Innovations, advice abound in SBU’s 2017 Boot Camp

Batteries included: Team StorEn powers up for its Innovation Boot Camp presentation.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

These boots are made for talking – and now, several enterprising innovators have a firmer grasp on what to say, and how to say it, when it’s time to commercialize the Next Big Thing.

Eight “idea champions” with entrepreneurial aspirations have completed Stony Brook University’s 2017 Innovation Boot Camp, a commercialization crash course that might not carry ideas directly to the promised land, but does give those inventors – mostly science types with little to no business acumen – a clearer picture of what it takes to go from the drawing board to the board room.

The 10th-annual camp, a three-day exercise that culminated March 30 with the idea champions pitching their products and services to a panel of esteemed judges, surrounded those researchers and engineers with customized teams of commercialization experts, including SBU business students and students in the Fundamentals of the Bioscience Industries Program, part of the university’s Center for Biotechnology.

David Hamilton: Camp counselor.

Also lending a hand: energy-commercialization experts from Brookhaven National Laboratory and IP attorneys from Syosset law firm Hoffmann & Baron LLP, as well as CEOs and other executives representing various industries.

The ultimate goal of the Boot Camp is to answer two “basic and critical questions,” according to David Hamilton, executive director of the university’s Clean Energy Business Incubator Program, one of several camp sponsors: Does the technology have the potential for actual commercialization, and does the idea champion really want to go pro?

“The idea champions experience the trials and tribulations of being an entrepreneur: managing tight deadlines, working with a diverse team, striving to achieve excellence and clarity, all while trying to tell a succinct and compelling story about their technology,” Hamilton said this week. “After the camp, if they can answer these two questions, whether it’s yes or no, then I consider the program a success.”

While not all of this year’s participants originated within the SBU ecosystem, the 2017 Boot Camp concentrated on fields where the university is rapidly building its international stature: life sciences, clean energy, Big Data and robotics.

Among the idea champions were Carlo Brovero, whose startup StorEn is peddling a proprietary vanadium-flow battery for stationary energy storage; Anurag Purwar, pitching the SnappyXO, a “modular robot, machine and structural-design kit” that allows for rapid prototyping; and Jeff Kinzler, who worked up a plan for Urban Freight, a unique “last mile” cargo-delivery system aimed at easing New York City gridlock by replacing up to 1,000 daily truck trips with an all-electric system.

Also on the dance card were Alberto Perez and MELD, a novel computational tool for drug-discovery purposes; Klaus Mueller, who’s looking to commercialize an “interactive multivariate visualization framework” called the Data Context Map; and Raj Narayan, head of a team working up a multimodal brain monitor that continuously tracks intracranial pressure, cerebral blood flow, brain temperature and other noggin notables.

Idea Champion Jingfang Ju’s microRNA-based therapeutics have colorectal cancer in their rapidly developing sights, while a team led by Sammy Chu, chairman of the Long Island Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and chief innovation officer of Plainview-based Edgewise Energy, sharpened its pitch as a premier provider of custom-tailored energy-efficiency solutions and a primary conduit to Property-Assessed Clean Energy financing.

Sammy Chu: Gaining an edge.

That’s a bit of a departure for where Chu’s firm started: It launched in 2015 as Enerlogic, focused exclusively on bringing residential fuel cells to market. But the technology wasn’t developing rapidly enough, according to Chu, and the Enerlogic team “saw an opportunity” as more of a clean-tech guide, of sorts.

While the startup’s mission is still centered on clean energy, the pivot was substantial enough to require a commercialization refresher – and that’s just what Chu and Co. got at the Boot Camp, according to the innovation officer.

“The Boot Camp was very helpful for both validation and perception, from very intelligent people with various areas of expertise,” Chu told Innovate LI. “The most helpful thing about it was being able to say a lot of things out loud that you might normally only say in your head – and getting all that constructive criticism, or validation, for those things.”

The constructive criticism – and/or validation – came not only from the camp’s volunteer coaches but from those judges, who offered feedback after hearing each idea champion’s pitch during the three-day camp’s final session. The 2017 review panel included Long Island Angel Network board member Samir Nizam, DepYmed CEO Andreas Grill and Steve Winick, managing director of Syosset private equity firm Topspin Partners.

Rounding out the judges was ThermoLift CEO Paul Schwartz, who never took his clean-energy startup, a resident of SBU’s Advanced Energy Research & Technology Center, through the Innovation Boot Camp, but did complete a 10-week CEBIP commercialization program he likened to “an extrapolated Boot Camp” – and knows firsthand the value of such idea-to-marketplace coaching.

“It really led to the birth of ThermoLift,” he said. “It gave us the direction to form the new company, and it’s where I met John Haas, who’s now ThermoLift’s senior vice president.

“It’s always up to the entrepreneur to execute,” Schwartz added. “But programs like [the Boot Camp] give them the framework.”

Judging the 2017 camp reminded Schwartz of the old yarn about Charles Duell, the commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office who, in 1899, advocated for closing the office, because, in Duell’s infamous words, “everything that can be invented has been invented.”

“Obviously not,” Schwartz noted. “The impression I was left with (by the Boot Camp) is there’s always something interesting to develop, always another opportunity.

“Innovation is happening every day, and Long Island is at the forefront of that innovation opportunity.”

And that makes efforts like the Innovation Boot Camp critically important, according to Hamilton, who said he was “quite happy with how the camp progressed this year.”

The CEBIP exec particularly noted the assistance of SBU’s Economic Development office, Small Business Development Center and Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology, the participation of BNL and Hoffmann & Baron and the generosity of sponsors including Gold Coast Bank and Holiday Inn Express.

“We are ecstatic by the amount of external support we received to make it happen,” Hamilton said. “Without them, the Boot Camp never would have gotten off the ground.”