ITHACA, N.Y. — A trio of Ithaca firms will be among twenty organizations competing over the next two days for a $1 million grant to support clean energy commercialization in New York State.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is hosting the fifth annual 76West Clean Energy Competition, and unlike previous years, the competition has moved online as a safety precaution in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The twenty semi-finalists were selected from 183 applicants, whose interests all focus on clean energy. These include firms specializing in energy storage, energy efficiency, renewable energy production, and moving transportation systems beyond fossil fuels. According to a press release, “(e)ach semifinalist will be paired with a local company for mentorship and advisement on advancing through the competition,” though those mentoring companies have yet to be announced.

The semi-finalists will present their final pitches of the Competition to a panel of judges during the week of August 17th, at a virtual session hosted by the Southern Tier Startup Alliance. The winner of the competition stands to take home a cool $1 million dollars, and three runner-ups will receive $500,000 awards.

Initially funded for four years (2016-2019), the 76West competition provided $10 million in awards and $10 million for business, marketing and administrative support funded through the national Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and the state Clean Energy Fund. While the original four-year run is complete, the state liked the results enough to continue the competition with other funding sources. This year, the competition is financially supported by Empire State Development through the “Southern Tier Soaring” Upstate Revitalization Initiative.

A condition of accepting the award is that a company must either relocate to the Southern Tier, or establish a direct connection to the region, such as a supply chain or job development and growth with firms already in the area. If the companies are already in the Southern Tier, they must commit to substantially growing their business and employment in the region.

This year, Ithaca and Tompkins County is well represented in the group of semi-finalists, with three set to make pitches in front of the judges in mid-August.

Going in order as presented on the release, Ithaca firm Combplex is among the trio of semi-finalists selected to make a pitch for that million-dollar prize. Founded in 2018 by two Cornell doctoral students, the firm specializes in beehive monitoring technology and uses optics and lasers to eliminate Varroa mites, which are a major cause of death and colony collapse among honeybee hives. Combplex was a runner-up in the state’s agricultural business competition, “Grow-NY”, earning a $250,000 award in 2019.

Ecolectro, which operates out of Cornell’s life science business incubator, develops and manufactures advanced high-performance polymer materials for clean energy, chemical and water applications, leading to major increases in the performance and cost-efficiency of hydrogen fuel cells in one example. The five-year old firm received a $1.7 million grant from the federal Department of Energy in 2018 to help accelerate hydrogen fuel cell development.

Heat Inverse, a tenant-member of the Rev business incubator in Downtown Ithaca, is the developer of a specialized “photonic metamaterial” that provides a cooling effect without the consumption of power or the production of waste heat.  Or, as their Rev website puts in laymen’s terms, “think passive air conditioning in a thin film”. Their initial market focus has been improvements in the efficiency of refrigerated trucking, with other potential applications such as battery storage and solar panel improvements as the technology is further developed. The company was awarded a $225,000 Small Business Innovation Research award from the National Science Foundation last year.

Winners will be selected after the judges have reviewed the business plans, considered the pitches and made their choices – traditionally for the 76West Clean Energy Competition, that has been during a September awards ceremony. However, the press release keeps it vague for this year, saying that winners will be notified following review by the judges. Keep an eye out around the end of this summer for any big announcements.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.