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Entrepreneurs discover dwelling as Activate Fellows at Praxis Heart

Alexa Schmitz Ph.D ’18, co-founder and CEO of REEgen, and Austin Hickman Ph.D. ’21, co-founder and CEO of Soctera, have turned their Cornell-based analysis into ventures that might remodel sustainable power infrastructure and next-generation communications, respectively. Each scientists at the moment are remodeling themselves into CEOs able to rising and sustaining a enterprise. The Praxis Heart for Enterprise Improvement, one in every of Cornell’s campus incubators, and Activate, an entrepreneurial fellowship program, are offering important help.

Schmitz and Hickman are Cohort 2022 Activate Fellows within the Activate Anyplace Neighborhood, and their firms are each based mostly on the Praxis Heart. This 12 months marks the primary crossover between the fellowship and a Cornell campus incubator. Activate and Praxis share synergistic missions meant to empower scientists to convey their world-changing applied sciences to market. 

The 2-year Activate Fellowship helps early-stage science entrepreneurs from each angle: offering a beneficiant stipend, journey allowance, and medical health insurance; $100,000 in analysis funding and entry to a minimum of $100,000 in further versatile capital; together with mentorship, neighborhood and intensive coaching. 

The Praxis Heart, Cornell’s incubator centered on high-tech ventures, supplies a bodily dwelling base with the services and tools wanted for high-tech innovation together with mentorship and a built-in connection to Cornell’s analysis ecosystem.

Robert M. Scharf, administrative tutorial director on the Praxis Heart, sees the worth in paired sources. “For these younger firms and their CEOs, the help of Activate along with the incubation program at Praxis is a ‘better of each worlds’ setting that’s enormously accelerating the commercialization of groundbreaking applied sciences,” Scharf mentioned.

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Schmitz’ know-how addresses the environmental affect of sourcing uncommon earth components (REE), that are essential for sustainable power infrastructure. A organic engineer with a Ph.D. in plant pathology and plant-microbe biology from Cornell, she developed a know-how for biomining uncommon earth components utilizing engineered microbes as a postdoctoral analysis affiliate working with Buz Barstow (Cornell Engineering) and as a postdoctoral fellow for the Cornell Power Programs Institute.

“The Praxis Heart is a good match for REEgen primarily as a result of it permits the corporate to remain on Cornell’s campus whereas nonetheless sustaining rights to mental property,” she mentioned. “This, mixed with the Activate Anyplace program, permits us to remain related to the Barstow Lab the place the core applied sciences have been invented, and the place Sean Medin, my co-founder, remains to be ending his Ph.D. and de-risking the separations know-how.”

She added, “On a private stage, I’m grateful for the chance to maintain the corporate in Ithaca, New York – a spot I like and name dwelling.”

Austin Hickman, who earned his Ph.D. from Cornell in electrical and pc engineering, is growing millimeter-wave energy amplifiers on an aluminum nitride platform for next-generation communication methods. His firm, Soctera, goals to increase the sign vary of radar and telecom networks.

“When it got here time to transition from scholar to startup founder, staying at my alma mater wasn’t simply the simple selection – it was the very best one,” he mentioned. “There’s a very wealthy historical past of excessive frequency electronics at Cornell and I hope that Soctera can add to that.”

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As REEgen and Soctera take form, the USA is positioning itself for a brand new period of producing, marked by the current passage of the CHIPS and Science Act. Nurturing startups corresponding to REEgen and Soctera is an upstream funding in the way forward for semiconductor provide chains.

Scharf represents the Praxis Heart on the American Semiconductor Innovation Coalition. “It’s important that we reestablish the viability of the startup ecosystem for semiconductors, since that has been the supply of vitality for thus many different industries within the USA.”

“Praxis helps 4 early-stage semiconductor startups and three new materials recycling/sourcing startups which might be starting their entrepreneurial journeys,” Scharf mentioned. “If all these ventures are profitable in the long run, a fabric enchancment within the outlook for semiconductor provide chain resilience would consequence.”

Schmitz and Hickman are a part of the primary Activate Anyplace cohort. The Activate Anyplace Neighborhood permits fellows to be based mostly at analysis services throughout the USA – whereas nonetheless being a part of Activate’s tight-knit community together with in-residence communities in Berkeley, Boston, and New York. 

“The fellows within the Activate Anyplace Neighborhood have extremely robust ties to one another and to the Activate Fellows throughout all our communities,” mentioned Hannah Murnen, managing director of Activate Anyplace. “It has been implausible to see how a lot the fellows help one another, regardless of the bodily distance between them.”

Since 2015, Activate has supported almost 150 science-based innovators, who’ve launched 106 firms. Collectively, Activate-supported firms have raised over $1 billion in follow-on funding and created greater than 1,100 U.S.-based high-tech jobs.

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Activate is at present accepting functions for Cohort 2023 in its Berkeley, Boston, New York, or Anyplace communities. The deadline is October 31, 2022.


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