IMSI (1)

A national consortium of leaders in government, business and academia has established a new technology accelerator to help move middle-stage companies from innovation to commercialization.

The consortium, known as the Innovation and Materials Science Institute, includes organizations across a range of disciplines that together will help start-ups to bring their products to market. The members are the National Renewable Energy Lab, representing government; Eastman Kodak Company, CG Innovation Partners, TechVision21 and Novomer, representing business; and Stanford and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), representing academia.

The Technology Accelerator created by IMSI will help in the formation of partnerships between emerging technology companies and established businesses. The accelerator links companies with materials-based technologies to those possessing the necessary assets and know-how to facilitate commercialization. The accelerator also provides such services as research guidance, grant training and strategic marketing. As a result, technology entrepreneurs receive a straighter, faster, more efficient and economical pathway to develop their businesses -- speeding their time to market.

"Many business owners will work for years to gain the knowledge and resources the IMSI Technology Accelerator can provide in a few months," said Brad Kruchten, a founding IMSI board member, and President of Kodak's Film, Photofinishing and Entertainment Group, Senior Vice President, Eastman Kodak Company.

"The Institute helps nourish concepts beyond the lab from prototyping and proof of concept into commercialization, thereby substantially reducing the time and expense it takes to become self-sustaining, create jobs in the Innovation Economy, and turn a profit," said Michael Summers, Managing Partner, CG Innovation Partners and IMSI board member. "We are positioned to help start-ups speed through that critical period between proof of concept, mass production and significant sales - the so-called 'Valley of Death' - where so many great ideas today are starved into extinction by obstacles such as lack of capital, pilot and scale-up infrastructure."

The first three companies have been selected by IMSI to participate in its Technology Accelerator. Two of these companies will be occupying R&D and manufacturing space at Eastman Business Park in Rochester, New York. According to Kruchten, IMSI expects to welcome another 4-6 companies into the program over the next 6-12 months.

Ramping up production on clean fuel catalyst

Cerion Energy is one of the first three companies to participate in the accelerator as it works to ramp up production of a diesel fuel catalyst that cuts consumption, reduces costs and lowers emissions in the multi-billion dollar diesel fuel business.

"For two years we've been all about R&D," said Matt Winslow, Cerion's vice president of business development. "That's the most compelling part of our story, because our testing and validation processes are rooted in real science."

During that time, Cerion's relationship with the IMSI accelerator - which includes strategic partners Kodak and RIT - has "saved us literally millions of dollars" in start-up costs.

For example, without the assistance of IMSI, the company would have had to raise up to $10 million to build its own pilot-scale production capability as well as purchase its own laboratory equipment. "Kodak leased us the space as well as the lab equipment we needed, saving considerable investor capital," Winslow said.

In addition, Cerion called on the College of Business at the RIT and that University's wide range of academic disciplines for help transitioning from a middle-stage company to a full-fledged business, ready to manufacture and bring its products to market.

"Many of the business opportunities related to the green economy and renewable materials require the strong technology foundation that companies like Kodak have developed over many decades," Kruchten said. "With the IMSI Technology Accelerator, we can determine where new concepts intersect with established capabilities and infrastructure, and then find opportunities where innovation can flourish."

Streamlining commercialization of solar technology

With the assistance of IMSI, New Jersey-based Natcore Technology, Inc. is accelerating its development of thin-film solar cells and tandem solar cells using Natcore's proprietary liquid phase deposition (LPD) technology. The thin-film cells could halve the cost of producing solar energy. The super-efficient tandem cells could double the power output of today's most efficient commercial solar cells.

Instead of spending scarce capital to purchase or build its own laboratory, the company is consolidating its R&D capabilities at the Accelerator's Eastman Business Park, taking advantage of available office space, two fully equipped labs and a clean room to begin pilot-scale production of its LPD technology. It also will consider using the Park's manufacturing facilities to mass-produce the solar cells.

Chuck Provini, Natcore President and CEO, said working with IMSI has given his company the opportunity to "fully develop [its] LPD technology utilizing Kodak's prowess in thin-film technology and much of the infrastructure we require, as well as take advantage of a diverse mix of governmental, economic development and local academic institutions who are fully committed to supporting our clean technology initiative."

Provini said the IMSI Accelerator has helped his business by "driving down the risks and expenses that emerging companies face, and helping us survive the lean years between pilot lab-scale development to commercialization."

"The IMSI Accelerator model focuses on finding ways to form innovation ecosystems to stimulate cooperative ventures," said IMSI member Kelly Carnes, President & CEO, TechVision21. "It creates links between disconnected parties, and facilitates collaboration between middle-stage companies and established businesses -- all with the purpose of sharing innovative ideas within the materials science space during pre-commercialization phases."

Investment vs. asset utilization

Access to thin film, roll-to-roll capabilities at Eastman Business Park was the main reason that Pittsburgh, PA - based Plextronics, Inc. recently secured a spot in the IMSI Accelerator.

Plextronics, an international technology company that specializes in printed solar, lighting and other electronics, is supplementing its current in-house R&D efforts on organic photovoltaics (OPV) energy harvesting, working on ink development for roll-to-roll processing within the IMSI Accelerator.

"We are testing both our current PV product (Plexcore(R) PV2000) as well as our next-generation inks," said James Dietz, Vice President of Business Development, Plextronics. "The purpose is to develop inks that our commercial customers can use, and this is a testing ground to get additional data we can share with those customers."

One of the potential outcomes is a solution-based ink system that maximizes the efficiency, lifetime and stability of printed electronic devices, Dietz said.

"A collaboration with an organization like IMSI and its pool of assets is a great way to bring technology to market reality without the big upfront investment," Dietz said.

Giving good ideas a shot at greatness

"Really innovative ideas in the lab don't always have a path forward in scale-up, and the chances of creating an impact can evaporate quickly if scale-up is unsuccessful," said IMSI board member Michael Woodhouse, a solar energy technology and economics analyst with the National Renewable Energy Lab. "The advantage of IMSI's Accelerator is that we have plenty of tools that middle stage companies can utilize without having to spend a lot of cash either building or creating for themselves."

Woodhouse quickly ticked off several from the IMSI asset pool: "scientists who have experience in film and chemical manufacturing for the next generation of clean technologies; access to sophisticated analytical equipment and services; on-site R&D people to train, advise, and assist; laboratories available to conduct R&D prior to doing commercial trials; environmental and regulatory assets; and of course, the necessary infrastructure of utilities and logistics to start your development and then accelerate into commercialization - all under one roof."

"IMSI represents a very compelling vision," said IMSI member Nabil Nasr, Assistant Provost for Academic Affairs, and Director, Golisano Institute for Sustainability at Rochester Institute of Technology. "It is an initiative designed to advance the work of materials science technology companies, to forge public-private partnerships, and to encourage a new era of entrepreneurial investment and job growth."

"As a group we want to think broadly, to spur advances that address the fundamental, game-changing issues across the globe, such as climate change, sustainability, and the efficiency of energy technologies," he said.

About IMSI: The Innovation and Materials Science Institute (IMSI) is composed of academic and business leaders from key areas of the innovation economy - sustainability, clean technology, energy efficiency, consumer electronics and health care. They have come together to focus on leveraging innovation as means to promote economic growth through the application of Materials Science. The Institute is committed to serving as an accelerator for middle-stage technology companies in today's Innovation Economy - allowing them to fully develop their business concepts from the lab-scale prototype stages of innovation to the later stages of production and commercialization.

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