Tackling Two Technologies

Author: Russell Muren

Progress continues here at Rebound. Right after our last post, we were notified of an National Science Foundation (NSF) SBIR award to develop IcePoint. This opened up a whole new set of exciting possibilities and challenges for the Rebound technical team. In the past month, quite a few people have asked us how we intend to develop two technologies at the same time. The answer: an equal application of hard work and smart planning.

Technology Development

First, we reached out to our network of engineers to see who might be interested in providing some free R&D just for fun. This might sound like a tall order, but it is surprising how many engineers will come home from their 10 hour work days and hop on the phone to chat about Rebound’s technical problems or start a 3D printing job just because we have a challenging engineering problem to solve that will have significant environmental benefit.  

Next, we added our first full time employee to our team to work on IcePoint. A thermal engineer named Luke Erickson who we were thrilled applied to our first call for applications. We worked with Luke previously and he had followed our progress. We needed an individual who would be able to start in an atmosphere of uncertainty, quickly understand the technology, and start contributing immediately. It’s been one month and Luke is already cranking out model results faster than we can ask for them, pushing IcePoint to improved performance, accuracy and ROI.

Finally, we are leveraging a growing list of project partners. By leverage, we don't just mean putting their logos on our grant applications. We mean sending them models and asking, “what am I doing that is wrong?” Some of these partners were discovered via networking opportunities like the New Venture Challenge and Clean Tech Open, while others we simply cold called after finding them via literature. Regardless, we have found that if you have an interesting idea, people will help.. The key is being willing to put yourself in an exposed position, being comfortable admitting your knowledge gaps and soliciting support. This is the only way to improve your technology. In one case an engineer sent us a very polite email showing, in a giant excel spreadsheet, that our vapor pressure correlations were complete garbage while providing a new set to use. Was this embarrassing? Yes, of course. But we’ll battle through  embarrassment if it means Rebound’s technologies have even a fraction of percent higher chance of success. In summary, if you never share your work because you are either sure it’s correct or too afraid it isn’t, you will only be as good as one person. Mistakes are inevitable and sharing our work (without endangering IP) is the only way to discover and react to these slip ups quickly.  At the moment this is working out well for Rebound, as we are meeting all our scheduled milestones with both USAID and NSF efforts.

Commercialization

We know how much effort its taken to get the IcePoint business model to its current state and are well aware of how much additional effort it will take to get it to market. So it comes as no surprise that the Rebound team has been thinking a lot about how to manage the commercialization efforts for two technologies. As first time entrepreneurs, we went our traditional route and began seeking input from the more experienced.

One data point came from a contact at Idealab who had seen similar scenarios and was very blunt is saying we had to chose. Go full force on IcePoint or SunChill. He said that we might not end up picking the most successful of the two, but at least we’d have the chance of success instead of crashing and burning on both. The conversation was a difficult one as we have so much invested in both technologies.

Another conversation of interest was with our partners at Colorado State University. The Energy Institute has worked with many third parties and commercialized their own tech via a few spin off companies. They saw no problem with a strong technical team working on two separate technologies. However, what they made clear is that you want a CEO waking up each morning thinking about just one thing.

If after further development both IcePoint and SunChill continue showing significant potential, there’s no way we’re going to drop one of them. There is simply too much interest from the supermarket and developing world agriculture sectors to choose. What we will need to do is find the right team members to join Rebound, or the resulting spin offs, who will spend 18 waking hours/day strategizing about how to get IcePoint, or SunChill, to market.