Physics as a Gateway Drug
I funded my teenage lifestyle via my favorite strategy game, Magic: The Gathering (MTG), by re-investing my tournament winnings and speculating on card prices. My obsession with science grew through MTG. I'd been studying favorable interactions between MTG cards, to defeat my opponents, for years. Suddenly, I noticed that the physical and chemical properties of matter & energy interact, similarly to how the properties of MTG cards interact. I couldn't unsee how humans leveraged the possible interactions of chemistries & physics to do their bidding. They took advantage of the fabric that makes up our universe. I too craved to harness the powers of matter & energy, the way I'd harnessed control the battlefield with the powers of my MTG cards.
Disenchanted by Academia
Physics & Chemistry were the way forward, but I was unclear what my goal was. until I was scared shitless by climate change. I figured the properties of renewable energy could help address the problem of our immolating planet. So I went to college with the dream of developing new science to fight climate change. And I did, starting at the NanoPower Research Lab on new OPV solar cells, at 18. A year later, I was running my own experiments when I learned about Perovskites, a new class of solar cells whose power output rivaled silicon solar cells. Realizing this was the future, I feverishly canceled all my other meetings and deep dove into Perovskites. A week later, I gave a detailed presentation on why our research group should drop OPVs and move to Perovskites. My research advisor wasn't pleased, didn't care, and wouldn't fund my vision. He wanted a tenure position. I wanted to change the world. Realizing that academics don't want to change the world was a dark moment for me.
Determined to find a way, I fought for lab access, but still had to buy all of my own materials and could only use the equipment when none of the PhDs/Master students were. Then pitched Perovskites to the Engineers for a Sustainable World. They sponsored me, with a $500 check for materials! I was in business.
Grinding My Way into Relevance
This $500 budget fueled weekend experiments. Early lab results enabled me to win a $3K grant from the College of Science. More materials! Being recognized for the promise of my work made me finally feel like I wasn't crazy. There was an actual chance of me printing solar cells like magazines, and coating the world in renewables. But there was a catch. The only way to sustain impact and realize my scientific dreams was through business economics. I learned the fundamentals and started competing in business plan competitions, interatively winning $10K and mentorship from the National Science Foundation (NSF). This traction was jet fuel for my project. It put me in front of other ambitious students, in contact with the regional startup ecosystem and landed me meetings with print & ex-Kodak professors. Surely, a path from my research to an early product emerged. I was rejected by the Thiel fellowship. But NYSERDA took a $75K bet, crowning me their youngest grantee. That money founded Ambient PV. The next challenge was from Scientist to CEO. It was hard. But not as hard as developing laboratory breakthroughs!
The Startup Bug
We started pilot development conversations with Kodak and aggressively explored Go-To-Market strategies. (Coming soon... the conclusion to this journey & my Y Combinator startup story)
My Present State
I’m working on the infrastructure to take a breakthrough idea, into the real world. Right now I’m experimenting on building this system in web3, working alongside a handful of motivated scientists!
I love working with smart people who are focused on solving the global challenges Sapiens face.
It's time to keep building! We can beat climate change and manifest a Solarpunk future if we work together and try hard. It's possible through determination and coordination. We can bring to life a spectacular future that would leave Asimov's jaw dropped. We can only do it, together.
P.S. - I got to where I am today by following my intuition - through experimentating, failing, learning, and persisting. Oh, and YouTube, lots of YouTube.