space, including:

  • Romy Fain, CEO and founder of Heat Inverse. The startup has developed thin-film materials that cool with no additional energy input. The Heat Inverse team are currently testing their product with the refrigerated trucking industry, but envision revolutionizing cooling technology to the point of one day replacing air conditioning.
  • Sanjuna Stalin, a third year Cornell Ph.D. candidate who is developing high-density thin-film lithium batteries. The need for these new batteries comes as the lithium ion batteries in current use have reached their energy density limit. “This technology is important in the present but it’s going to be absolutely essential in the future,” said Stalin.

In addition to clean energy, all four panelists spoke about their experience undertaking coursework in the I-Corps program, created by the National Science Foundation to bring NSF-funded academic research to market. In partnership With the University of Rochester and Renssalear Polytechnic Institute, Cornell University supports UNY I-Corps, one of nine national I-Corps nodes.

“I was skeptical at first about the time commitment because I was starting a company, I had a customer, and I was developing our product all at the same time, but the vast majority of the I-Corps sessions were incredibly helpful,” said Gagliano. “It really helped me hone in on who exactly my customers are and gave me useful contacts.”

Customer discovery is a large part of what the I-Corps experience has to offer. “I learned through I-Corps that there’s a huge gap between what we do in the lab and what the customer is using,” said Stalin. “We want to bridge that gap.” She added, “I-Corps strengthened my desire to become an entrepreneur.”

Capro-X and Heat Inverse each began the I-Corps program with technologies that lent themselves to a too-wide expectation of their customer bases. “At first we tried fermenting everything to see where our tech would be the most useful,” said Guzman. “Eventually we zeroed in on Greek yogurt producers in New York as the market where we could have the biggest impact.”

Fain had a similar experience in identifying refrigerated trucking as the starting point for her company. “Cooling is something that can go in so many different directions. Everyone could be a customer,” she said. “But you realize that what’s going on in your mind as a scientist is not always how a consumer would see things.” Heat Inverse will be participating in I-Corps a second time as part of a cohort of other NSF Phase I SBIR awardees, for a deeper investigation of markets relevant to its business in its current stage.

Presentations were also made by three organizations, which can serve as helpful resources for clean energy startups in the region, including:

  • The Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability is an engineering research center project bridging engineering with social science disciplines to push academic research outside for real impact on sustainability.
  • Cleantech Open Northeast is a business accelerator for clean energy startups. Applications are now being accepted to become part of its 2020 accelerator cohort.
  • IncubatorWorks is another business incubator serving the Southern Tier. The grand prize winner of NYSERDA’s inaugural 76West Clean Energy Competition came out of IncubatorWorks.

The 76West Clean Energy Competition is another resource that was promoted at the networking night. The unparalleled competition focuses on growing entrepreneurs and attracting resources from the U.S. and around the world to build clean energy businesses and jobs in New York State’s Southern Tier region. Over eight years, the competition has offered $40 million in prize money and support services, including a $1 million yearly top prize. 76West is currently accepting applications for Round 5 of the competition through Monday, March 2, 2020.

The next [email protected] event, “High Growth Startups,” will be hosted by Rev member company GiveGab on March 19 (6:00-8:30pm) in their new space in downtown Ithaca (401 East State, Suite #100). Click here for more information and to RSVP.