November 2009

How green are those toys?

 

Just in time for the holiday season... Good Guide, a former Sustainable Vision grantee, has rated toy companies by their green-ness (everything from type of material used to how they treat employees). Take a look...

Airports, directions, transport

The main airport in San Francisco in San Francisco International. SFO is about 12 miles from the Hilton Financial District. You can then take the BART (or a taxi) to the hotel:

Ground transportation and directions to the hotel (from SFO)
The Hilton has these suggestions.

Bay Area Rapid Transport (BART) system
We encourage you to use the BART, San Francisco's public transport system, to travel between SFO and the Hilton. It's the cheapest (approx $8) and greenest option.

  • from SFO, take the air-train to the BART Station (5 mins). Go downstairs to the platform and take the yellow line to the Montgomery Street Station (30-minute ride). It's a 15-minute walk to the Hilton Hotel (750 Kearny St, on your right, you can't see it from the road so keep walking - it's there!)

 

Don't Forget! Submission Deadline for Course & Program and Advanced E-Team Proposals: Friday, December 4, 2009

As the December deadline for Advanced E-Team and Course & Program grants rapidly approaches, we've interviewed Grants Manager Jennifer Keller Jackson on the common mistakes made when submitting grant proposals. Each of these podcasts is just a couple minutes. Worth a listen if you plan to submit a proposal!

Common Advanced E-Team Mistakes:

Common Course & Program Mistakes:

General Overview of NCIIA Grants Programs:

Have a grants-related question or topic you'd like to hear us talk about? Email us your ideas!

'It's Greensulate' - CSI-NY goes high tech; features Ecovative Design!

Product placement at its best. CSI-NY's latest episode has gone high-tech, featuring Ecovative Design's Greensulate as a critical clue, complete with burning test. View it here, fast forward to 25:20 (we think the show should have cast Eben as the lab technician)!

Grantee News: BU launches new mentoring program

Boston University’s Institute for Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization (ITEC) has announced the creation of the Kindle Student Mentoring Program at Boston University, which is funded by a $33,000 NCIIA Course and Program grant. Read more about this new program!

 

Bridging the gap

Two E-Teams talk about how they got venture capital funding—and the impact it made

One of the primary reasons the NCIIA is starting Venture Well is to address what you could call the “Big Gap”: the space between a group of college students working on an idea and a full-fledged venture worthy of investment. There’s a long way to go between the two, and it takes lots of hard work to get from one to the other. This summer we talked with two teams that succeeded in going from student E-Team to start-up to venture-funded company and discussed their journey through the world of early stage funding and venture capital.

How do you set yourself up to even be considered for venture capital funding? What are some of the pros and cons of taking equity financing? Their answers provide some good advice for prospective E-Teams.

The interviewees are both in the medical device field. Ashish Mitra was part of the Novel Aortic Endograft E-Team from Stanford, developers of a stent graft with an adhesive delivery platform. They went on to form Endoluminal Sciences and received $2 million in venture funding.

Evan Edwards, recipient of an E-Team grant in 2000, has been working toward commercializing his invention—a credit-card-sized epinephrine injector for people with severe allergies, dubbed the “EpiCard”—for the past eight years. His company, Intelliject, has received $13 million in venture funding and EpiCard is in late stages of development. Here are some highlights from the discussion.

How did you position yourselves for venture capital funding?

Edwards: The first step in moving toward VC funding is interacting with people. Talk with local businesses, join a venture group, join an on-campus entrepreneurship club. By going to their meetings and attending their seminars you’ll gain an understanding of how to write a business plan, or how to value your company, or how to do the financials; whatever you need. You’ll make your strengths even stronger and shore up your weaknesses. That will start you down the right path. Then you have to just get out there and see what they say. We made the rounds and presented the Intelliject business plan, and the feedback we received from the angels and VCs was very specific and very helpful. We re-worked the venture, then targeted VC firms that we thought would be excellent partners and obtained warm introductions.

Mitra: The first thing we concentrated on was the idea. Venture capitalists want big ideas with big potential returns, so we made sure we had a practicable, useful idea that addressed a huge unmet need. We made sure the need was validated by experts—physicians, engineers and VCs—and presented positive preliminary test data proving our concept.

What are some of the pros and cons of taking equity financing?

Edwards: On the plus side, you get smart money to help build the company, and you’re backed up by deep pockets if you need subsequent investment. The negative: big decisions need to be approved by the VC.

Mitra: For a university off-shoot like ours, the pros of equity financing far outweighed the cons. In fact, equity financing was really the only option given the R&D nature of the project and that none of the inventors/founders were in a position to support debt financing. VC funding not only enabled us to work under the mentorship of a highly experienced investor team but also helped us get to the point where we are moving to market faster. The obvious disadvantage with equity financing is the rate at which the shares of the founders are diluted over a period of time.

What would you recommend emerging E-Teams do to position themselves for major funding?

Edwards: The first thing is to get a great idea, put together a great team, and work hard on the idea and on interacting with people. Once you’re ready for the VCs, be targeted in your approach and evaluate VC firms carefully. Interview them as much as they interview you! Take a careful look at their domain expertise, their network, and their strategic thinking. Only do business with the firms that are right for you.

Mitra: My primary recommendation would be to involve a godfather—a star in the relevant area—right from the start. This will load the magazine of your pitching gun with words that tend to hit the bullseye of any investor pitch. The brighter the star, the more visible he or she should be on the team. One other piece of advice: investors pay much more attention to the team that will execute the project as compared to the team that invented it. The objective should not only be to convince them that the idea will work but also that the team can make it work.

*****

Both Mitra and Edwards agree that the the real work begins only after you receive major funding. Mitra needed to execute a multitude of tasks, from finding office space to hiring new employees, and Edwards used the money to finalize the product and move toward manufacturing. But both readily attest that the time and effort it takes to get VC funding is well worth it. The satisfactions, both mental and financial, can be substantial. And they’re both happy to get the chance to make a real difference in the world.

Clean energy hits home

E-Team grantees focusing on new ways to meet residential energy needs

Even a brief look at the statistics regarding home energy consumption in the US can be staggering: American households consume 355 billion kwh per year for heating and cooling alone; US homes produce 21 percent of the country’s total global warming pollution; by 2020, the US residential sector will account for 11.4 quadrillion BTUs of end-use energy annually…In the long run, satisfying our energy needs while decreasing CO² emissions will require a coordinated effort on a number of fronts, including developing renewable energies and increasing energy efficiency.

Over the years, a number of NCIIA E-Teams have looked to do just that, finding newer, cleaner ways to harness energy for home use and helping us make our homes more efficient. We’re happy to report that some of their efforts are starting to pay off in real commercial outcomes.

Heat Assured Systems

One of our first E-Teams, Heat Assured Systems began as a group of senior engineering and economics majors at Swarthmore College determining the feasibility of a residential heating system that could operate during grid power outages. After a series of E-Team grants and an initial business planning effort, the company is up and running along with its subsidiary, Heat Assured Systems of New York. Their product is EROHS: the Efficient, Robust, Off-grid Heating System. Based on a patented scheme that includes an innovative proprietary controller, EROHS solves two problems at once by enabling several types of home heating systems to function normally during power grid outages and improving energy efficiency when the grid is operational. It’s the kind of integrated, multi- purpose technology that we’ll need in order to reduce our carbon footprint.

Commenting on EROHS’ commercialization potential, Heat Assured Systems President Fred Orthlieb said, “Tests of the EROHS prototype have exceeded the company’s performance goals. We’re conducting field tests this winter and plan to launch the first generation of the product commercially shortly thereafter. With energy prices rising and the green economy finally taking hold, the timing could not be better.”

Solar Ivy

Another novel clean energy system comes from a brother-and- sister startup team from Brooklyn, NY, that received E-Team funding in 2006. Teresita and Samuel Cochran founded SMIT (Sustainably Minded Interactive Technology), whose first product is GROW, a hybrid solar and wind panel designed to resemble ivy vines. Based on principles of biomimicry in which technology imitates nature, GROW consists of flexible solar foil molded to look like ivy and piezoelectric generators that are activated by the leaves. The panels are beautiful, too, hanging vertically on the walls of buildings to form a product that is both environmentally and aesthetically sound.

While GROW hasn’t made it to market as yet—they’re currently seeking investor funding—the product has been featured in a number of media outlets (Fox Business, Planet Green, Inhabitat) and design exhibits. The exposure is generating demand: according to Teresita Cochran, they’re getting calls weekly from companies in France, Italy, Great Britain, Greece and South Africa saying they want GROW now.

i-conserve

One home energy E-Team that has already met with success is i-conserve, a Penn State company. I-conserve developed the Home Energy Monitor™, a handheld device that communicates with a home’s utility meter, graphing electrical consumption, estimating utility bills, showing the current price of electricity, and calculating the carbon footprint generated by the building, all in real time. The idea, of course, is to get people to understand how much electricity they’re using—and encourage them to use less.

In November of 2007, i-conserve sold its IP portfolio and technology assets to Greenbox, a California company creating an interactive energy management platform for the home.

ecoMOD

One of our newer green building grantees is ecoMOD, an ongoing project at the University of Virginia in which students construct affordable, modular homes that use 30-50% less energy than similar houses. This one hits on the concepts of both equity and environmental responsibility: not only should good housing be affordable for all, it should be lean and green as well. This means integrating a whole suite of energy-saving techniques and devices into the house: solar water heaters, passive design, using reclaimed materials, designing for disassembly and much more. They’ve built five houses so far, funded by a variety of non-profits, corporations and the EPA.

According to PI Paxton Marshall, the group is pursuing two commercialization initiatives. “We’re promoting the house designs to affordable housing agencies and modular manufacturers. Meanwhile, we’re promoting our residential energy monitoring system as a solution to provide residents timely feedback on their energy use, and also as a building block for developing energy-saving automation and control applications to interface with smart grid technologies.”

*****

Each of these companies is bringing to market technology that we can use to make our homes more efficient in the long run—small parts of a larger effort that will contribute to the green economy.

 

Featured articles

A collection of featured articles from NCIIA publications and newsletters.

Waiting a while for the payoff: Insitutec

Imagine trying to bootstrap a company that makes industrial positioning and measuring systems with nanoscale resolution. Sound tough? It’s exactly what Shane and Bethany Woody, co-founders of Charlotte-based InsituTec, Inc., have been doing since incorporating in 2001... read more

 

The right team at the right time: Keen Mobility

Often, the best teams don’t form as a result of careful planning: good teams synthesize when the right people work on the right project at the right time. Such is the story of Vail Horton and the Keen Mobility E-Team... read more

Credit, Debit, or Cell Phone?

Imagine that you’re shopping at the supermarket. As you reach the end of the checkout line, the cashier offers you the familiar menu of choices with a new twist: “Credit, debit, or cell phone?”

Ajay Bam, founder of Boston-based mobile commerce processor Vayusa, Inc., and twice a recipient of NCIIA funding, wants to make this transaction a reality... read more

 

Different problems, same solution

It’s hard to go wrong when giving people access to new information: people crave it, markets need it, and the benefits often extend far beyond the initial application. Case in point: two Sustainable Vision grantees recently took a look at widely divergent problems and arrived at the same basic solution: these people need more information... read more

E-Team grantees focusing on new ways to meet residential energy needs

Even a brief look at the statistics regarding home energy consumption in the US can be staggering: American households consume 355 billion kwh per year for heating and cooling alone; US homes produce 21 percent of the country’s total global warming pollution; by 2020, the US residential sector will account for 11.4 quadrillion BTUs of end-use energy annually…In the long run, satisfying our energy needs while decreasing CO² emissions will require a coordinated effort on a number of fronts, including developing renewable energies and increasing energy efficiency.

Over the years, a number of NCIIA E-Teams have looked to do just that... read more

  Two E-Teams talk about how they got venture capital funding—and the impact it made

One of the primary reasons the NCIIA is starting Venture Well is to address what you could call the “Big Gap”: the space between a group of college students working on an idea and a full-fledged venture worthy of investment. There’s a long way to go between the two, and it takes lots of hard work to get from one to the other. This summer we talked with two teams that succeeded in going from student E-Team to start-up to venture-funded company and discussed their journey through the world of early stage funding and venture capital... read more

Student-run, their way: EcoTech Marine

Amid all the talk these days about elevator pitches and equity, burn rate and liquidation, preferred stock and venture fairs, we present to you one simple and reassuring fact: you don’t have to get fancy angel or VC funding to succeed. In fact, in certain situations you might be better off without it. Such is the story of EcoTech Marine, a team of students with enough entrepreneurial spirit and drive to take a product all the way to market themselves, with a minimum of private investment... read more

 

Marketing to the poor: International Development Enterprises (IDE)

Paul Polak didn’t have to do any of this. At age forty-seven, Polak was a successful Colorado psychiatrist with a wife, three daughters and $3 million in real estate. But in his extensive world travels Polak witnessed more and more the debilitating effects of extreme poverty on the world’s rural poor—who often make less than one dollar a day—and became curious about ways to help... read more
 

A failure success story: John Fabel

The story of John Fabel teaches us that when it comes to entrepreneurial endeavors, failure isn’t always a bad thing: new opportunities arise, lessons are learned, people move forward. In this profile we take you through John’s story, from invention to incorporation to bankruptcy to eventual success, and find out what he learned along the way... read more

 

Open to learn: Evan Edwards and EpiCard

Evan Edwards knows a thing or two about business plans. The recipient of an NCIIA Advanced E-Team grant in 2000, Edwards has been working toward commercializing his invention—a credit-card-sized epinephrine injector for people with severe allergies, dubbed the “EpiCard”—for the past few years. We spoke with Edwards about what goes into a business plan, the lessons he’s learned about writing them, and his advice for nascent inventors looking to build a company around a new technology... read more

Insulating your home with...mushrooms?

Open up the walls of just about any new home and you’ll find the same thing: two sheets of plywood sandwiching an insulating foam core. Known as Structural Insulating Panels, or SIPS, the approach is gaining popularity in the building industry because it’s cheap and effective. Unfortunately the foam insulation in SIPS is also environmentally damaging, requiring petroleum to produce, and it isn’t biodegradable, eventually ending up in landfills... read more

 

Whole Tree taking a wholly different approach

A standard approach to dealing with problems in the developing world is to develop a specific solution to a specific problem: if people lack access to potable water, you develop a water filter for them to buy and use. Need lighting? Manufacture and sell solar lamps. While there’s nothing wrong with this approach, Whole Tree, Inc., a former Baylor University E-Team and the first recipient of Venture Well investment funding (see sidebar on page 4), is using a different tactic: alleviating poverty by providing access to huge markets in the US and abroad... read more

SIE director, James Barlow, joins NCIIA

We're pleased to welcome James Barlow to the NCIIA, as our new Manager of Outreach. James was previously director of the Scottish Institute for Enterprise, based in Glasgow. His role is to build on the existing successes of programs like Invention to Venture and Advanced I2V in delivering high end educational value to student entrepreneurs striving to make a difference in the world through technical innovation. According to James, "My aim is to ensure that these programs and courses evolve to meet the shifting needs of our audiences and to support the development of high impact experiential entrepreneurship education across the NCIIA portfolio of activities."

James has worked in the university entrepreneurship space for seven years, has been Commercial Advisor or Commercial Director for 16 start-ups, and has consulted internationally on start-up strategy, enterprise education and training.

Please contact James at jbarlow@nciia.org

 

NCIIA Expense-paid Trip to San Francisco for Select Student E-Teams!

Have a ground-breaking innovation? Working with an exceptional group of students? Submit a March Madness for the Mind application.

March Madness for the Mind is the acclaimed annual showcase of innovations from the NCIIA's top E-Teams. The exhibition takes place each year during NCIIA's annual conference, and is an opportunity for student teams to demonstrate their products and receive local and national media coverage. Learn More.