Innovators join first entrepreneurial program at Argonne National Laboratory

UChicago’s Polsky Center to mentor clean tech, advanced manufacturing entrepreneurs

Argonne research
New entrepreneurial program will bring nation’s brightest energy and science innovators to Argonne.
Courtesy of
Abby M. Miesen / Argonne National Laboratory
University Communications

The Midwest’s first entrepreneurial program to embed innovators in a national laboratory announced its inaugural group of entrepreneurs and mentor partners, including the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Developers of energy, transportation and aerospace technologies will join Chain Reaction Innovations based at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. The program brings to the lab the nation’s brightest energy and science innovators, providing an opportunity different from traditional entrepreneurial programs through access to Argonne’s resources and multi-faceted support. Such support includes working with the Polsky Center, which will help develop business strategies, conduct market research and attract investors and commercial partners.

More than 100 innovators from 22 states applied to earn one of seven spots in the first cohort of Chain Reaction Innovations. The program is part of a new initiative to accelerate the development of sustainable and energy-efficient technologies and drive manufacturing growth by helping startups and innovators reduce development costs and risks. The first cohort will focus on the following technologies and goals: 

  • Tyler Huggins and Justin Whiteley, Colorado – recycling & energy storage industries: Reduce expensive wastewater treatment costs and create a cheaper manufacturing process for high-performance carbon products. This will be accomplished by using wastewater to grow fungus to create tunable carbon-based products, such as battery electrodes.
  • Chad Mason, North Dakota – transportation and energy generation industries: Decrease the cost of fuel cells by eliminating the need for the electrolytes to act as electronic insulators, which will decrease water management costs. Development of a low-temperature solid-state fuel cell to open the door for new applications for electrochemical devices.
  • Ian Hamilton, Indiana – recycling & energy generation industries: Create new long-lived, lightweight weather-independent power by recycling the by-product of nuclear waste decay to create electricity. This would reduce the need for nuclear waste storage and create a new power source.
  • Felipe Gomez del Campo, Ohio – aerospace industry: Decrease the operating cost of jet engines by designing a new fuel nozzle that uses plasma-assisted combustion to burn fuel more efficiently during flight and idling.

The Department of Energy has estimated that the global clean energy market will be in the trillions of dollars as the demand for energy-based products grows thanks to an expanding global middle class and with the private sector’s increasing appetite for new clean energy technologies.

“Argonne and Chicago sit at the heart of one of our nation’s greatest concentrations of research institutions, an industrial base that is driving clean tech and advanced manufacturing, and a population that embraces innovation,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who helped announce the inaugural cohort members at a press conference at the Polsky Center. “With the creation of Chain Reaction Innovations, we further expand our portfolio of resources for entrepreneurs and ensure that Illinois will be a leader in the next-generation of breakthrough energy and manufacturing technologies.”

The selected innovators will move to Illinois in January to begin two years of R&D at Argonne. Through Chain Reaction Innovations, they will gain unprecedented access to the world-leading tools and experts at Argonne and the fertile innovation ecosystem in Chicago, which sits at the heart of one of the nation’s greatest concentrations of research institutions and industrial bases.

In addition to the cohort announcement, Argonne also announced the partnership with the Polsky Center, which will serve as one of two official business mentors for Chain Reaction Innovations. Purdue University’s Foundry also joined as a mentor organization. The Polsky Center drives venture creation and technology commercialization both at UChicago and its partner labs and in the community.

“The Polsky Center has a strong history of supporting the Argonne community to transform their discoveries into tangible products and services that have an impact on people’s lives,” said John Flavin, associate vice president for entrepreneurship and innovation at UChicago. “As a Chain Reaction Innovations business mentor, we are looking forward to expanding our resources and guidance to teams coming in from across the country.”

The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

Chain Reaction Innovations is accepting pre-applications to be notified when the next cohort selection begins. Four to six innovators will be accepted annually to join the two-year program and receive $350,000 to spend on R&D and up to $110,000 annually in salary, benefits and a travel stipend.