Clean energy, materials innovation, climate tech, and circular economy startups led by participants in the Cyclotron Road entrepreneurial fellowship program at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (Berkeley Lab) have now surpassed $1 billion dollars in follow-on funding from public and private investors from across the United States. Cyclotron Road fellow startups continue to achieve key funding milestones: Gradient, Liminal Insights, Noon Energy, Tyfast, and Visolis have all reached new funding milestones in the first half of 2023.
“With more than $1 billion in follow-on funding to date, Cyclotron Road fellows are truly taking their innovations to scale, and contributing to a resilient and sustainable future,” said Carol Burns, Berkeley Lab’s deputy director for research. “The program gives us a unique platform to support early-stage startups, and expands opportunities for multidisciplinary collaboration and mentorship in important and exciting ways.”
Cyclotron Road, the first fellowship program in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program (LEEP), supports leading entrepreneurial scientists as they advance technology projects with the potential for global impact. With support from the DOE and in close partnership with the Lab’s nonprofit partner Activate, the program recruits, hosts, and trains entrepreneurial scientists and engineers at Berkeley Lab. The program provides a living stipend, access to state-of-the-art lab facilities, entrepreneurial training, and a community of scientists, industry experts, and alumni. While in the two year program, fellows conduct market validation, develop prototypes, form partnerships, and secure essential seed funding.
Since the inaugural cohort in 2015, 85 fellows have taken part in the program, leading 65 startups and employing nearly one thousand people to-date. The DOE’s Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office (AMMTO) and the Industrial Efficiency and Decarbonization Office (IEDO) in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) are the founding and anchor sponsors of the program.
Combining Mentorship, Training, Funding, and Facilities to Bolster Entrepreneurship
At the onset, Cyclotron Road’s founder Ilan Gur recognized the critical need to develop both the entrepreneur and the hard tech inventor simultaneously. True to this vision, the Cyclotron Road fellowship helps scientists and engineers build their entrepreneurial skills while advancing their research and product development.
“In addition to financial support, Cyclotron Road fellows have access to world-class research facilities and expertise at Berkeley Lab, an in-depth entrepreneurship training program, and mentorship and networking opportunities with researchers, entrepreneurs, and funding partners,” said Jill Fuss, managing director, Activate Berkeley and member of the 2018 cohort in the Cyclotron Road program. “The strong collaboration between Berkeley Lab and Activate is what makes this community special. There are a lot of people pulling for our fellows’ success.”
Sparking Deeper Investment in Energy Conversion and Storage Innovation
Cyclotron Road alumni continue to advance innovation in energy conversion and storage thanks to new rounds of funding from public and private investors.
“Bringing clean energy innovation to market is a key focus area for the Cyclotron Road program,” said Todd Pray, chief strategic partnerships officer at Berkeley Lab. “Ongoing investment in renewable energy and other climate technologies from the public and private sectors is critical to scaling the impact of new innovations in the field.”
“Bringing clean energy innovation to market is a key focus area for the Cyclotron Road program”
– Todd Pray
Antora Energy raised a Series A in 2022, following funding from the DOE, the California Energy Commission (CEC), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and Activate, to decarbonize heavy industry using renewable heat and power from thermal energy storage. In 2022, the founder of Anthro Energy raised a seed round for flexible batteries that open up new ways to store and move energy. Inlyte Energy secured an ARPA-E award to engineer robust cyclability of grid storage batteries developed using iron and table salt.
Having secured ARPA-E and DOE grants, Fervo Energy, whose mission is to make carbon-free geothermal power plants a reality, has gone on to raise Series B and C rounds of funding, and just completed a successful field demonstration of their technology. Also in the geothermal energy conversion field, Zanskar secured Series B funding to accelerate the deployment of its artificial intelligence (AI) platform to locate and characterize new geothermal resources at less cost.
“These companies brought their own creative concepts and blossomed by interacting with other cohorts in the program, through mentorship, leadership programs, developing business plans, learning negotiation, engaging with the Berkeley Lab Energy Geosciences Division, and many other parts of the program,” said Pat Dobson, Geothermal Systems Program lead and staff scientist at Berkeley Lab, who has mentored fellows including founders of Fervo Energy and Zanskar.
Funding for Fossil-Free Fuels, Critical Materials, and Advanced Manufacturing
Investments in Cyclotron Road fellows’ startups are also helping to transform how materials and fuels are produced, shifting from petrochemical- to bio-based methods using inputs including carbon dioxide (Twelve), enzymes (Aralez), air and water (Nitricity), and even bacteria (Microbyre) to create fuel, medicine, fertilizer, and other materials and processes that sustain human life.
“The Cyclotron Road program gives entrepreneurial scientists the room to derisk things that may prevent them from getting follow-on funding,” said Sarah Richardson, CEO of Microbyre and member of the 2017 Cyclotron Road cohort. “You also learn how to talk the way you need to talk to have investors understand your value.”
The founders of Aepnus Technology, in the midst of the 2022 Cyclotron Road cohort, received an award from the California Sustainable Energy Entrepreneur Development Initiative (CalSEED) to decarbonize the production of battery chemicals including lithium.
Building Momentum for Recycling and Supply-chain Circularity Companies
Another 2022 fellow, Danielle Pascoli of VERDE Nanomaterials, is tackling the challenge of replacing petroleum-based materials in the supply chains of industries including packaging, automotive, and construction, with affordable nanocellulose derived from agricultural waste to support a circular bioeconomy. VERDE received funding from the Shared Future initiative, an extension of the Collaborative Fund that backs early-stage entrepreneurs working on promising climate change solutions. VERDE also joined the Bay Area NSF I-Corps Method led by UC Berkeley earlier this year.
“The Cyclotron Road program helps startup companies to initiate their process development, leveraging Berkeley Lab capabilities,” said Ning Sun, staff scientist, Biological Systems and Engineering Division, Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts Process Development Unit (ABPDU) at Berkeley Lab. “The Lab has so many tools and equipment that are crucial for companies just starting out.”
Aaron Hall, founder of Intropic Materials which makes plastic compostable using enzymes at the outset, was awarded the Grand Prize in the 2021 “Create the Future” Design Contest during his first year in the Cyclotron Road program.
Introducing: the Ninth Cyclotron Road Cohort
The ninth Cyclotron Road cohort of 10 entrepreneurial scientists have just been announced and are beginning their fellowships this month.
For more details about the innovative work of Cyclotron Road fellows past and present, please visit this webpage.
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Founded in 1931 on the belief that the biggest scientific challenges are best addressed by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been recognized with 16 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers develop sustainable energy and environmental solutions, create useful new materials, advance the frontiers of computing, and probe the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists from around the world rely on the Lab’s facilities for their own discovery science. Berkeley Lab is a multiprogram national laboratory, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science.