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Blog Entries With Tag "Academy"

The Emergence of “Sustainable Charge on Demand”

Posted by at 10:45 AM, 08/16/2010

Since the start of the three-day Academy in July, the momentum of participants' activity may have only increased. Attendees of the week-long accelerator event in San Jose may recall CyVolt, a contestant from Seattle with a colorful story to tell about its quest to harness the efficient use of glycerin as an alternative energy.

This fuel could be available in a variety of miniaturized form factors in the 100 mW – 20 W power range. CyVolt is developing a fuel cell battery technology for use in myriad applications—from hand-held appliances to cars. If it succeeds, it may well be poised to some day introduce an “energy-dense,” inexpensive, environmentally friendly system offering a viable, versatile solution to some of the world's toughest environmental challenges with respect to energy utilization. It claims to be able to produce a “charge on demand”—virtually immediately—without requiring any warm-up period.

I had an intriguing discussion recently with Dave Clark, CyVolt's chief marketing officer (CMO). Just what is glycerin? “It's basically sugar,” he says. According to Clark, from CyVolt's perspective, it derives from the raw waste stream of a biodiesel manufacturing process. So it utilizes a by-product of an inherently sustainable energy production process.
Fuel cells don't store energy well but do deliver power well. On the other hand, batteries in the market today store electrical energy and deliver power well, but they do not create power. Marrying these two technologies can make for an optimal system--energy creation via the fuel cell and power storage and delivery via the batteries. That's where CyVolt comes in. Its technologies are intended to augment the amount of “untethered time” devices can have. In effect, their solutions will become “range extenders,” a term folks who are in the electric vehicle space are becoming ever more familiar with.

“We are focusing on the 100 mW – 20 W is power range. That's what we are examining,” Clark explains. It corresponds to RFID tags on the low end to hand-held devices and beyond.

Who do they compete with? To hear Clark tell it, perceived competitors may not have entered the market yet. “Our greatest real competition may be the status quo itself,” he muses.

In fact, CyVolt may not have any direct competitor at all—at least not in the form of another start-up. Its technology has generated plenty of interest among prospective customers across industries. “As a fuel choice, everyone we've talked to—whether its an OEM, a manufacturer, military—like the choice of glycerin as a fuel.”

What makes it so attractive to them is that it is “completely renewable.” Depending for its raw materials upon a by-product of the manufacture of biodiesel, its supply is plentiful, he points out. “Frankly from a business perspective, we're turning something that is in “global excess” and has a value of almost zero—actually just 8 cents per pound—to $200 per pound after we've added our value to it,” Clark explains.

This hints at the potential “embarrassment of riches” that  CyVolt is investigating, and perhaps the essence of super-abundant sustainable low-cost energy in the future if it succeeds only moderately.

CyVolt devices can be designed to fit comfortably in practically any form-factor and can be easily refilled in the most demanding of spaces. It's hot-swappable, meaning a cartridge can be refueled without first turning off the appliance to do so. (Just how it produces a “charge on demand” without requiring a warm-up period may have to wait for another blog post.) Also, dispelling any remaining fears—warranted or otherwise—about fuel cells, “it's safe,” he insists.

Clark points out that one of the things that plagues the fuel cell industry is its weakness in regulating power, i.e., avoiding spikes. Batteries, on the other hand, are by their nature good at doing this. This leads to another important point for an industry that has been faced with fears about “explosions” of new prototypes.

One only has to recall SONY's fire-prone laptops some four years ago to realize the risk batteries might present to the user. Although CyVolt's technology is energy-dense, it won't lead to an explosion as in the case of hydrogen. Not only is glycerin inherently inflammable, it will actually put out a fire!

But about CyVolt's strategy, he is quick to point out that the choice of glycerin as its fuel of choice is but “one leg of the stool.” Another aspect is their “building from the bottom up” approach; this alludes to the microscopic aspect of the technology. It is unique to CyVolt's business strategy, and they are is pursuing it relentlessly.

While others intent on the holy grail of miniaturization have sought to take existing fuel cell technology and work backwards, CyVolt's philosophy is to “start our design itself from the low-end.” Clark explains, “For us that means there are no moving parts to build” in the first place, and because of this, there is no need to work backwards towards miniaturization. It's plotting in this manner to devise systems like these that is more the rule than the exception in development efforts throughout the industry today.

What about its potential (currently largely untapped)? Just think of humming birds and bees; imagine the miracle of their efficient energy use compared to how humans “just get by” in going from A to B. To put it further into perspective, Amory Lovins once determined that the energy cars consume to propel its passengers and cargo represents only some 5% of the total fuel it actually burns.

Acknowledging the tough job of gauging market readiness, Clark observes that since it is tied to funding,“You're constantly, you're forever 'interrogating' the plan, i.e., modifying the business plan.” This allows you to open the market to ancillary markets,” he explains. While determining market readiness is financing-dependent, “the technological gains we're now making is very exciting,” Clark says. One success they've realized has been the Air Force SBIA Phase I study, and they are actively pursuing Phase II.

From CyVolt team-members' perspective, their Cleantech Open experience has certainly helped CyVolt advance its business objectives. Based on their experience at bootcamp, he insists attending was a smart decision. “The lineup of expertise at the Cleantech Open Academy was just outstanding.” They far exceeded our expectations.“ He emphasized they experienced a “very condensed exposure to seasoned experts.” Further, the delivery was effective, since it engaged us all in dialogue that was mutually beneficial. They spoke to the “collective experience of the group.” 

Written by Eckhart Beatty

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2010 Cleantech Open Academy: Day 3 Highlights

Posted by at 5:00 PM, 08/03/2010

The third and final day of the Academy was focused on the investor presentation and the next steps in the Cleantech Open Competition.

The day began with a talk by Joe Khirallah, CEO of cleantech marketing and PR company Green Bear Group, titled “Tell Your Story, Sell Your Story.” He advised the teams about the art of giving an impressive presentation. He used metaphors, drew verbal images and explained the importance of engaging the investors in the conversation during a pitch.

The morning continued with a panel of Khirallah and Investment Manager of Applied Ventures, Annette Finsterbusch as judges for mock Cleantech Open semifinalist pitches by Matt Scullin of Alphabet Energy and Brian Pierson of tru2earth. Khirallah and Finsterbusch were very open and critical so that the semifinalist teams could learn and understand exactly what a good pitch looks like. The semifinalists evaluated the two presentations as well, rating both quite high in quality. A discussion around the room ensued regarding the best aspects of each presentation.

Executive Director of the Cleantech Open, Rex Northern took the stage before lunch to present on the next steps for semifinalists and guidance on how exactly to win the competition. He get the semifinalists to their feet to make a pledge that they would “prove Steve Blank wrong,” meaning they would all be successful. Blank, during Day One, had said only a very small percentage of startups become profitable.

After a social lunch thrown in honor of the semifinalists, the day ended with an Action Plan Workshop. The team thought and planned out the next steps in the development of their small businesses and to reflect on everything they learned in the last three days.

Again, a great thanks to Christina Ellwood, Cleantech Open Academy Chair, for doing such an incredible job organizing and hosting such a fantastic event, all of the wonderful volunteers, and our corporate sponsors.

Read about Day One of the Academy here.

Read about Day Two of the Academy here.

By Jackie Blair

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2010 Cleantech Open Academy: Day 1 Highlights

Posted by at 4:30 PM, 08/03/2010

Day One of the Cleantech Open National Academy was focused on creating business plans for sustainable ventures. The day began with a warm welcome by Christina Ellwood, Cleantech Open Academy Chair. Ellwood was followed by an overview of the Cleantech Open Business Competition by the Executive Director of the Cleantech Open, Rex Northern.

Next, the National Sustainability Chair, Nancy Fell, and two of her colleagues, presented on the importance of sustainability in the Cleantech Open Competition. This included the basic tenants of sustainability for cleantech startups and the resources available to the semifinalist teams.

Academy Crowd

Keynote speaker, Randy Komisar of Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, spoke on “Getting to Plan B,” based on his book of the same title. Komisar advised the entrepreneurs that their first plan might always not be the best one and it is wise to be flexible with strategies. He gave the semifinalists a template “dashboard” which many attendees found intriguing. The dashboard led the semifinalists through the process of thinking about the next path to get where they are headed, or “plan B.”

Komisar was followed by a lecture about “Business Plan Essentials” by Managing Director of Claremont Creek Ventures, Randy Hawks and Cleantech Industry Partner at Halo Fund, Leif Langersand.

Regional Directors

Later in the morning, Suszanne Bell of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich Rosati spoke on the importance of patents and trade secrets.  Her lecture was followed by a breakout session where teams discussed creating IP of value to the company and to stakeholders.

Christina Ellwood and Richard Nieset began the afternoon session with information about market strategy, specifically in finding and understanding the customer. The talk also included information about value proposition and competitive advantage. Ellwood took the stage during the always challenging “post-lunch” speaking slot, but kept the semifinalists engaged and interested in clarifying their target audiences and determining their main messages. 

Christina Ellwood

Author and Professor Steve Blank gave the last riveting lecture of the day about making money by using the business model.  His session was followed by the third and final working session of the day for the semifinalist teams.

Thank you to Chevron, Autodesk and PG&E who were Day One’s corporate sponsors.

Read about Day Two of the Academy here.

Read about Day Three of the Academy here.

By Jackie Blair

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2010 Cleantech Open Academy: Day 2 Highlights

Posted by at 12:45 PM, 07/26/2010

The Cleantech Open National Academy continued full speed ahead on Day 2 with a series of interactive lectures and workshops covering financial modeling, fundraising, capital structure and the investor pitch. The Academy was held at the Doubletree Hotel in San Jose from Friday, July 25 through Sunday, July 25, 2010.

Christina Ellwood, Cleantech Open Academy Chair, led the 2010 Semifinalist teams through the day’s proceedings, which started with a presentation and workshop by Peter Liu, founder of New Resource Bank, on the key elements of an investor-worthy financial model. Peter emphasized that investors value realistic projections that identify key risks and stressed the importance of sound forecasting of working capital needs.

Keynote speaker, Trond Unneland of Chevron Technology Ventures, followed with a presentation on corporate venture capital. When approaching a corporate investor, Trond advised start-ups to demonstrate their strategic fit in the company’s core business. Greg McAdoo of Sequoia Capital closed out the morning session with a crash course in fundraising by explaining sources of funding, the investment process and how to get an introduction to investors.

Herb Fockler of WSGR began the afternoon session with a detailed look at the capital structure of a VC funded company as it progresses through its lifecycle from founding to IPO. Herb continued with a seminar on the fundamentals of a term sheet. The day closed with an interactive lecture and workshop presented by Andrew Chung of Lightspeed Venture Partners on the fundamentals of an investor pitch and common content and delivery issues entrepreneurs should avoid.

Special thanks to the speakers, mentors and volunteers that make the Academy possible and to the day’s corporate sponsors, Citi and Faegre & Benson.


By Jeff Muir

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