In case you missed it, we’re featuring our EMN mentors

The Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council has been continuing its series of feature stories highlighting the mentors behind the Energy Mentor Network. Not long ago, we featured Jeff Kanel among several other mentors.

The Energy Mentor Network‘s goal is to foster the growth of Tennessee advanced energy technologies and startups by connecting entrepreneurs with mentors. This gives Tennessee yet another advantage in grabbing its more than fair share of the $1.3 trillion global advanced energy market.

The Energy Mentor Network is run by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council in partnership with Launch Tennessee.

In broad strokes, the Energy Mentor Network pairs mentors with promising new companies and entrepreneurs through a structured program involving panel presentations and mentoring sessions.

The purpose of the program is to develop quality startups. After completing the program, startups will have an investable pitch deck, a rock solid business model and a plan to establish more traction. These tools will position Tennessee’s entrepreneurs to raise capital, request other funds like SBIR grants, and scale their company.

Now more about Jeff Kanel.

He serves as the President and CEO of Renewable Algal Energy (RAE), is an entrepreneur, technology leader and R&D chemical engineer with broad experience in separation processes, patenting, and commercializing technology.

RAE has pioneered a breakthrough technology to produce sustainable, economically viable products from microalgae — from algal oil as a feedstock for renewable diesel fuel to protein, carotenoids, and omega-3 fatty acids for animal and human nutrition. RAE has won four SBIR awards under Jeff’s leadership.

He received his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He has more than 26 years of experience in engineering research and process development through work at The Dow Chemical Company, Eastman Chemical Company and Union Carbide Corporation.

He is an inventor on more than 30 issued U.S. patents and numerous foreign patents, and serves on the President’s Advisory Council at the University of Akron. He has been invited twice to the National Academy of Engineer’s Foundations of Engineering Meetings, and he teaches a course on Liquid Extraction for the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and for the University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. Kanel has been associated with several entrepreneurial endeavors since 1996, including: 1) the development and  commercialization of technology to extract zeaxanthin from paprika; and 2) demonstration and sale to a Fortune 250 company of a process to grow and harvest algae for the production of natural beta-carotene.

TAEBC is still accepting mentors for the Energy Mentor Program. If you are interested in this opportunity, please visit the “For Mentors” section of the Energy Mentor Network portion of TAEBC’s website.

Renewable Algal Energy has won four Small Business Innovation Research awards

TAEBC member Renewable Algal Energy (RAE) was featured in a two-part series on Teknovation.biz for its successful use of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants to scale its business model.

RAE’s CEO, Jeff Kanel, has been very focused and purposeful in using the SBIR program to strategically advance the company.

Kanel describes his keys for success in submitting and winning the awards: utilization of solid project management tools, inclusion of well-defined milestones and deliverables, and a clear understanding of the critical success factors.

RAE has created what is describes as “novel breakthrough technology to produce a sustainable, economically viable product from micro algae.” Those offerings range from algal oil as a feedstock for renewable diesel fuel to protein, carotenoids, and omega-3 fatty acids for animal and human nutrition.

“Our model is to be a technology licensor,” said Kanel. “We are trying to make algae a profitable endeavor that also solves a lot of global problems.”

Three of the four SBIRs that Kanel submitted were directly related to evolving RAE’s technology. The fourth, also focused on algae, was submitted by Kanel before RAE was founded.

Over a roughly six-year period, RAE has successfully won Phase I, II and III awards that have proven the viability of the technology, helped fund work to validate the financial model and scalability of the technology, and deploy a semi-works facility.

Today, RAE has strategic relationships, customers, and a technology proving ground in Arizona as well as a North-American developer with a site that is permitted for the deployment of RAE Technology.

“By going through the SBIR Phase I, we matched-up a proof on concept (that showed) what we were doing had a chance of success,” Kanel said. The proposal was submitted to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in 2007. The award and work were conducted in 2008.

Phase II, again funded by DOE, ran from 2009 to 2012, with RAE collecting considerable amounts of data to show financial viability and technology scalability.

“We were moving the proof of concept to commercialization,” Kanel says in describing that period.

Phase III, which ran from 2012 into 2014, was an accelerator period when RAE deployed the technology in a semi-works scale effort designed to reduce the technology risk. This final phase helped RAE to secure contracts with interested partners.

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of the series on the Teknovation.biz website to learn more about why and how SBIRs had a solid impact on RAE’s development.