One on one with Dean Lynden Archer, chemical engineer and entrepreneur

(This interview originally appeared in the Chemical and Engineering News on feb. 22, 2021)

Postdoc Simone Douglas-Green talks to this chemical engineer and entrepreneur about the serendipity of opportunity

By Simone A. Douglas-Green, Special To C&EN
FEBRUARY 22, 2021 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 99, ISSUE 6

Lynden Archer is known for his work with “hairy” nanoparticles. He studies structure, dynamics, and transport at liquid-solid interfaces using polymer and hybrid materials with applications in energy storage technologies. He cofounded NOHMs Technologies to commercialize novel battery materials developed in his Cornell University lab. NOHMs, which stands for nanoscale organic hybrid materials, was named one of C&EN’s 10 Start-Ups to Watch in 2015. Archer is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a fellow of the American Physical Society. Simone A. Douglas-Green spoke with Archer about how he chose his research focus and what it takes to start a successful company. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Lynden Archer: I was about 9 or 10 years old. My mom bought me a science book, and one of the chapters extolled the wonders of brewer’s yeast, which affects metabolism. My mom was entrepreneurial and raised broiler chickens as an income supplement, and she allowed me to experiment with metabolism by adding brewer’s yeast to a small portion of her flock. I had some chickens as controls even though I didn’t know what controls were at the time. I felt like a real scientist using the essential tools of science and discovery to answer a question, and that ultimately gave me more confidence.

SDG: As an aspiring professor, I am trying to figure out what the research focus of the Douglas-Green lab would look like one day. How did you figure out the research focus of the Archer Research Group?

LA: I think this is something aspiring professors stress themselves out too much over—the thought of coming out on day 1 with a career-defining research direction that they’re going to follow faithfully throughout a career. An essential part of growing and becoming successful as a scientist is understanding your core skill set and the things that excite you and working to develop those fully. Successful professors must be able to see change coming and have the tools ready to adapt. That means you’re reading the literature, you’re sitting in talks at conferences that aren’t in your area, and you’re hearing what other communities are thinking. The graduate student and postdoc years are excellent times to identify and burnish these core skills.

SDG: This is fantastic advice to hear, especially as a new postdoc in a chemical engineering lab coming from a biomedical engineering background looking to expand my skill set in drug delivery design. Can you talk about the design process of your nanoparticles?

Click here to read the full interview on the C&EN website

Cornell Commercialization fellows help bring innovation to market

(This story was written by Casey Verderosa and appeared originally in the Cornell Chronicle on Feb. 18, 2021)

After completing high school in Côte d’Ivoire, the West African nation where he grew up, Yehou Michel Davy Gnopo, M.S. ’18, Ph.D. ’20, took a gap period to construct roads throughout West Africa.

“The story was always the same – we would stay in a town or village for two to four weeks and during that time attend funerals for five to six kids under the age of five,” he said. “Up to that point, I never had an interest in the pharmaceutical industry. Later, when I went back to school, I discovered that the infectious diseases killing these kids could be prevented, or even eradicated with appropriate vaccines.”

Leveraging guidance from Cornell Engineering’s Ph.D. Commercialization Fellowship program, Gnopo is endeavoring to build a pharmaceutical business in Africa based on a mucosally delivered vaccine system, administered inside the cheek via cotton swab. He wants to be part of the development of African pharma, which he envisions as a self-sufficient industry responding to the continent’s specific health care needs and relieving Africans from reliance on western or Chinese pharmaceutical companies.

The Commercialization Fellowship, which wrapped up its fifth cohort in December 2020, introduces engineers to the process of turning their academic research into businesses that solve real-world problems. During a fully funded summer and semester, fellows work one-on-one with a mentor, complete National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Teams training and collaborate with a team of Johnson MBA students to create a business strategy.

“Before applying to the program, I lacked both practical entrepreneurship experience and fundamental business knowledge. I think most engineering graduate students find themselves in this boat,” said Gnopo, who earned his Ph.D. in chemical engineering.

Fellows learn about intellectual property, marketing, product development, fundraising and other skills from entrepreneurship experts. Gnopo’s favorite part of the program was working with MBA students.

“While the fellowship does a great job closing the business knowledge gap before the MBAs join the fray, nothing beats having a dedicated team of business students forming a plan for my venture,” he said.

Because the fellowship is fully funded, fellows are able to focus entirely on commercializing their innovations. Hedan Bai, a mechanical and aerospace engineering doctoral student, used the experience to work toward commercialization of stretchable sensors that are incorporated into garments and can be used to measure athletes’ movement and force, technology she developed with Organic Robotics Corporation, a Cornell startup that recently took top prize at the NFL 1st and Future Competition.

The I-Corps Teams experience, an intensive national training program through which academics explore commercialization opportunities for their research with an emphasis on the customer discovery process, was the most valuable component of the fellowship, Bai said.

There, she and her teammates became a “dream team,” she said. “While performing customer discovery, we discovered some real opportunities and market insights to pursue the commercialization of this technology.”

Another 2020 fellow, mechanical engineering doctoral student Jane Shin, cited the program’s highly individualized mentorship as an “enormous help” in crafting the direction to take in applying her tech to solve real-world problems. Shin is exploring using her intelligent sensor path planning algorithm as a solution for decision making in autonomous driving trucks. Fellowship mentors are entrepreneurship experts in industry and academia.

The 2020 Commercialization Fellowship cohort presented their final business plans on December 10, 2020 to a panel of entrepreneurial leaders from the region including: Frank DeCosta, partner, Finnegan Henderson; Marnie LaVigne, president and CEO, Launch NY; Chris Lee, chairman and CEO, Huxley Medical; Eric Young, partner and co-founder, Canaan Partners; and Todd Zion, co-founder, president, and CEO of Akston Biosciences Corporation.

Applications for the 2021 Commercialization Fellowship are open through February 22, 2021.

Casey Verderosa is a writer for the Center for Regional Economic Advancement.

Praxis Center and engineering startups grow together

(This story appeared originally in the Cornell Chronicle on Feb. 12, 2021. It was written by David Nutt.)

Nearly two years after launching, the Praxis Center for Venture Development is reconfiguring its structure to reflect the growth of engineering startups at Cornell and their specialized needs.

The center is differentiating into two thematically focused branches, with the Praxis Center for Engineering and Physical Sciences remaining in the current space in Duffield Hall, and the Praxis Center for Enterprise Software now based in nearby Rhodes Hall.

The space in Rhodes Hall was renovated last year and is now occupied by a pair of software startups: Ava Labs and Exotanium. The success of both companies has demonstrated the effectiveness of the center’s model as it helps Cornell researchers turn their innovative ideas into thriving businesses.

Cornell impacting New York State

The expansion allows the center’s five startups that have an engineering and physical sciences bent to remain in close proximity to the technical resources offered by Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility (CNF) and Cornell Center for Materials Research (CCMR) in Duffield Hall.

“Rhodes Hall is an office environment, so it really fits the sort of analytical things that don’t require any testing or laboratories,” said Robert Scharf ’77, Praxis’ director. “This lets us keep the physical and engineering sciences teams in Duffield, where the laboratories, model shops and testing facilities are concentrated. It has no effect on the productivity or the effectiveness of the facility for the software teams.”

The Praxis Center opened in March 2019 with the goal of supporting engineering and physical science startups through mentorship while also boosting business development in New York state. The new structure will allow Praxis to better connect these companies with more specialized mentors and advisory groups who can help them later on to focus their products, perfect their pitches and plot their next steps.

“There are different business models and advisory roles that fit each specific kind of venture,” Scharf said. “We certainly wouldn’t want a software company talking to someone with deep experience in chemical manufacturing, where there’s really a low level of relevance of the possible interactions. This will help us attract the right kind of advisors, mentors and guides to each branch, because now they’ll have a much more distinctive identity and a clear reason for participating.”

That mentorship was instrumental for helping get Exotanium off the ground, said CEO Hakim Weatherspoon, associate professor of computer science, who founded the company in 2018 with Robbert van Renesse, professor of computer science; and postdoctoral researcher Zhiming Shen, Ph.D. ’17.

Exotanium’s software enables businesses to reliably run their applications on servers in the cloud at low-cost using cheap unreliable servers. When these “spot” servers become unavailable, Exotanium’s technology automatically migrates these application servers to stable environments without any interruption, a kind of high-tech game of Whac-A-Mole that can slash a company’s cloud-computing costs by an order of magnitude.

The startup joined the Praxis Center in fall 2019, and last year raised more than $1 million in pre-seed funding, with another round of seed funding planned for this year. Last fall, Exotanium conducted a successful pilot demonstration for software company Autodesk, Inc., and they are now working on establishing a commercial relationship.

“Praxis has been critical for us to evolve from three people who are professors and a Ph.D. to three people and a company that is very successful in the market,” Weatherspoon said. “And Praxis is critical to Cornell. Cornell is a great idea generator, but a lot of scientists are not trained in business. To have a successful business, you need a place like the Praxis Center. I don’t know where we’d be without something like that.”

Exotanium has grown to include five full-time employees – four of whom are based in Ithaca – as well as three part-time employees and several interns and consultants.

The Praxis Center has also helped provide a “center of gravity” to keep businesses like Exotanium in New York state, when so many software companies are lured to big tech meccas like Silicon Valley, Seattle and Boston.

Exotanium’s neighbor in Rhodes Hall, Ava Labs, was one of the Praxis Center’s first clients and is now the largest. The company has grown to be an international operation, with a total of 72 employees, the majority of whom work in the company headquarters in Brooklyn, which opened in July 2019.

“We went from being a nascent company that just had one idea, which was mostly undefined, to a small seed company that receives funding from the giants of Silicon Valley, all the way to being a company that has launched a network that has billions of dollars’ worth of value in it,” said Ava Labs co-founder and CEO Emin Gün Sirer, associate professor of computer science and co-director of the Initiative for Cryptocurrencies and Smart Contracts.

Ava Labs’ flagship technology is Avalanche, an open-source platform for verifying and securing blockchain networks. In July, the company sold 72 million AVAX tokens, its form of digital currency, raising $42 million in its first public sale.

The company now has a system that is storing $2.2 billion worth of value from thousands of users on five continents.

Ava Lab has eight employees in Ithaca. While the company is nearing the day it will move out of Rhodes Hall to make room for new startups – five developing companies are currently in the pipeline, according to Scharf – Ava Labs will always have a deep connection with the Praxis Center, Sirer said.

“Every relationship changes. I feel like we spent our infancy at Praxis. And when we were in our teenage years and needed to prove ourselves, we went down to where the big folks are in New York City,” Sirer said. “Now, I would like to retain our connection to Praxis and pay forward our dues. I would love to help them in the future, whether it’s in the form of advising other financial technology startups or helping others connect with people, whatever it might take.”

To that end, Scharf is looking to develop a new mentorship model for companies that are no longer tenants at the center but maintain a relationship with the university.

The Praxis Center is also strengthening its ties with CNF. Both groups now share the same director of operations, Ron Olson, and program safety officer, Phil Infante, consolidating the technical support on which so many engineering startups depend.

“We’re centralizing the administrative functions, and that’s going to be a productive thing for everyone,” Scharf said. “The synergies of all these things are beginning to become evident.”

Entrepreneur-in-Residence Workshop: Growing a Team

As startups gain customers and identify new customer markets, they need to grow their internal teams to keep pace. They also face new challenges: Founders start manage people that are managing others, HR policies are forced to mature, and the company culture evolves quickly.

Join us on Wednesday February 17 (1:30 p.m. EST) for Growing a Team with Entrepreneur in Residence, Steve Sauer, to learn best practices for growing a startup team including how to add team members strategically to create a high-functioning, scalable organization with specialized expertise and distinct areas of responsibility.

Sauer is a senior lecturer of Management and Organizations at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. His research and teaching activities focus on issues of leadership, team processes, and status and diversity in management.

This event is hosted by Cornell Engineering, Johnson eClub, and Rev: Ithaca Startup Works.

Prototyping Hardware Accelerator Information Session–Feb. 4

The Prototyping Hardware Accelerator, offered by Rev: Ithaca Startup Works Hardware Accelerator, in partnership with Cornell Engineering, is a deep dive into exploring hardware entrepreneurship through an intensive 11-week summer program.

The program is free and open to the public. Applications for Summer 2021 of the Prototyping Hardware Accelerator are now open and will be reviewed on a rolling basis.

Selected teams are led through a process for determining if their ideas are commercially desirable, technologically viable, and economically feasible. Upon completion of the program, hardware alums are positioned to recruit team members, bring on partners, work with contract manufacturers, and pitch to investors.

In addition to an innovative philosophy and methodology designed to help teams move from a “back of the napkin” idea to a testable prototype, Rev also offers use of its state-of-the-art purpose-built prototyping lab and opportunities for participants grow their network of thought leaders, industry experts, and successful startups.

Climate Technology Track Available: New to this year’s Prototyping Hardware Accelerator is a focused climate tech track for hardware entrepreneurs working on innovations that support the decarbonization of the economy.

Interested in learning more? Register for a virtual information session on Thursday, February 4 (1:00 EST) to learn more about the program’s benefits, schedule, and expectations. Attendees will also have the chance to hear from successful hardware program alumni.

Register for the session here

Cornell startup awarded $600,000 to improve food safety

Halomine, a Cornell-based startup developing cutting-edge technologies for the sanitation of food processing equipment, has been awarded $600,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA), under Phase II of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

One of the primary objectives of the USDA-NIFA program is related to manufacturing and scaling up production. Halomine, which is focused on creating antimicrobial coating technologies to prevent the spread of harmful pathogens, is in the midst of a scale-up that could result in a material ready for trials, and possibly sales, in the first quarter of 2021.

Click here to read the full Halomine story in the Cornell Chronicle.

Cornell Entrepreneurship Summit to be Online next week—and FREE!

This year’s virtual event will be FREE!

We’ve transitioned our 2020 Eclectic Convergence conference to 100% online and have waived the ticket prices. When you register, you will see an option to give to Entrepreneurship at Cornell. We would greatly appreciate any donation to help the entrepreneurship program and students. Thank you in advance for making a gift of any size!

You can register here.

There is an impressive list of speakers, including:

Steve Hindy ’71, MAT ’73

CO-FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN, BROOKLYN BREWERY

Steve Hindy is co-founder and chairman of The Brooklyn Brewery Corp. He founded Brooklyn Brewery in 1987 with his downstairs neighbor in Brooklyn, Tom Potter, a former lending office at New York’s Chemical Bank. Hindy got interested in home brewing while serving as Middle East Correspondent for The Association Press. From 1979-1984, Hindy lived in Beirut and Cairo and covered the hostage crisis in Iran, the Iran-Iraq War, civil wars in Lebanon and Syria and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. He was sitting behind President Anwar Sadat of Egypt when Sadat was assassinated in 1981. It was a chance encounter with American diplomats who had been posted in Saudi Arabia that led Hindy to brewing. Hindy is the Chairman of the Board of Transportation Alternatives, a prominent proponent of bicycling and other alternatives to motor vehicles, serves on the board of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Alliance and Gowanus Canal Conservancy, and is the founder of the North Brooklyn Parks Alliance.

Katia Beauchamp

CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, BIRCHBOX

Katia co-founded Birchbox in 2010, driven by a fascination with the business dynamics of the beauty industry and the massive opportunity to redefine the way people discover and shop for beauty online. Birchbox, which is best known for its monthly subscription of personalized samples, has more than 2.5 million active customers, 500 beauty and grooming brand partners, operations in four countries, and retail experiences in select Walgreens locations across the US.

Katia holds an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and a B.A. in International Studies & Economics from Vassar College. Prior to graduating business school, she worked in structured finance and commercial real estate. She has been honored with accolades including Advertising Age Women to Watch, CEW Achievers Award, Fortune 40 Under 40, Inc. 30 Under 30, Marie Claire’s New Guard, WWD Digital Innovator of the Year, and YMA Fashion’s Entrepreneur of the Year, among others. She is currently an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Harvard Business School, meeting with students and faculty as an official advisor on campus.

 

Ryan Hudson ’02

CO-FOUNDER, HONEY

Ryan Hudson is the co-founder of Honey, the LA-based tech company recently acquired by PayPal. Prior to Honey, he built, launched, (and shut down) several startups. He previously worked in venture capital and in product management roles at venture funded startups.

Ryan studied Operations Research and Computer Science at Cornell University and holds an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

 

Michelle Adelman ’89

MANAGING DIRECTOR, ACCITE HOLDINGS

Michelle Adelman is a seasoned strategist, recognized business leader and fierce mission-driven investor. Her firm Accite is focused on building sustainable food and agriculture technology business in Sub-Saharan Africa and growth markets that spur economic diversification and employment of youth and women. Accite’s flagship, Go Fresh!, is a hydroponic farm that is the premier organic and sustainable vegetable brand in Botswana. Go Fresh! has received numerous awards, includingBotswana’s National Horticulture Grand Champions in 2017.

Accite’s ventures also include: Infinite Foods, a go-to-market platform for plant-based food brands like Beyond Meat and Oatly to reach Africa faster; and Crossover Quality Meats, which is developing environmentally sustainable protein to meet a growing global population’s demand for all-natural blended meat products. Ms. Adelman has 30 years of business experience as a former Global Managing Director for Accenture, CEO of a US-based home health services company, and Group Strategy Executive for the pan-African Econet Group. In 2017, Ms. Adelman was named by CEO Global as Africa’s Most Influential Woman – Business & Professional Services and in 2019, Ms. Adelman was named to the Forbes Africa “20 New Wealth Creators” list.

Ms. Adelman graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Agricultural & Environmental Engineering and serves on the CALS Advisory Board.

 

Emin Gun Sirer

CEO, AVA LABS

Emin Gun Sirer is a professor of computer science at Cornell University, founder of Ava Labs, co-founder of bloXroute Inc, and co-director of the Initiative for Cryptocurrencies and Smart Contracts (IC3). Among other things, Sirer is known for having implemented the first currency that used proof of work to mint coins, for selfish mining, for characterizing the scale and centralization of existing cryptocurrencies, as well as having proposed the leading protocols for on-chain and off-chain scaling. Of all his collaborations, he is proudest of his contributions to the John Oliver Show’s segment on cryptocurrencies.

 

Polina Marinova

FOUNDER, THE PROFILE

Polina Marinova is the founder of The Profile, a weekly newsletter that compiles the best long-form stories on successful people and companies. She launched The Profile in 2017 with a selection of longform articles and has further expanded it with a premium tier of high-quality audio and video recommendations. Previously, she worked at Fortune, CNN, and USA TODAY.

 

Jeremy Cohen

PHOTOGRAPHER + DIRECTOR

Jeremy is more than a photographer who lances freely, he’s an artist, traveling the world telling the raw stories of everyday people. His tool, the camera; his gift, capturing the spirit of his subject. Jeremy seeks out a photo-worthy stranger, encourages them to tell their story and shares it with the world as part of his Today I Photographed Portrait series. His current project, ‘Rooftop Culture During Quarantine’ landed him his first ever magazine cover for New York Magazine.

Other clients include Acura, Adobe, American Express, BMW, Citibank, Chipotle, Dropbox, Dunkin Donuts, Everlane, Jordan Brand, Mercedes Benz, New York Knicks, NY Rangers, Red Bull, Starbucks, T-Mobile and Under Armour. Also, he’s a member of the Sony Alpha Collective, a prestigious coalition of photographers/videographers who push the creative limits.

He left his hometown of Bethlehem PA for NYC to study at the School of Visual Arts. His internship for Saturday Night Live was a mixture of assisting with photos of featured guests, weekend updates and behind-the-scenes rehearsals, all while in school. After graduation, Jeremy bet on himself, built his portfolio, gained clients and became a full-time photographer by age 23.

 

Tiffany Norwood ’89

FOUNDER AND CEO, TRIBETAN

Tiffany Norwood is a global serial entrepreneur who’s created 7 start-ups and had 2 public offerings with an impact in 50+ countries across her 30 year career. Her achievements include raising $670 million to fund the first ever global digital satellite radio start-up in her twenties, and developing the original digital content licensing deal for Bloomberg News. Tiffany’s translated her passionate belief in the power of the entrepreneurial skill set to her current company, Tribetan. As Founder and CEO, Tiffany has inspired audiences including the European Parliament, Global Entrepreneurship Week, and the Creative Business Cup with her signature Tribetan Method encapsulating the science of turning imagination into reality.

 

Scott Belsky ’02

EMCEE AND MODERATOR, ENTREPRENEUR, AUTHOR, INVESTOR, AND CPO AT ADOBE

Scott Belsky is an executive, entrepreneur, author, investor, and now serves as Adobe’s Chief Product Officer. Scott’s passion is to make the creative world more productive, connected, and adaptive to new technologies. He founded Behance, the leading online platform for the creative industry to showcase and discover creative work, and served as CEO until Adobe acquired Behance in 2012. He is a Venture Partner with Benchmark, and is an early advisor and investor in Pinterest, Uber, sweetgreen, and Periscope as well as several other startups. He is the author of Making Ideas Happen and The Messy Middle, and founded 99U, a publication and annual conference devoted to productivity in the creative world.

NY Product Conference–Thursday, October 29

The virtual format of this year’s conference enables us to bring product executives from across the country to you in the comfort of your home. The schedule includes 5 keynotes, 3 lightning talks, a fireside chat; several networking breaks provide hours of opportunity for attendees, speakers, and sponsors to connect. Many of our sponsors are currently recruiting. Virtual conference software is enabling the experience of networking, further aided by facilitators at these round table networking sessions.

This link tells you more:  https://nyproductconference.com/

The conference has always been a way to share best practices, insights, trends, and knowledge of specific value and use to product managers and leaders. Every year over seventy-percent of attendees are in product roles or work alongside product teams. Tickets are priced for significant savings when purchased in bulk- currently 15 companies are each sending 5 -15 members of their product teams.

Discounts are available for underemployed community members seeking PM roles. Please reach out directly to Ami Stuart at ams345@cornell.edu for information.

Cornell startup Combplex wins $500K in 76West competition

The latest achievement by a Cornellian-led startup dedicated to protecting honeybees – a $500,000 runner-up prize at the fifth annual 76West Clean Energy Competition – is creating quite the buzz in New York’s Southern Tier.

Combplex, founded by doctoral students Hailey Scofield and Nathan Oakes, former research fellows with the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability, was among 19 finalists selected from 183 applicants worldwide to compete in the virtual pitch competition in mid-August.

Cornell impacting New York State

The 76West winners – including $1 million grand prize recipient ThermoAI of Montreal, and fellow $500,000 awardees COI Energy Services (New York City) and AGreatE of Carlsbad, California – were announced by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul on Oct. 19 at a virtual awards ceremony, co-hosted by Empire State Development and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

Read the rest of Sara Baier’s story from the Cornell Chronicle by following this link: https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2020/10/cornell-startup-combplex-wins-500k-76west-competition

New App debuts for use in the Zoom era

This semester is the beginning of an unprecedented period. For the first time, we’re expected to struggle through the rigorous Cornell CIS curriculum while cut off from the support we all gained from each others’ presence. In addition, we were tossed into a completely unfamiliar, asynchronous, online system of learning. ReLearn is going to help make The New Normal easier.

https://relearn.fyi

ReLearn is an app that will make you more effective and social in your CS classes. It applies the latest in on-device ML to transcribe in-person and Zoom lectures so you can search for any topic by keyword. Also, the app automatically creates class groups based on matching Zoom meeting IDs and/or BLE proximity (hybrid classes are covered!). Now every class can have its own instant group chat and single, collaborative, Google Docs-style set of notes to which everyone can contribute. 

I’m excited to give Cornell CS majors the chance to become the first to experience how much easier classes can be thanks to the power of collaboration and ML. Together, Cornell CS majors will have the opportunity to shape this app into a transformative, essential college tool in two ways. First, you get beta software. I bet CS majors will give some of the most effective feedback on our Github issues page (https://rb.gy/otir5h , link is also in the app). Second, people with React Native experience are invited to apply to join the team here: https://rb.gy/j9cjig

Try the app out in your online and in-person classes tomorrow! Spread the word in your CS classes!