January 14, 2011

From UAlbanys iCLEAN Incubator, Six Graduate Students Look To Solve Battery Quandary

By: by Robin K. Cooper, The Business Review


A half-dozen graduate students from the University at Albany are building a business around their longer-lasting lithium-ion battery technology.

BESS Technologies, an early-stage company, is developing a prototype for its nanostructured silicon invention to enable smartphones and electric-powered vehicles to operate longer on a single charge.

Ben Backes, the company's chief technology officer, said the buzz surrounding the region's growing clean tech sector and opportunities to build the business locally have given him and his business partners a reason to stay in the area and work here after they finish graduate school.

BESS Technologies became the newest tenant of the iClean business incubator at the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) late last year. The incubator, Backes said, will allow the company to hone its business plan, perfect its product and develop a strategy to attract investors.

"We would be hard-pressed to find another place that had all of CNSE's capabilities and resources," Backes said.

CNSE opened its $1.5 million iClean incubator last year to help entrepreneurs and researchers gain access to equipment, investors and business advisers to encourage clean energy innovation and job creation, said Pradeep Haldar, a professor and vice president of clean energy programs.

Backes, who grew up in Chicago, is finishing his master's at CNSE in nanoengineering.

His business partners, who also are graduate students at UAlbany, decided to use their invention to create a clean technology-focused business because of all the momentum that the clean tech and clean energy sector has generated over the past few years.

The BESS business partners come from California, South Korea, Columbia, Louisiana, Chicago and the Albany area, Backes said. Over the next year, they'll finish their master's and doctoral degrees in everything from nanoengineering and nanoscience to business administration.

They have been talking to angel investors and working with CNSE Chief Academic Officer Robert Geer and assistant professor Laura Schultz, who are acting as technical and commercialization advisors.

The company is trying to raise $2.5 million in seed funding and is planning to develop a prototype by the end of this year.

BESS won the inaugural Tech Valley Business Plan Competition held at CNSE in April. The company received $10,000 in cash, $8,000 of in-kind legal services from Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti P.C., and $1,000 of in-kind business strategic consulting services from ECG Consulting.

Read more: From UAlbany's iClean incubator, six graduate students look to solve battery quandary | The Business Review