Woodridge, Illinois-based ClearFlame Engines on Tuesday night officially graduated from the WERCBench Labs accelerator program – and took home a $10,000 prize.
Operated by the Midwest Energy Research Consortium at its headquarters in the Century City Tower on Milwaukee’s northwest side, WERCBench Labs is a 12-week entrepreneurship program targeted to early-stage energy, power and controls companies.
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ClearFlame was one of seven companies in the fourth cohort of the program. Five companies pitched at the WERCBench Labs Demo Day Tuesday, and a panel of judges picked the top three presentations. Cheyenne, Wyoming-based Radiant Panel Technologies took second place and a $6,500 prize. And Whitewater-based BlueLine Battery Inc. took third and $3,500.
The judges were: John Bobrowich, co-founder of M-WERC, entrepreneur and investor; Herb Zien, chairman of LiquidCool Solutions, entrepreneur and investor; David Linz, client services director at the Center for Technology Commercialization and entrepreneur; Elizabeth Thelen, vice president of innovation and tech transfer at Milwaukee 7 and an entrepreneur; and John Peterson, professor of entrepreneurship at Marquette University and an entrepreneur.
Julie Blumreiter and B.J. Johnson, who both hold doctorates from Stanford University, established ClearFlame Engines to commercialize a high-efficiency, low-emission diesel alternative engine they developed. Their engine could have a major impact on the logistics industry, particularly as emissions compliance becomes increasingly important.
ClearFlame’s engine allows for a 40 percent carbon reduction, 90 percent cheaper operating cost and 10 percent lower fuel costs, the pair said. Big manufacturers like Cummins and John Deere have signed on to their grant applications because of the promise their technology demonstrates.
“There’s already a compelling economic value proposition for our solution,” Johnson said.
So far, ClearFlame has been funded by nearly $2 million in non-dilutive grant funding. Now, the company is raising $500,000 from investors to boost its growth.
Radiant Panel Technologies has developed a proprietary graphene ink that it uses to manufacture energy-efficient radiant heating systems that can be installed under existing flooring.
“Any homeowner or any contractor can use this product,” said Harry Giovanni, vice president of marketing at RPT.
The company, which has eight employees, is actively installing its heating systems, and has sold more than $100,000 worth of its panels to date, he said.
RPT is seeking $150,000 in working capital to further its growth as it targets retail stores.
BlueLine Battery makes industrial lithium-ion batteries that can be installed in forklifts to keep factories and warehouses running.
It was one of five startup companies to have recently set up shop in M-WERC’s new offices and lab space in the Century City Tower. It will retain its Whitewater headquarters, but has a second office at M-WERC for research and development work.
The company recently became profitable, and has a lot of customer interest, said Dustin Herte, chief executive officer. He is currently seeking $1.25 million from investors to help BlueLine complete a prototype for a new smart battery that can track usage and charge a company by use, instead of as an upfront investment; hire additional engineers and software developers; and acquire a local tool and die shop for its work.
Also presenting Tuesday were:
-Chad Mason of Westmont, Illinois-based Advanced Ionics, which is developing electrochemical energy technologies to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The company is seeking $200,000 in funding to fuel its growth.
-Jason Katcha of Whitefish Bay-based Present Power Systems, which is developing compact power electronics for solar, energy storage, medical and automotive applications. The company raised $400,000 from angel investors in January and is seeking $200,000 in debt to expand.
Two other companies that began the cohort, Deeplight Systems and CyberPowered Home, did not finish the program. Each company that completes WERCBench Labs receives $40,000 in grant and royalty-based funding from M-WERC.