NEW YORK—The International Energy Agency (IEA) said the United States could achieve energy self-sufficiency by 2035. Ultra Light Startups showed how that top-down objective might be achieved from the bottom up during its Future Energy Investor Conference at the NYU Stern School of Business in New York, Nov. 14.
Eight energy startup companies presented their business plans to the audience and four venture capitalist panelists. All of the ideas have great potential to increase energy efficiency and save costs. Many of them focus on renewable energy, which plays a big role in the IEA’s 2035 prediction for the United States to become energy self-sufficient.
“We [aim to] provide consistent, inexpensive, reliable, custom focused and sustainable energy,” said James Shomar of Solstice Power. His startup has the technology to reduce costs and boost the efficiency of solar cells with a hybrid system. The sunlight is concentrated and magnified by a lens, which also generates heat in the process. Both the light and heat can then be converted to power. The total size of the cell is reduced and costs are saved.
Ideas like these are great, but many startups don’t make it to the market. Ultra Light founder Graham Lawlor wants to address this problem with his Future Energy conference series: “The problem is getting from the lab to the market with a scalable solution. Future Energy pitch events, connect the entrepreneurs and researchers with venture capital and corporate/strategic investors to make this happen.”
Alan Rae, whose concept was voted best pitch by the audience, thinks that Ultra Light is a good platform to achieve this: “This is the first time I presented at a forum like this. … I made some excellent contacts that I am going to be following through with that could create real business opportunities.”
Rae presented his plan to build a factory in order to recycle rare-earth materials. Rare-earth elements are a group of minerals widely used in electronics and, as the name suggests, very rare. Ninety-seven percent of the minerals are produced by China, and Rae’s idea could help reduce the dependence on this monopoly producer.
Another benefit of the event is the feedback provided by the venture capitalist panel. “Top venture and strategic investors are hard to find and get time from for most early-stage startups. Future Energy is a platform to give these startups a chance to get focused time and actionable advice from investors,” says Lawlor.
This feedback was tough, but ultimately useful. “You need money, so you need an effective pitch,” said Jim LoGerfo of Earthrise Capital about Rae’s presentation.
Throughout different presentations, the investors showed an affinity for numbers. They said they need to know how much capital is needed to generate a certain amount of revenue. “You want to know what is the capital needed now, what is the capital needed in 12 months and 24 months to scale up, and how does that look going out. Seeing some color on that would be helpful,” said Arrun Kapoor of SJF Ventures.
The criticism did not bother Rae though. “I thought we got terrific feedback from the panel,” he said.
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