Volume 15 | Issue 3 | Year 2012

Cambrian Innovation’s Matthew Silver and Patrick Kiely are revolutionizing wastewater treatment.
Silver, the Boston-based company’s co-founder and chief executive officer, and Kiely, its vice president of research and development, are developing a product portfolio that could significantly reduce the cost of treating wastewater by generating electricity and usable by-products in the treatment process.

Potential benefits are easily perceived. But their company – a growing 15-employee firm that builds large-scale systems for customers throughout the United States – now needs to take its revolutionary advance to the next step: commercialization.

This poses a challenge. As with other startup enterprises, Cambrian Innovation must rely on partners to help meet that challenge – and to move forward from demonstration projects to commercial operations. Additional capital and market testing is necessary for launch and sustainability.

The challenge of successful commercialization requires a startup to be close to – and relevant to – the market, says Greg King of the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP), who has been advising Cambrian Innovation for about two years. “What’s the value proposition that’s being offered and how is it best delivered,” he asks. “Those are the central questions for startups. To be at the forefront of market needs, [startups] must work on both business and technical merits.”

King was searching for resources to support Cambrian Innovation when he heard of a newly formed collaboration between MEP and the Clean Energy Alliance (CEA), the national association of cleantech business incubators. MEP is a program within the US Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology. Its nationwide network operates as a public-private partnership to help small and mid-sized US manufacturers enhance competitiveness, create and retain jobs, and increase profits. MassMEP is one of 60 independent MEP centers and one of the network’s nearly 400 field offices.

The MEP-CEA collaboration enables qualifying companies in either network to receive a broader range of services than would otherwise be available – thus expediting commercialization of clean energy technologies in the United States. The ultimate benefits are substantial and include:

  • Facilitation of US energy independence;
  • Increased US energy efficiency; and
  • Job creation in the domestic clean technology sector.

CEA, through its Department of Energy (DOE) Small Business and Clean Energy Alliance Partnership, had funding available for qualified companies to receive commercialization support from CEA members. King, working with Cambrian’s Kiely, thought this might be the opportunity to obtain additional expertise for Cambrian Innovation. So, with CEA, he reached out to the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (a CEA member) and its TechBridge program for a collaborative support package.

Partnering with appropriate expertise and resources can lead to commercialization and at a high level of quality.

Collaboration is the best approach to scale cleantech, says Silver. He adds: “Having several products increases your chances of success, but if you spread yourself too thin, you can’t do any of them well. However, if you can work out collaborative mechanisms, you can leverage the terrific work of multiple talented partners and decrease risk and increase success.”

Having selected a targeted niche for commercialization, Cambrian Innovation wanted to improve its understanding of existing market alternatives. Fraunhofer will help Cambrian Innovation with a competitive technical analysis. “We’ll research our network to uncover how the [Cambrian Innovation] solution compares to existing market solutions,” says Fraunhofer’s Jeff McAulay.

MassMEP, located in Boston, Mass., is helping Cambrian Innovation with a wide variety of activities, including manufacturing scalability and sourcing support, workforce development and training grant subsidies, and ISO quality management certification. CEA is providing business practices and resources through Fraunhofer and the DOE-CEA Partnership.

The MEP-CEA collaboration is new, and Cambrian Innovation represents a “terrific first project,” says CEA Executive Director James F. Groelinger. “It is at the right stage to benefit from the broader range of services both organizations can provide to expedite commercialization of promising technology.”

“Companies like Cambrian Innovation, and the partnerships they establish, will foster the energy independence and efficiency that the US requires,” Groelinger points out.

King adds: “The manufacturing base is the only sector that has the multiplier effect of creating jobs across the supply chain.”

CEA is the only national association of non-profit incubators with a focus on clean energy commercialization, working through a membership of nearly 40 incubators and the thousands of companies they mentor nationwide. The DOE Small Business and Clean Energy Alliance Partnership that CEA administers is funded by a $1.2 million grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

MEP considers Cambrian Innovation a perfect launching pad for the new MEPCEA collaboration. It leverages the expertise of the people at MassMEP and Fraunhofer, with the promise of both clean energy technologies and manufacturing jobs in the United States.

Co-author Clara Asmail is a senior technical advisor with the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership. She helps small R&D companies and manufacturers become competitive by developing approaches that provide them with services and access to resources. Collaborator Joan Michelson is a communications expert specializing in the green economy, providing strategic marketing, public relations and communications consulting services, including to CEA. She is also the executive producer and of host of Green Connections Radio™.

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