SoCalGas joins the California Energy Commission in the demonstration of a new ultra-efficient water heater, space cooler developed by SMTI

Restaurants use a lot of energy to not only prepare and cook food, but to cool kitchens, dining rooms, and other spaces. A new high efficiency, ultra-low emissions commercial water heating and space cooling unit, which begins field demonstrations at two Southern California restaurants this week, could dish out energy savings, lower operating costs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions for foodservice and hospitality facility operators.

The new technology uses a thermally driven heat pump fueled by natural gas or propane to capture ambient energy, achieving a heating efficiency of 140 percent or greater. It is projected to reduce energy use by 30 to 50 percent compared to standard natural gas water heaters. The highly-efficient heat pump also provides space cooling simultaneously, which reduces the need for air conditioning and can help lessen electricity use.

Stone Mountain Technologies, Inc. (SMTI) developed the new heat pump by redesigning heat pump technology traditionally used for cooling and focusing it on heating with cost-effectiveness and scalability in mind. GTI is leading the demonstration, and AO Smith Corporation is also providing support. Project funding was awarded by the California Energy Commission and Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) research and development funds authorized by the California Public Utilities Commission.

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TAEBC attends, sponsors 2nd annual Innovation & Entrepreneurship Week on the Hill

TAEBC attended and sponsored Launch Tennessee’s 2nd Annual Innovation & Entrepreneurship Week on the Hill in Nashville Feb. 19 to 20. This gathering was hosted by Launch Tennessee and several organizations across the state as an opportunity for entrepreneurs and innovators to speak with legislators and promote innovation in the statewide economy.

Policy makers, legislators, and key stakeholders kicked off Week on the Hill celebrations of entrepreneurship and innovation at a reception the evening of Feb. 19. The next morning, TAEBC and other sponsor organizations spoke to attendees before launching into a day of meetings.

Vice President of TAEBC Cortney Piper and CEO of Stone Mountain Technologies (SMTI) Michael Garrabrant attended and spoke with state legislators and policymakers about TAEBC’s mission and the benefits of advanced energy entrepreneurship and innovation for Tennessee’s economy.

In these meetings, they discussed TAEBC’s 2018 Tennessee Advanced Energy Economic Impact Report to provide further context for decision makers regarding the state’s advanced energy sector. Michael also emphasized the importance of the Energy Mentor Network as its second graduate and SMTI’s cost-effective, advanced heating technologies, along with his commitment to grow his manufacturing company in Northeast Tennessee. SMTI’s products seek to lower energy costs, improve comfort, and reduce CO2 emissions.

Throughout the day, they met with representatives Lt. Governor Randy McNally, Rep. John Holsclaw, Sen. Rusty Crowe, Rep. Rick Staples, Rep. John Ragan, and Sen. Becky Duncan Massey. They also met with Allen Borden, the deputy commissioner of business, community and rural development, and Tony Niknejad, the policy director for Governor Bill Lee.

Garrabrant provides update on SMTI during annual “Opportunities in Energy” forum

(Originally published on Teknovation.biz)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

It’s always good to see progress being made at start-ups that we have followed since launching teknovation.biz in January 2012, and that was the case at last week’s annual “Opportunities in Energy” forum hosted by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC).

Michael Garrabrant, Chief Executive Officer of Stone Mountain Technologies Inc. (SMTI), told attendees that the 10-year old company now has 16 engineers and technicians on the staff, has produced 30 prototypes, and will have a dozen of its thermal compressors deployed as a key component of gas heat pumps for space, water and pool heating made by the end of the year.

“Everyone likes to come home to a nice warm house and hot shower,” the Johnson City-based Entrepreneur said. SMTI is one of the participants in TAEBC’s “Energy Mentor Network,” a program funded by Launch Tennessee.

Garrabrant says the technology that he has been developing since founding the company in 2008 is relevant for residential and light commercial. The thermal compressors will be manufactured by SMTI but deployed as part of a heat pump or other device produced by an original equipment manufacturer (OEM).

Read more here.

Business Startup Spotlight: Stone Mountain Technologies

(NOTE: This blog was originally posted on FundingSage.com)

Name: Stone Mountain Technologies, Inc.

Location: Johnson City, TN

Website: www.stonemtntechnologies.com

Product / Service Offering: Thermally Driven Heat Pumps

Co-founder Interviewed: Michael Garrabrant, President

Other Key Management Team Members: Scott Reed, VP Strategy & MarketingChris Keinath PhD, Director Engineering

This article is part of our Business Startup Spotlight series featuring entrepreneurs and their companies. We hope that these founders’ interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey. 

Pictured: Michael Garrabrant, President

Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you.

I am the type that always has to be doing something worthwhile and meaningful in the long run. Endless meetings, red-tape, and indecision are very frustrating. To me, there is nothing like 45-minutes on a lawn mower to clear your mind and trigger a good idea.

When did you establish your company and where did the idea originate?

I had the opportunity to learn and work with absorption heat pumps in the 1990’s. Initially as a graduate student at Ohio State University and then with a start-up that licensed the OSU technology. I found the technology fascinating and “addictive.” Although from a high level it appears simple, getting the details right to make it work well, be reliable and cost effective is very challenging. Also, there are a very select group of individuals globally that understand how to do this.

The start-up I joined in the 1990’s “ran out of gas” because it was targeting the wrong market and applications. I felt that the technology would eventually become a major player in the heating and cooling market when the time was right. In late 2008, circumstances in the market and for me personally aligned, and I decided to give it a go. I knew it would be a hard road, but I began Stone Mountain Technologies.

What need or needs does your company seek to fill for its customers?

SMTI is a B2B business model, with our direct customers being gas/oil heating product manufacturers. Indirectly, our customer “base” includes gas utilities, HVAC and water heater contractors, and of course the end-user (building owner or occupant).

Due to steadily increasing DOE minimum efficiency regulations over the last 20 years and technology limitations, conventional gas and oil heating products (furnaces, boilers, water heaters) have very little differentiation left. The products are becoming a commodity, competing more and more on price alone, with market shares evening out among the players. At the same time, electric heat pump technology has advanced rapidly, and has begun to erode market share from gas.

Gas heat pump technology provides a leap in efficiency without sacrificing the comfort gas heating customers are used to. SMTI’s “Thermal Compressor” technology allows the current gas/oil heating equipment manufacturers to offer exciting, new very high efficiency products to their customers, at a much faster pace and with lower risk compared to trying to figure out how to do it themselves from “scratch.”

Gas utilities are mandated to spend a percentage of revenue on efficiency incentive programs. Due to the lack of efficiency differentiation between “good-better-best”, they are struggling to offer incentives that make sense for the consumer. Their core business is also under increasing pressure from climate change driven regulations, especially in California, parts of the Northeast, Canada and Europe; therefore, gas utilities are very excited about the prospect of cost-effective gas heat pumps entering the market and have provided a variety of support, including financially.

What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?

SMTI has a unique combination of specific market, technology and manufacturing know-how.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?

Our biggest challenge was seed funding. Our space is not conventional Angel or VC friendly. Also HVAC/water heating is not “sexy,” is capital intensive, and the development time-frame is long. Fortunately, the Department of Energy, gas utilities (including European), and several OEMs agreed with our premise and business model. We were able to win non-equity funds to develop the core technology and prove it out in the “real world.” My knowledge of the market and reputation with key players was instrumental in raising the funds.

Are there resources you have utilized that other founders might find compelling or useful?

There is a litany of start-up information and business help available on the web. Much of it is very helpful, but it is often contradictory. To apply the knowledge heavily depends on what market your business is in. My advice is to spend evenings and weekends reading and when you think you have read it all start again.  Learn to filter out what makes sense for your specific business type and focus.

90% of start-up business advice out there is tailored to technology companies developing an application or SaaS. Good luck if you are a brick-and-mortar or manufacturing company.

What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?

We felt we needed to have prototypes in the field. Several OEM customers were “significantly interested” to reduce the amount of risk for a Series A investor. We are at that point, and have initially targeted industry strategic partners who know the market very well to lead our Round A, with Angel groups with a “green” focus (fortunately this is a growing segment) filling in the gaps.

Have there been any questions you have had as an entrepreneur of a fledgling startup that you had a particularly hard time finding the answers to?

There are a dizzying array of financial terms and investment vehicles out there. Unless you spend your entire career entrenched in this area, it’s next to impossible to wrap your mind around all of the variations and the impact on your company. Professional investors definitely have a large advantage over the typical entrepreneur.

What challenges, if any, are you grappling with?

The challenge is how we share ownership of the company with key employees without either causing them a horrible (and at-risk) tax penalty or running afoul of IRS and SEC rules. The current laws are not friendly to small privately-held companies with a decent valuation but are still at a high risk stage.

What is the most helpful tip or “hack” you’ve ever learned, stumbled across, or been given?

There is no substitute for being obsessive and working extremely hard. There are no short-cuts.

Energy Mentor Network Company: Stone Mountain Technologies

The Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council is featuring the companies benefiting from the Energy Mentor Network program, which offers industry specific expertise from experienced 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.

TAEBC is featuring EMN company Stone Mountain Technologies. SMTI is a leading developer of cost effective, next generation heating technologies using sorption heat pump cycles. The company’s “thermal compressor” products enable a major leap forward in the way homes, businesses and water are heated, reducing energy costs, improving comfort, and lowering CO2 emissions.

TAEBC is currently accepting applications from Tennessee advanced energy companies to apply for the Energy Mentor Network program. If you are interested in this opportunity, please visit the “For Startups” section of the Energy Mentor Network portion of TAEBC’s website.