By GREGORY ZELLER //
It’s hard to say who’s been more successful – the clients of the Clean Energy Business Incubator Program, or CEBIP itself.
Either way, Stony Brook University’s “incubator without walls” has become a cornerstone of the university’s ambitious commercialization ecosystem – “graduating” two member companies (and counting), with many more startups assisted through critical business-development stages.
Stocked with early-stage chores and checklists for fledgling energy enterprises, the never-ending boot camp, of sorts, is marking its 10-year anniversary with a call for fresh blood. Launched in October 2011, CEBIP currently boasts 10 active clients – and it’s issued an open invitation for new companies looking to cut their teeth in the clean-energy macrocosm.
There’s plenty of room at the inn: Executive Director David Hamilton notes “no upper limit” on new members, though CEBIP remains extremely judicious about member selection, and that goes beyond a smart new technology or service.
“It’s based on the qualifications, the experience and the excellence of the companies looking to join us,” Hamilton told Innovate LI. “We’re looking for companies that will put in the effort and are ready to succeed.”
The business-incubator program has been filled with those, including the two companies that have completed its challenging, years-long business-development gauntlet: revolutionary heat-pump innovator ThermoLift, which became CEBIP’s first graduate late in 2020, and waste-to-energy pioneer Re-Nuble, which followed in January.
A third graduate company is set to follow sometime this spring (Hamilton’s lips are sealed, for now). And as CEBIP completes its first decade of operation, you can expect more to follow, according to the executive director, who says the CEBIP leadership team is “better at everything now.”
“We have learned an enormous amount over the last 10 years,” Hamilton said. “We’re better at supporting our companies and getting them the resources they need, and we’re better at communicating with them and distilling their message down to the prime focus.
“We’re also better at helping them with grants, better at helping them get investments,” he added. “We have created a very robust set of processes and procedures … and we continuously grow our ecosystem to provide support across myriad challenges.”
One thing the exec and his fellow CEBIP leaders have learned is the need for constant flexibility – no two companies, Hamilton notes, are alike.
“I’ve always prided CEBIP on the fact that we don’t have a canned program,” he said. “When a company has a specific want or a specific need, we figure out a solution that gets that company the top-level services it needs.”
Hamilton, who doubles as chief operating officer of SBU’s Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center, said he knew CEBIP was on the right course in 2014, when ThermoLift – which joined the incubator program shortly after launching in 2012 – secured a seven-digit funding deal through the Long Island Angel Network and other investors.
“That was our first really big success,” Hamilton noted. “That was the first validation for CEBIP and our process of using our Advisory Board to help them with their presentation and their presentation skills – and it resulted in a win that helped propel ThermoLift to becoming our first official graduate.”
The CEBIP Advisory Board – a two-dozen-deep who’s-who of regional engineering, innovation and commercialization all-timers – is “the reason we are successful,” according to the executive director.
“They are experts in their areas, and they give so much of their time on a volunteer basis,” Hamilton said. “They are engaged and proactive, and they work with our companies to an extent that, frankly, I never expected.
“They are the hardest-working board in show business.”
With CEBIP slated to accept new membership applications through April 15, the exec is eager to see how that all that knowledge and experience will match up against a new set of challenges, from a new breed of energy-efficiency enterprises.
“We have proven that we’re very successful, with the companies we’ve already graduated and more graduates coming,” Hamilton said. “Now we want to hear from new companies with solid technology and a solid team that’s willing to put in the hard work to be successful.
“We can definitely help them get there,” he added. “We will put in the work to help them become our next success stories.”