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FLOW Rocket Fund Propels New University Startups Towards Success


Four first-time entrepreneurs have received a timely boost of money from the Resnick Sustainability Institute’s FLOW program that will help them realize their dream of starting a successful cleantech venture. The FLOW program’s Rocket Fund, a new initiative that makes grants for student startups, awarded Axiom Exergy, Energy Adaptive Networks, Fluency Lighting Technologies and Keewi $20,000 each to transition their lab scale innovations into commercial prototypes. By enabling field-testing of the new technologies with potential customers, the teams will be able to further refine their products. Finding that elusive first product that customers will buy will lay the foundation for building a successful company.

The Rocket Fund was launched in Fall 2015 by the Emerging Technology Coordinating Council (ETCC), a consortium of six California utilities, the San Diego-based Moxie Foundation and Caltech. The Fund’s grants bridge the so-called Valley of Death after university support ends but before funding from government agencies, corporate partners and investors kicks in. Aimed at accelerating the movement of exciting technologies out of university labs and into the marketplace, the Rocket Fund is hopeful that its awardees will have an important impact on energy efficiency and sustainability. The Fund is key element of the FLOW program that includes a capstone business plan competition, an educational module and mentoring. Companies typically participate in the competition before seeking a grant, as that increases the chances of winning an award, but teams can apply separately.

The 2015 award recipients are

  • Axiom Exergy, (Stanford/UC Berkeley) is developing the Refrigeration Battery, an energy storage system for supermarkets and refrigerated facilities that can provide baseload shifting (approximately 100 kW for 6+ hours) away from on-peak hours. The Refrigeration Battery can reduce the peak demand of a supermarket (in kW) by up to 40%. Pilot trials are moving forward with a major supermarket chain and the Rocket Fund grant will facilitate installation of the system.

  • Energy Adaptive Networks (Caltech) is tackling the growing problem of managing energy distribution on the grid, as more electric vehicles make charging demands on the network. The EAN system consists of open-source chargers with real time sensing and communication capability, online optimization algorithms that compute, minute by minute, the optimal charging rate for every EV in the parking structure, and management software that oversees the charging operation in a garage and includes mobile apps to interact with users and payment systems. The Rocket Fund will enable expansion of a network of 50 EV chargers, under testing in the Caltech parking facilities.

  • Fluency Lighting Technologies (UC Santa Barbara) offers next generation lighting options with an innovative laser stimulated phosphor light engine for outdoor lighting that provides strong pinpointed light. Testing shows potential savings of 45% less energy, and 60% overall cost savings. The Rocket Fund will enable the purchase of key equipment for conducting a pilot program, in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

  • Keewi (Stanford), is developing a comprehensive hardware and software system for tackling a major challenge in energy efficiency: plug load energy use. The system provides a hardware and software combination that not only measures current and voltage use ( as well as human proximity) but also incorporates remotely controlled devices linked up to a user –friendly software interface that can be monitored online.