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After Rocky 2020, Island Startups Set To Rock In 2021


What a challenging and tumultuous year! If you’d told the December 2019 me what was going to transpire, I’d have called you crazy – and suggested you’d read one too many sci-fi novels by our favorite Innovate LI editor.

AERTCThere was no way to see this coming: a never-ending pandemic, an unprecedented economic collapse, social upheaval on a national scale, political turmoil unlike anything we’ve ever seen, endless Zoom calls, three dishwasher cycles a day … and every week, something new.

Despite all the challenges, our Long Island startup community carried on. The companies in Stony Brook University’s   Clean Energy Business Incubator Program  and our   Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center  pushed forward despite the shutdowns, remote-working conditions and inability to get face-to-face with customers.

During these trying times, our companies achieved more milestones and advanced closer to commercialization than they have, collectively, in any year prior. Driven leadership was on full display. It was inspiring to watch these extremely talented and dedicated teams excel, despite everything the world was throwing at them.

CEBIPOur companies were unable to run real-world pilot programs, meet potential customers, attend critical trade shows or properly network – and yet, the successes within CEBIP alone this year were staggering.

ThermoLift   graduated in September, having made more progress and raised more money than any client in CEBIP history; the company is now ready to engage critical on-site demonstration programs across the United States and Canada.

Re-Nuble  was next to graduate, in November, ready to start production of its food waste-to-fertilizer products and fill sales orders from a new manufacturing facility in Rochester. Meanwhile,   UES  opened its own manufacturing facilities on Long Island, and is even considering larger-scale facilities to meet growing customer demand for its electric-vehicle technology.

David Hamilton: Optimistic innovator.

All of these progressive companies are set to soar in 2021, ready to make their mark on a world in desperate need of new energy and sustainability solutions.

Not to be overlooked was the ability of SBU’s   Office of Economic Development  to offer remote services and mentoring. The Economic Development team developed out-of-the-box solutions to help these companies when all other avenues appeared to be closed – critical to ensuring our early-stage companies survived and succeeded.

Our innovation ecosystem came together during these difficult times. The companies worked harder. The support systems stepped up. And in the end, most of our companies are enjoying a new confidence – if they can move forward during the trials and tribulations of 2020, they can dominate in 2021.

What will 2021 bring? Based on the past year, I hesitate to guess. Hopefully, the vaccines and continued vigilance will help us through the pandemic and the new administration will provide the stability and leadership needed for the nation to recover and grow.

What I do know for certain is that our innovation community is ready for whatever comes at us. Our support systems have shown they can support our companies just as well remotely as they did in traditional settings, and they will keep it up in the coming year.

More importantly, our companies have shown a fortitude I’m not sure even they knew they had. So many innovators succeeding when complacency – and failure – were expected. The New Year may throw them some more Dwight Gooden-esque curveballs, but it will also provide new opportunities to overcome change, while changing the world for the better.

Goodbye and good riddance, 2020, and hello 2021. Let’s do this.

David Hamilton is chief operating officer of the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center and executive director of the Clean Energy Business Incubator Program.