Proto Ventures Venture Builder David Cohen-Tanugi, left, will form teams around the five clean energy projects unveiled by Proto Ventures this week.

Proto Ventures Identifies 5 Clean Energy Projects With Potential to Become Startups

Proto Ventures has identified five promising opportunities in clean energy to promote into team projects, a key milestone that will culminate in the formation of one or more new ventures from inside MIT.

The five team projects were selected from more than 75 ideas developed after 10 months of intense technology exploration, market discovery, and idea mapping by Proto Ventures, MIT’s venture studio. Proto Ventures is pioneering a new way to create and launch new ventures in research institutions: putting more emphasis on unaddressed customer needs and multidisciplinary solutions than the traditional technology spinoff process often found in universities.

“These early-stage teams have a proposed technology solution or set of solutions to address a massive challenge in the clean energy industry,” said Venture Builder David Cohen-Tanugi, who was hired in May 2023 to lead the Clean Energy & Fusion Channel for Proto Ventures.

“Each of these projects is driven by a strong hypothesis for how to solve the problem and a solid understanding of the customer segment that faces this problem in the clean energy sector. This emphasis on finding market needs and solving real-world pain points will help our first five team projects build impactful businesses down the line.”

These five team projects will tackle:

  • Energy consumption in data centers
  • Fouling in heat exchangers
  • Critical minerals in the face of declining mining ore grades
  • Energy waste in today’s power conversion devices in data centers and electric vehicles
  • Power efficiency of satellite propulsion systems

All five team projects leverage inventions, ideas, and talented individuals at MIT. The technology details will be made available in greater detail at a later date.

What’s Next

For the next few months, Cohen-Tanugi will form teams around each project – including potential cofounders and advisors, all from the MIT community and broader innovation ecosystem. The teams will collaborate on targeted exploration of technologies and markets, such as customer interviews and IP reviews. Then, the teams will create pitch decks and supporting materials. This likely will include high-level techno-economic analyses and financial models, as well as developing a prototype, Cohen-Tanugi said.

“The best of these team projects will be ready to launch as startups,” Cohen-Tanugi said.

How We Got Here

MIT launched Proto Ventures in 2019 as a new approach to venture building. Like a private-sector venture studio, Proto Ventures curates ideas from within MIT’s ecosystem of labs and shepherds them to market. A key distinction from private-sector studios is that Proto Ventures is deeply embedded within the MIT research community and does not take equity in the ventures it creates.

Proto Ventures launched its Clean Energy & Fusion Channel in May 2023 and hired Cohen-Tanugi as venture builder. He has embedded at PSFC to connect with MIT researchers, engineer solutions with entrepreneurial potential, and identify business opportunities associated with solving that problem.

“The venture builder is the key to unlocking new opportunities that might have been left on the lab room floor,” said Gene Keselman, managing director of Proto Ventures. “We partner with MIT Labs and they host the Venture Builders. Then we give the Venture Builders a lot of time to discover what’s going on inside these centers of advanced research. The Venture Builders are highly technical, just like everyone else in the lab, but are also looking for market and commercial opportunities for the best ideas.”