For ‘vehicle-to-grid’ startup, all roads lead to CEBIP

The wheels are turning: Innovators Ryan McIntosh and Darshan Venkatesh believe they can advance the science of "vehicle-to-grid" electric power generation -- and to prove it, they're taking their kinetic talents to CEBIP.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Technological tinkering comes easily to Ryan McIntosh, a do-it-yourself type with a mind for business and a clear affinity for mechanical constructs.

Less clear to the self-described inventor and New Jersey City University graduate – he earned a degree in business administration, though “I was born an engineer” – are the finer points of patent law and commercialization.

But he’s no dummy in this regard, either. And as McIntosh and his early-stage startup RoadPower Systems Inc. prepare to blaze new trails in the burgeoning “vehicle-to-grid” market, the founder and CEO has already learned a few key lessons.

Chief among them: His chances for success are way better in New York.

To that end, McIntosh and co-founder Darshan Venkatesh were thrilled this week to learn they have been accepted into the Clean Energy Business Incubation Program at Stony Brook University – and are already knee-deep in plans to relocate their Hoboken, NJ-based startup, which officially incorporated in April, to CEBIP’s friendly confines.

“We are absolutely prioritizing our move to New York,” McIntosh said Tuesday. “We want to take advantage of all the things New York has to offer.”

Ryan McIntosh: New York state of mind.

That the Empire State – where Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made clean-gen tech and other alternative-energy solutions a cornerstone of his administration – offers beaucoup opportunities to a startup alt-energy firm may seem obvious to New Yorkers. But it was part of McIntosh’s steep learning curve, which started about six years ago, when he decided to focus his penchant for mechanics in an environmentally friendly direction.

“For as long as I can remember, going back to being a kid, I was always very do-it-yourself and mechanical,” the entrepreneur told Innovate LI. “I built engines for motorcycles and a motor-powered skateboard. I built drones and robotics and stuff.

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go the renewable-energy route or the robotics route, but I finally decided that this had the most potential to change the world,” McIntosh added. “This was something that actually matters – a purpose to drive toward.”

“This” is “vehicle-to-grid” technology, wherein road-based devices – “smart speed bumps,” as the inventor calls them – absorb kinetic energy generated by the motion of passing vehicles, then transfer it into hungry power grids, lessening the need for traditional, ozone-obliterating carbon-based generation.

That sounded like an ideal focus for McIntosh, though his personal kinetic odyssey would begin with something of a body blow: Other inventors, he quickly realized, had beaten him to the proverbial punch.

“I did a patent search and soon realized it wasn’t even my idea,” he noted. “There are a ton of patents on stuff like this.”

Undaunted, the innovator determined to improve on those earlier designs. Cobbling together “off-the-shelf equipment,” he was able to create a prototype “that doesn’t touch on a lot of the prior work.”

He’s working with his own patent attorney now and is tightlipped about RoadPower’s secret sauce – “We’re kind of in stealth mode” – but McIntosh is confident that his proprietary tech goes where no other kinetic collectors have gone before.

“Ours is very easy to install and maintain,” he noted. “And it’s a lot less expensive than what exists.”

Early self-investments by the co-founder and Venkatesh, who earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering from New Jersey’s Stevens Institute of Technology and serves as RoadPower’s director of engineering, resulted in a “quarter-scale lab prototype” that can generate “grid-grade power” from vehicular motion, McIntosh said. Built in his makeshift home workshop, the device has been field tested and is ready to scale up.

RoadPower’s goal: To work with property owners that accommodate anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 cars a day – a parking garage, perhaps – and prove that his vehicle-to-grid system is ready for prime time, including possible residential uses (imagine a kinetic converter on a public street, feeding an apartment building or row of houses).

“You’re talking a few million cars per year per facility,” he noted. “Those are the kinds of facilities where it makes the most sense right now.

“Once we can prove ourselves in commercial parking lots and private property, once we show the safety and efficiency and prove the thing works without creating any dangerous situations, we’ll win the trust of townships and local municipalities for public-roadway installations,” McIntosh added. “But that’s a ways away.”

Between now and then, RoadPower will likely set an investment round of between $500,000 and $1.5 million, probably sometime this winter, according to the CEO. But whatever capital the company can secure, one thing is clear to the New Jersey native: The road to success runs straight through New York.

“It’s not looking great for what New Jersey has right now, as far as energy and clean tech,” McIntosh said. “We know New York is pushing hard to really get that going.

“And now that we’re officially in [CEBIP], we have more credentials,” he added. “We’re closer to being able to take advantage of what New York can offer, and that’s definitely next on the docket.”

The CEO plans to keep his day job – he’s an IT project manager for a Japanese investment bank in New York City – but eagerly anticipates rolling up his sleeves and getting busy on the SBU campus.

“A lot of potential customers have told us that when we’re ready to pilot test, we should reach out to them,” McIntosh said. “Getting into CEBIP, with access to larger machine shops and engineers and professors, we think we’re ready to take it to the next level, get that (full-scale) prototype built and start pilot testing soon.”

RoadPower Systems Inc.

What’s It? “Vehicle-to-grid” electric-power generation using kinetic energy produced by passing automobiles

Brought To You By: Lifetime tinkerer Ryan McIntosh and electrical engineer Darshan Venkatesh

All In: Undisclosed self-investment, for prototype and website development and business-formation expenses

Status: Relocating to New York (CEBIP, to be precise) and ready to rock


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