Ultra Light Startups: Future Energy

I attended Ultra Light Startups’ event: Future Energy held at NYU Stern. Four panelists: Andrew Garman of New Venture Partners, Arrun Kapoor of SJF Ventures, Jim LoGerfo of Earthrise Capital, and Willem Rensink of Shell International, and eight startups: Alan Rae of ReNew, Paul Schwartz of ThermoLift, James Shomar of Solstice Power, Robert Lumley of KiteFarms, Tinia Pina of Re-Nuble, James Smith of Lucidity Lights, Derek Grassman of Kohilo Wind, and Gail Busch of Algepower were present.


Alan Rae pitched ReNew (Recycling Rare Earths—From Electronic Waste) and explained that mining creates major environment issues and 97% waste comes from China. “Almost none of these electronic waste is recycled,” Rae said. What ReNew does is to recycle reagents and other ingredients. “It will be cleaner and lower cost. What we do is purify the waste and send them back to the source.” ReNew is looking for $3 million and are looking to give customers a low-cost domestic supply. “There are no existing rare earth recovery infrastructure,” Rae said. His partners include industry groups (NEMI), users (IBM, Western Digital, JDI), processors (PIDC), and waste collectors and generators. Regarding the pitch, the panelists agreed that Rae needed more technical efforts and supply specificity “to get a sense of really understanding the volume.”

Paul Schwartz of ThermoLift presented his startup as “developing the ultimate heat pump.” His technology is a single device which uses natural gas for air conditioning, heating and hot water. It can lead up to 50% reduction in cooling and heating spending in residential and commercial markets. The system uses an emissions-free gas burner and is embedded with the most efficient HVAC system. “[The system] went under 500 hours of testing without failure,” Schwartz said. ThermoLife’s system is efficient and clean and plans to have their first commercial sale in 2016. Schwartz plans to enter the residential market and price it against heating systems already in place. “National Grid has expressed interest, so electricians can adapt to this technology,” he said. The panelists, however, disagreed with Schwartz in regards to where he should enter the market. “I wouldn’t go for residential,” Andrew Garman said. “[The technology is] too hard for consumers to understand. I’d go for industrial or commercial.” Kapoor agreed with Garman. Willem Rensink suggested that Schwartz try for single landlords with multiple housing and build up a concrete base of consumers. “Maybe the European market might be more open to it,” he said.

James Shomar of Solstice Power pitched his solar energy provider. “This is a solar thermal hybrid system,” Shomar said. There is a lens that focuses the light 10,000x to create more power for less cost than a normal solar panel. “It doubles efficiency, but for half the size — and for one-thirds cost of the competitors.” Solstice Power’s model is scalable and versatile. Customers have the ability to customize their orders. “It’s really convenient for consumers,” Shomar said. “There’s no risk and no capital investment.” He and his team are working on a patent and plans to start in the Northeast and move out West. Garman suggested that Shomar start with an “incredibly conservative financial plan to minimize cash flow.” Jim LoGerfo could not understand why Shomar was going to start his business in the Northeast as opposed to the Southwest — or a place that would have long hours of sunlight all-year round.

Robert Lumley presented KiteFarms, which harvests the power of crosswind type energy. The technology takes proprietary flight algorithms to develop maximal energy output and has specialized electronics as well as custom airframe designs. KiteFarms is a tethered high speed flying wind turbine, which provides low-cost utility scale energy. The plan is to become a power producer. According to Lumley’s research, the turbines generate up to 50kW. Rensink suggested that Lumley look into the military for his entry market.

Tinia Pina presented Re-Nuble, a startup dedicated to repurposing organic waste into primarily renewable energy and cost effective organic fertilizer. The startup is modular and highly efficient. The technology, according to Pina, is more affordable to implement versus the competition. “We’re delivering this to a target market,” she said. “We are able to deliver it with 20-40% savings at one-tenths the cost.” The compost (end-product) is sold to the DOT, farmers, agri-business, which all depends on volume. The bio-gas that is generated can be used for heating. One unit of Re-Nuble can process 16 tons per day. The device looks like a large dumpster. LoGerfo suggested that Pina go to the USDA to ask for money because a six to 14 year payback is difficult to finance.

James Smith of Lucidity Lights pitched his startup as “working to rewrite the light bulb.” He said that the incandescent light bulbs are in the process of getting phased out. “Lucidity is the solution to this,” Smith said. “We are in the process of building a long-life consumer light bulb. It will be 80% more efficient than the transition light bulbs on the market today.” Lucidity is price competitive with the LED and CFL markets. Smith plans to enter the consumer market through groceries, drug stores, homegoods, DIY big box, and small hardware stores. The technology presented by Smith is non-LED (lumen depreciation over time), non-CFL (ballast failure), non-halogen (low efficiency), and successfully replicates an incandescent light bulb. It is dimmable, emits a warm color, immediately warms up, and uses up to 80% less energy. The best part is that it is in the recognizable incandescent light bulb shape. LoGerfo suggested that if Smith was trying to be the best light bulb in the market, then he should state that in his pitch to persuade future investors.

Derek Grossman pitched Kohilo Wind, a hybrid vertical axis wind turbine. The technology used has a patented blade system, which gives real dynamics to extract the highest amount of energy possibly from wind. The turbines are able to be deployed virtually anywhere. It uses the least amount of resources to get the highest amount of energy. “Mennonite farms are actually using this technology to power their farms,” Grossman said. The turbines create a 250º power stroke, where drag is literally repelled by the curvature of the blades. Garman suggested that Grossman find a niche market for the technology.

Gail Busch presented Algepower as a multilayer vertical growth algae farm. “It can house up to 14 levels,” Busch said. The algae farms cost up to $5 million for initial production per acre and can go up to $8 million for two acres. “Algepower, as a multilayer hydroponic algae farm,” Busch said, “can result in higher productivity x10. It can be used in either fresh or salt water and has a small footprint.” The building that houses the algae farms is constructed in plastic and steel. The farms are sustainable in all climates and can house both mixotropic and phototropic algae. Rensink suggested that Busch focus on the cost of the technology and look at chemicals and high-margins first. LoGerfo asked that she elaborate on the location.


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