Rev Members Pitch Clean Energy Solutions at Virtual 76West

Hailey Scofield of Combplex pitches in the virtual 76West Competition.

The fifth annual 76West Clean Energy Competition, held virtually on August 18-19, included pitches from Rev members Combplex and Heat Inverse, as the startups competed for up to $1 million in prize money and a chance to further their impact in New York State’s Southern Tier.

The pitch competition, supported by Empire State Development and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), aims to generate economic development in the region by attracting cutting-edge startup companies from around the globe that specialize in clean-energy technology.

This year’s 19 semifinalists, selected from 183 applicants, made their pitches to a panel of judges at a virtual session hosted by the Southern Tier Startup Alliance. The teams were paired with a mentor who helped them prepare for the competition and connect with potential partners in the region. Their pitches addressed an array of clean-energy innovations, including renewable energy, energy storage and efficiency, and transportation.

The judges for 76West – the name refers to the Southern Tier’s location at 76 degrees west longitude – will select four finalists to split $2.5 million in prizes, with a $1 million grand prize and three $500,000 awards. The winning companies will be announced in the fall.

Hailey Scofield and Nathan Oakes, Combplex’s CEO and CTO, respectively, formed the startup as a way to eliminate pests that threaten the health of honeybee hives – specifically Varroa mites, which have been devastating American honeybee populations since the mid-1980s.

Combplex’s smart frame technology uses sensors to automatically identify mites that enter the colony, and a low-power laser pulse zaps them, causing the mites’ exoskeletons to erupt. The sensors also collect valuable data about the colony that enables beekeepers to make more informed decisions about hive care and recognize intensive pesticide use.

“Being able to present our story in a clean-energy competition such as 76West is meaningful for us,” Oakes said, “not just because the potential to win could help us revolutionize beekeeping, but also because it demonstrates that clean-energy experts are taking seriously innovative natural solutions to climate change. Ultimately, more healthy and more plentiful pollinators reduce fertilizer costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase yields year after year.”

Heat Inverse, which also competed in 76West last year, makes thin-film materials that cool passively without generating waste heat, thereby increasing the efficiency of cooling systems while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The company was paired with mentor Drury MacKenzie, visiting professor of entrepreneurial studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

“Despite COVID making the networking part of this competition more difficult this year, we still got a lot of benefit, mostly due to our mentor for the program,” said Romy Fain, the startup’s founder and CEO. “Drury helped us make connections both in the region and nationally, and both in refrigerated trucking and in the energy industry where she has deep expertise.”

While the official program has ended, Fain said Heat Inverse is continuing to see the benefits of these connections, as the company moves forward on multiple pilots with potential customers, directly resulting from this support.

“New York state is truly a national leader in pushing and investing in a clean-energy future,” said Brian Bauer, a Rev Entrepreneur-in-Residence, and the Director of Competitions at Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement. “In searching the globe for the best clean energy startups over the past five years, this unrivaled competition has built a hub of clean energy innovation in the Southern Tier that has built tremendous momentum.”

A version of this article appears in the Cornell Chronicle.