Drexel Announces First Cohort Of Innovation Fund Investments

Drexel University has selected the first Drexel-affiliated startups to receive support from its Innovation Fund. GrowFlux, an agricultural lighting technology startup, and SusMax, which produces lightweight aggregate construction material, will each receive $150,000 investments from the Fund, which was established in January.

“Drexel is pleased to support the journeys of SusMax and GrowFlux through the Fund as they develop game-changing solutions to improve our society,” said Shintaro Kaido vice provost for Innovation and executive director of Drexel Applied Innovation. “We are also grateful to the eleven Investment Advisory Committee members who brought relevant industry and investment experience to the table and spent many hours evaluating the opportunities.”

Co-founded by CEO Mo Balapour (’19, ’21), a College of Engineering alumnus, and Amir Farnam, PhD, an associate professor in the College, SusMax patented a process to recycle waste coal ash into an aggregate used in construction applications, such as lightweight concrete. In addition to earning funding from Drexel’s Innovation Fund, the group also supported its company by participating in the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps Teams program and completed the Heritage Group Accelerator program.

“Our innovative solution not only provides value to our customers in the construction industry by improving the supply chain of lightweight aggregate, but it also helps to keep these materials out of landfills,” Balapour said. “We have also shown that we can increase the lifetime of concrete by 20% and reduce carbon emissions associated with manufacturing and transporting construction lightweight aggregate potentially by 50%.”

Also receiving support from the Innovation Fund is GrowFlux, a company founded by College of Engineering alumni Eric Eisele (’09) and Alex Roscoe (’13), to create energy efficient horticultural lighting controls.“As the changing climate presents challenges to farms, crops like strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, and leafy greens are increasingly being grown in greenhouses closer to the point of consumption, rather than being grown outdoors and transported,” Eisele said. “With this shift, energy is becoming a critical crop input for greenhouse agriculture, and we need to think about energy like other commodity crop inputs in relation to our food system.”GrowFlux’s smart lighting control system reduces energy cost and improves crop performance for farmers.

The company, which is based in ic@3401, the startup incubation and coworking space created in a partnership between Drexel and the University City Science Center, has already installed more than 400 systems in 16 countries.

The Innovation Fund was launched as a collaboration between Drexel’s Office of the President, Office of the Provost, Office of Research & Innovation, the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship, the Drexel Solutions Institute, and Drexel’s Office of the Executive Vice President to invest in early-stage Drexel student and postgraduate startups, as well as startups founded to commercialize the results of Drexel’s scientific research. Through the Fund, the University aspires to play the role of a “friends and family” investor, by being one of the first investors to support these startups — offering an investment of $150,000 in up to four startups per year.

A unique aspect of the Innovation Fund is that it provides Drexel students with the learning experience of being a venture capitalist, by participating in the vetting and selection of the companies. Students in the Close School’s Venture Capital Due Diligence course joined the Innovation Fund Investment Advisory Committee members this spring to help evaluate the finalists and select the winners.

“By actively participating in the Fund’s selection process, our students gained invaluable insights and emerged as skilled analysts in the early-stage investment arena,” said Chuck Sacco, associate dean of the Close School.

The application window for the next investment cycle will open in September 2023. For more information on the Drexel University Innovation Fund, visit: drexel.edu/applied-innovation/funding/innovation-fund or contact applied_innovation@drexel.edu.

This post was originally published on Drexel Close School’s website August 1, 2023.

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