SiNode Rings a Bell
Made up of Kellogg and McCormick graduates, SiNode Systems caps off a lucrative summer by ringing NASDAQ’s closing bellBy Eva Saviano
8/23/2013 - Standing in the heart of Times Square, all six founding members of SiNode Systems rang the NASDAQ’s closing bell Friday, ending a whirlwind summer that saw the lithium-battery tech startup win nearly $1 million in prize money.
Alongside fellow Kellogg alums Nishit Metha ’13 and Guy Peterson ’13 and McCormick grads Cary Hayner, Thomas Yu and Joshua Lau, CEO Samir Mayekar called the bell ringing, “an exhilarating honor.”
“We are from Chicago,” said Mayekar ’13. “And we develop advanced energy materials to power human innovation.”
SiNode’s dedication to innovation — and the end of asking servers to charge dying smartphones — earned the team of graduates from Kellogg and the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences first place in the 2013 Rice Business Plan Competition, the world’s richest and largest graduate-level business competition. SiNode received a record $911,400 in cash, services and funding in May.
SiNode is the second Northwestern team to win the Rice competition in as many years, with NuMat Technologies winning in 2012. SiNode also followed up NuMat in June with a victory in the second annual National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.
SiNode also won the Cleantech Open’s north-central regional competition earlier this year in San Jose.
Scope equals success
The key to SiNode’s success? The team’s scope, said Michael Marasco, director of McCormick’s Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Marasco taught the NUvention Energy course that asked SiNode and other teams to build a business plan based on a revolutionary battery material developed by Dr. Harold Kung, the inventor of the singular SiNode material.
The material is a composite of silicone and graphene — a carbon-derived substance that won the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics — that will allow lithium-ion batteries to charge up to ten times faster and run an iPhone for days.
“We’d worked with Dr. Kung’s technology in this class for the previous two years, but those teams didn’t see possibilities as big as this one did,” said Marasco of SiNode. “They thought outside the box, saw how it could be a business and aggressively tried to get it traction.”
A collaborative, interdisciplinary curriculum developed by the Farley Center, Kellogg, the School of Law, and the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, NUvention brings students from various fields together to create a viable tech business. The combination of McCormick and Kellogg students proved to be potent, Mayekar said.
“The thing that unites our team is a passion for sustainability,” he said. “We believe that you need innovation in the energy sector to grow in emerging markets and to improve on environmental issues.”
Prototype on its way
The winnings have allowed the group to move into their own lab in Evanston and provided access to pro bono services. The monies — some cash and some vested — have enabled Mayekar to make SiNode his full-time gig.
“It was a critical step,” Mayekar said. “We needed time to make this start-up happen, to stay focused on what we are trying to achieve.”
Commercial prototypes are expected by 2014, Mayekar said, with a hopeful market debut in 2015.