December 08, 2010

Hatching Clean-Tech Plans

By: by Larry Rulison, Business Writer, Times Union


ALBANY -- Most people associate the $6.5 billion Albany NanoTech complex on Fuller Road in Albany with large semiconductor companies like IBM Corp. and Tokyo Electron that conduct computer chip research.

But a fledgling new business incubation program run by the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering is helping to create new start-up companies that focus on the renewable energy and clean-tech sectors.

And it's already producing results, such as a student-led company called BESS Technologies that has developed silicon nanostructures designed to boost the storage power of lithium-ion batteries.

BESS stands for Battery Energy Storage Systems, and its founders -- several NanoCollege graduate students -- have had early success, winning the inaugural Tech Valley Business Plan Competition in April.

The company is a member of what's known as iCLEAN, a business incubator program at the NanoCollege that is part of its Energy and Environmental Technology Applications Center, also known as E2TAC.

On Tuesday, the founders of BESS were meeting with Russ Howard of the Troy venture capital firm High Peaks Venture Partners. It was part of HelpDesk, an iCLEAN program in which start-ups get access to finance, legal and marketing mentors to help them polish their business plans beyond the technology they have developed in the lab. Howard vetted their idea and gave them suggestions on how of attract the attention of the venture capital community.

For Brian Butcher, the company's chief executive officer, getting in front of a venture capitalist and learning how to pitch the business plan is something vastly different from developing the technology.

"I'm thankful for it," Butcher said. "To get exposed to the business aspects is very beneficial."

Pradeep Haldar, a NanoCollege professor who also runs E2TAC, says about a half dozen companies are participating in iCLEAN, which is also run in partnership with the Hudson Valley Center for Innovation in Kingston. He said that about 25 local businesspeople have committed to be mentors to the member companies and give them advice on how to get their technologies to market.

"This is exactly what iCLEAN is all about," Haldar said. "Our goal is to try to benefit companies like this."

Butcher said his team is hoping to develop a prototype of its technology by the end of 2011 and then approach battery manufacturers that would be interested in incorporating their technology in lithium-ion batteries used in products from cell phones to small vehicles. His group has already applied for a federal grant to get seed money, with help from NanoCollege staff members who have experience in filing applications for funding.

"That's a huge advantage to get the right contacts," Butcher said.