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Former ATI staff member Tabrez Ebrahim Wins Top Prize at the Clean Energy Trust (CET) and the Department of Energy’s National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition with NuMat Technologies, Inc.

Former ATI staff member, Tabrez “Tab” Ebrahim, and NuMat Technologies, Inc. entrepreneur, shares his lessons learned (in the first of two installments) while at ATI and how his involvement with the clean energy incubator contributed to his startup success.

On March 1, 2012, NuMat Technologies, Inc. (NuMat), a clean technology Northwestern University spin-out, was awarded the $100,000 top student prize at the Clean Energy Trust (CET) and the Department of Energy’s National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition (NCEBPC). In partnership with the Department of Energy, CET supports the commercialization of innovative cleantech companies. NuMat was also awarded $10,000 as the top team for the state of Illinois and will be representing the Midwest region for the National Grand Prize competition to be held in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2012.

NuMat Technologies is a cleantech university spin-out that computationally designs and synthesizes high performing nano-scale materials for gas storage and separation applications. NuMat focuses on the design and synthesis of Metal Organic Frameworks, or MOFs, a revolutionary new class of materials that can be custom designed at the atomic level to capture and store specific molecules. NuMat has also radically shortened the development cycle for MOF research. For example, using its proprietary computational tool, NuMat was able to identify over 140,000 new MOF structures, including one that has the highest natural gas storage capacity of any know material, in under 72 hours. Then, using NuMat’s complimentary low-cost synthesis method, this MOF was synthesized and validated. To put this in context, in the prior 15 years, there have only been ~10,000 MOFs which have been made and reported. NuMat’s technology has the potential to significantly increase natural gas storage capacity in natural gas vehicles, and to fundamentally change the economics in other gas storage and separation applications.

Photo from left to right: Ben Hernandez, Dr. Omar Farha, Christopher Wilmer, Tabrez Ebrahim

Tab’s Lessons Learned at ATI: First Installment

1) Cleantech Experience:

a. ATI provided a great opportunity to learn about the cleantech sector. ATI’s cleantech-focused forums, networking events, and the Clean Energy Venture Summit (CEVS) helped me to understand emerging technologies and markets in cleantech.

b. ATI also has a broad informal and formal network of cleantech investors across the country. These investors know about ATI’s results—over 200 ATI startups have raised over $1 billion in investor capital—and ATI provides direct access to these investors for its startups.

c. While at ATI, I had the opportunity to attend a few cleantech conferences, which enabled me to learn even more about cleantech efforts across the country and make contacts with potential investors for ATI startups. For NuMat, I have consciously taken up any such opportunities to connect with other members of the cleantech community because I know that such efforts can lead to unexpected positive results for a startup.

d. While at ATI, I learned that cleantech is very unique compared to other tech sectors, since cleantech has a multiple moving parts—academia, government, industry, investors, national labs, strategic corporates, and utilities. Our NuMat efforts have included collaboration with all of those stakeholders.

2) Team, Technology, Timing:

a. Before I started at ATI, I had originally thought that just having a great technology idea would equal startup success. Through my ATI experiences, I learned that while technology is a critical foundational piece, there are several other important factors to success, such as the nature of the leadership team and market timing.

b. While working with startups at ATI, I observed that successful team chemistry was a key to growth. I learned that having complementary skill sets and different personalities on the management team are necessary for success.  We have considered this aspect in the composition of our startup, NuMat Technologies, whose interdisciplinary team hails from several institutions, including the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern School of Law, McCormick School of Engineering, and the Weinberg School of Arts and Sciences. The executive team includes Dr. Omar Farha, Christopher Wilmer, Tabrez Ebrahim, and Benjamin Hernandez.

c. At ATI, I came across many amazing startups that had a great team and a great technology solution, but sometimes, even those were not enough initially. What ATI helped startups with was with understanding the market. ATI helps startups to segment the market, develop their go-to-market strategy, sync up product development and launch with market timing. I am leveraging those market lessons learned at ATI now at NuMat as we advance our product development and build relationships with potential customers.

3) Importance of Advisors & Mentors:

a. While at ATI, I learned that the startup management teams greatly benefit from mentorship. Even the successful serial entrepreneurs know that they don’t know everything—it’s important to learn from someone who has done it before. ATI provides amazing access to such mentors and those mentors want to give back to the new ATI startups.

b. There are a number of successful “graduates” of former ATI startups that continually come back and advise current ATI startups. This is one of the best qualities of ATI—so many of those entrepreneurs that ATI benefits end up giving back to the new startups at ATI. It is like an exponential growth mentorship model! Hopefully when NuMat has more success, I would like to share my lessons learned from my current startup experience.

c. The “ATI family” has been and continues to be incredibly awesome in their support! 

Make sure to read the second installment.