Video: ‘Lab-Corps Pitch Competition’
Two teams advance to national Lab-Corps training program
Two Argonne National Laboratory teams have advanced to the U.S. Department of Energy’s new Lab-Corps training program by taking the top two spots in a pitch competition held Friday, April 17, at Argonne’s TCS Conference Center.
Funded by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Lab-Corps is a year-long program aimed at improving the rate of commercialization of technologies created at national labs that are in line with the EERE mission.
Each of the top two Argonne teams won a $75,000 research grant and entry into an eight-week national Lab-Corps program that will walk them and winners from other national labs through the commercialization/business-building process.
The hurdle for scientists and engineers is often in developing ‘soft skills’ like marketing, sales and raising capital for their idea. Bringing business people and mentors into the Lab-Corps program enables scientists to work with other bright people who can help mature their technology by working with people who have different knowledge sets.
Cherri Schmidt, Manager of Partnerships and Technology Transfer at Fermilab.
The team that took first place won with its Frequency Sensing Charge Controller, a device designed to reduce power demand during peak periods. The team includes Diego Fazi (Argonne postdoctoral appointee, computational science), Vladimir Koritarov (Argonne Principal Engineer, Energy Systems), Todd Levin (Argonne Computational Engineer, Energy Systems) and Catharina Milostan (Argonne Energy and Environmental Policy Scientist, Energy Systems).
“For us, winning means the possibility to go and spend time reaching out to electrical utility companies,” Fazi told the Chicago Tribune after accepting the award. “We want to talk to these people and see if they see as much potential as we do.”
Second place went to SonicLQ, a system that uses sound waves to test buildings for energy-robbing air leaks. That team consists of Ralph Muehleisen (Argonne Principal Building Scientist, Energy Systems), Milostan and Levin.
Modeled closely after the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program, Lab-Corps aims to strengthen the national labs’ impact on the nation’s energy landscape. Though the labs regularly present scientific solutions to various energy challenges, scaling up these breakthrough inventions and transferring them to the market requires closer interaction with potential customers, potential investors, industry partners, etc.
There’s no replacement for talking to customers. We’re going to coach them and provide resources, so they’re going to have a better, more reasonable outcome, and be able to show that their idea has a place in the market, that it’s solving a problem, and that there’s going to be a buyer that will pay for the product and use it.
John Flavin, Executive Director of the Chicago Innovation Exchange
Five national laboratories are serving as feeder sites to the Lab-Corps program: Argonne, Idaho National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Six finalists competed Friday for the top two spots at Argonne. The local feeder program, managed in partnership with the Chicago Innovation Exchange at the University of Chicago, includes researchers from Argonne and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.
By the end of the pilot program, the hope is that at least two teams will make business deals for their inventions. These advances will provide the data the Lab-Corps program needs to secure another round of funding and expand the program to other labs.
The Lab-Corps program is a low-risk means of trying your hand at entrepreneurship. You can license technology, do collaborative research, or even go start a company yourself. There is a lot of opportunity here.
Greg Morin, Director for Strategy and Innovation at Argonne.
The judges named a third-place finisher, Dynamic Aperture, maker of a device designed to help manufacturers increase the efficiency of photovoltaic cells used in solar panels. That team consists of Ray Conley (Argonne Optics Fabrication Section Leader, X-ray Science) and Elina Kasman, Argonne X-ray Optics Fabrication Specialist, X-ray Science).