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Friday, 3 January 2014

Fuel Cell Startup Looking To Grow

Fuel Cell Startup Looking To Grow

August 23, 2013|By MARA LEE maralee@courant.comThe Hartford Courant
GLASTONBURY — Three years after Proton Energy became a public company, a co-founder who was essentially No. 2 there quit to get a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut in materials science.
"Everybody told me I was crazy at the time," said Trent Molter, now CEO of Sustainable Innovations, a company that builds on fuel cell technology similar to that used at Proton.
With his proceeds from selling Proton stock, he said, "I could afford not to work for a few years." As he began writing his dissertation in 2007, he founded Sustainable Innovations in his garage.
"I'd gotten a lot of offers, but I knew I didn't want to go work for somebody," Molter said. "I like the process of starting something."
Molter said starting a company that seeks to develop an expandable electro-chemical architecture, similar to a fuel cell, only took what he calls "pocket change," but it did mean going three more years without a salary, "and even then it was a significantly reduced salary."
In the first six years, Sustainable Innovations hasn't had any sales. It has operated on research grants from the federal government, and has also received tiny grants from Connecticut and New York, where an Israeli company it is collaborating with — ICL Industrial Products — has its U.S. headquarters.
When the research dollars weren't enough to cover rent and payroll in early years, "a lot of the deficit came out of my pocket," Molter said.
The company employs 12, and is about make offers to a few more engineers. For the first time, it's beginning to search for production workers.
Sustainable Innovations and ICL Industrial Products were awarded a $900,000 grant late last year from the BIRD, which will pay half the cost of developing a regenerative fuel cell for energy storage. BIRD, which stands for the U.S.-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development, pays for research projects conducted by Israeli and U.S. firms.
Anantha Desikan, president of ICL-IP America, said while the multinational company works with university researchers and "we at least talk to a lot of tech startups," the investment of time and money they have made in Sustainable Innovations is unique.
"I think Trent has a track record of taking a technology from concept to commercialization from his prior role at Proton power, and that kind of stood out to us," he said. He said this new startup is very professional, and while refining the technology always takes longer than you expect, he sees progress.
"They have the right technical skills," he said. "They're willing to listen, collaborate, they have a real team approach."
The federal research dollars and this foundation money means that Molter has been able to find enough money to hire other technical staff and business development help without giving away stakes in the company.


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