Recapping ARPA-E’s Entrepreneurial Training Bootcamp
In mid-October, the Mining Innovations for Negative Emissions Resources Business Orientation and Origination of Spinouts Training (MINER BOOST) bootcamp brought together graduate students from across the United States for four days of entrepreneurship training in Baltimore, Maryland. The bootcamp was hosted by the Grantham Foundation and led by the Novella Center for Entrepreneurship’s Conscious Venture Lab (CVL.)
MINER BOOST participants, including graduate students and postdocs and ARPA-E and CVL staff.
The ARPA-E MINER program, led by Program Director Dr. Doug Wicks, seeks to sustainably increase domestic supplies of copper, nickel, lithium, cobalt, and other rare earth elements. MINER funds projects that increase mineral yield while decreasing the environmental impacts of mineral extraction. Graduate students from academic groups funded within the MINER program were invited to participate in a four-day bootcamp to promote the formation of start-up companies within the mining and mineral processing space. Those students will present their commercialization ideas at the MINER annual meeting next spring. In addition to Dr. Wicks, Tech-to-Market Advisor Dr. Othon Monteiro, Fellow Dr. Julia Greenwald, and Senior Advisor Alex Bok attended from the ARPA-E team. MINER BOOST is the first time ARPA-E has brought together solely students of its projects, rather than principal investigators.
Dr. Wicks collaborated with Kevin Tidwell and Dr. Marc von Keitz at the Grantham Foundation to create MINER BOOST to address the absence of a vibrant mining and mineral processing start-up community. To accomplish this, they brought together talent from several high-potential, high-impact ARPA-E projects. The bootcamp sought to:
- Create a community of mining and mineral processing innovators;
- Teach participants practical skills related to pitching, networking, and company building; and
- Encourage students and postdocs working on MINER projects to develop case studies outlining the commercial potential of their research.
The four-day bootcamp consisted of panels, workshops, and talks from industry leaders. The first day began with an introduction and overview of the week from Dr. Wicks and an introduction to CVL from Executive Director Jeff Cherry.
RockFix co-founder and mining engineer Gustavo Marquez provided an overview of the current mining industry to give the students a greater understanding of the mining value chain and where innovation opportunities lie. The group then discussed how potential companies spun out of academic projects could slot into this value chain and the importance of understanding industry pain points. Notably, potential companies spun out of MINER projects would likely be selling technology to mining companies rather than constructing mines.
Students participated in a series of engaging and interactive workshops throughout the four-day bootcamp.
This was followed by a leadership training session led by Jeff Cherry and executive coach Allie Armitage. In this interactive session, students learned how to provide effective feedback, evaluate stakeholder vs. shareholder value, and improve their public speaking skills.
Seminar topics included a mining industry overview (left) and leadership training (right).
During the second and third days of the bootcamp, Allie and Jeff guided students through a series of discussions focused on conscious capitalism, developing mission and vision statements, and crafting compelling “why” statements for founding, potential future companies.
On the final day, students attended sessions from leaders in the start-up and venture capital communities. Ken Malone, Executive Officer of Baltimore-based Early Charm, led a session on translating research into commercially viable intellectual property. He was followed by Early Charm Portfolio Developer Mark Juetten’s session on talking to technology scouts. In the final session, panelists Brenda Haendler, Director of Technology Management at Breakthrough Energy; Greg Thiel, Director of Technology at Energy Impact Partners; Jeff Mund, Co-Founder of MCVC Partners; and Joe Valis, Partner at Conscious Venture Partners, discussed how to engage with venture capital firms, best practices for fundraising, and the importance of identifying realistic technoeconomic metrics.
Early Charm hosted a networking event for participants to learn more about the Baltimore innovation ecosystem.
The MINER BOOST bootcamp was a great success in creating a strong sense of community among a diverse group of dynamic young scientists and engineers embarking on ambitious projects in the mining and minerals space. The success of the potential companies spun out of their research projects will play a pivotal role in supplying the critical minerals needed to enable the clean energy transition. The organizers were delighted by the strong engagement and participation of the students. The initial bootcamp will be followed by a series of virtual sessions focused on developing strong public speaking skills and diving further into the mining value chain. Next spring, the students and post docs will present their work at the MINER annual meeting, paving the way towards successful spinouts from cutting-edge research projects. ARPA-E is also exploring ways that BOOST might be applied to other programs in order to supplement ongoing technology transfer and entrepreneurship efforts.