Steve Stoddard, MIT LGO '12, and Team Win $200,000
MIT Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) student Steven J. Stoddard and two MIT teammates have won the prestigious $200,000 MIT Clean Energy Prize for their business, CoolChip Technologies, a newly incorporated startup formed to provide a high-efficiency technology cooling platform—initially for computer servers and data centers.
CoolChip Technologies emerged from a field of 80 entries drawn from 47 universities around the country to become the first MIT team to win the business plan competition May 9. Sponsored by the US Department of Energy and NSTAR, the Clean Energy Prize is designed to accelerate the pace of clean energy entrepreneurship.
From left, NSTAR President Tom May; Daniel Vannoni; William Sanchez; Steven Stoddard; Henry Kelly, Acting Assistant Secretary in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; and MIT President Susan Hockfield.
Photo courtesy of the Clean Energy Prize.
The technology at the heart of CoolChip emerged from the lab of Assistant Professor Evelyn Wang, who received a grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop high-efficiency cooling that would work in tight spaces, Stoddard said. He added that work done for DARPA at one of the national labs is also incorporated into the company's platform.Stoddard began work on CoolChip last fall in an MIT Sloan School of Management course called Energy Ventures. Students in the class find ideas for projects in a variety of ways. In the case of CoolChip, MIT's Technology Licensing Office presented the idea to students as one that had the potential for commercialization.
"Even though technology is the first step, to take it out of the lab and make it a business is very difficult," said Stoddard. "The resources here have been great."
Stoddard also met one of his two business partners in the Energy Ventures class"William Sanchez, a PhD student in MIT's Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department. "It was really helpful to be in the class. Every week we had a deliverable due that's part of the business plan," Stoddard said. "That really got us started."
After the course ended, Stoddard and Sanchez decided to continue to pursue the business opportunities for CoolChip and brought on Daniel Vannoni, an MBA student in the MIT Sloan School of Management, for his financial expertise.
"Before this program (LGO), I had no business experience. The business side has been critical to understanding markets, that the product has to be for a customer, it doesn't matter how cool it is," Stoddard said. "Our value proposition is that about 50 percent of the electricity in data centers is used for cooling, and we can reduce that by 40 percent."
According to the company's website, CoolChip is creating "a CPU air-based cooler that is capable of rejecting more heat and improving performance than any other air-based cooler." Stoddard said the product will both conserve energy and save customers money because "we have better thermal performance."
"I've taken on an operations role at CoolChip, thinking about costs and manufacturing ability. That's something LGO and other interdisciplinary programs at MIT really help capture—the whole systems view," he said. "I think the LGO program is almost the ideal program to prepare people for the breadth of disciplines required to be an entrepreneur."
Joining the clean energy competition was an obvious early step for his business, Stoddard said. "The Clean Energy Prize is really well known, so you wouldn't even think of not entering."
Teams were judged on five criteria: solution creativity; market and customer knowledge; execution and financial strategy; team composition, chemistry, and commitment; and clean energy impact. The judges included two CEOs, a vice president of NSTAR, and an official from the US Department of Energy (DoE).
What was the secret to CoolChip's success? "We talked to so many people as we made the plan, both our official advisors and others just provided invaluable feedback, so we were much more comfortable," Stoddard said. "We leveraged all the resources available."
Team members plan to use the prize money to reimburse some of their initial expenses and to develop CoolChip's alpha two and three prototypes, Stoddard said. "We'll continue to develop the product and try to get it out to potential customers."
For those who might like to follow in his footsteps, Stoddard recommends tapping into the MIT network. "Both William and I have leveraged people we met during our undergrad days at MIT, people at the Entrepreneurship Center. The energy community at MIT is great. There's really a collegial atmosphere," said Stoddard, who got his BS in mechanical engineering from MIT in 2006. "If you want to start a company like this, just go in and do it. Put your heart in it and you'll be surprised."