BY CHARLOTTE HSU republished from UB News Center
Release date: October 12, 2018
One of the finalists in this year’s 43North startup competition was a homegrown name with deep connections to UB: Dimien, a chemical manufacturer with a clean tech focus.
The company — founded by UB chemistry PhD graduate Brian J. Schultz — uses an eco-friendly, water-based process to make chemicals used as additives in high-performance glass, batteries and other products. The firm’s work centers on developing chemicals that improve technologies in energy conservation, storage and generation.
Dimien’s story began at UB in 2013, when Schultz, then a UB student, led his team to victory in the Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition.
The contest — created by the UB School of Management and the Office of Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships (BEP), and funded with a $1 million endowment from the late Henry A. Panasci Jr. — helped Dimien get off the ground. Prizes included $25,000 in startup funding, along with in-kind awards, such as legal and accounting services.
Since then, Dimien has gone on to receive more than $2 million from sources that include federal, state and local agencies, and angel and venture capital funds, Schultz says. Support and mentoring from UB and other regional partners has been critical to that success.
“Dimien is a great example of how the investments we’ve made in entrepreneurship — as a university and as a region — are strengthening the local startup economy,” says Christina Orsi, associate vice president for economic development. “The growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in Western New York is helping to cultivate a new generation of exciting, innovative startups. We are very proud of the role that Dimien — as well as other UB researchers, students and graduates — have played in building our region’s economy and solving problems of global significance.”
As a 43North finalist, Dimien was one of just 18 startups — out of 485 applicants — selected to compete for awards that included a $1 million grand prize.
“It was awesome to be a finalist,” Schultz says. “The whole team was really excited. Though we didn’t win, being in 43North pushed us to be a better company. We really refined our pitch and hired a graphic designer to remake the pitch deck. We also updated our website. We are going to use all of that material in our pitches to other investors.”
Paying it forward in local startup community
Dimien is located in the UB Technology Incubator. The company has taken advantage of various resources at UB, including the Embedded Consultants and Pitch Prep programs offered through the Western New York Incubator Network (WIN), which is managed by BEP at UB.
BEP team members have also served as business mentors, helping Schultz complete the National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps program, which trains scientists in customer discovery, and supporting Dimien in securing funding from the NSF Small Business Innovation Research program and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
Having benefited from this support, Schultz is paying it forward. He now mentors other startups in the region, including other UB Technology Incubator firms.
“When I first started, Martin Casstevens and the people at UB and the incubator, as well as various people within the local community, gave me a reliable network of advisers that I could call on for marketing, legal or grant advice,” Schultz says. “Without that support system around a new startup, it’s really, really hard to be successful.
“I find that if I can give an hour back to help new companies make smart decisions, I enjoy doing that. I think entrepreneurship in Buffalo is headed in the right direction, and I want to support that. I think some of the best cities in the U.S. have a strong entrepreneurial base. If you don’t have new ideas or innovation, you’re going to fall behind because some other city or team will figure it out.”
Using supercritical water to manufacture chemicals
According to Dimien’s website, the company’s manufacturing system uses hot pressurized water to generate chemical products.
“Scientifically, this is known as a hydrothermal manufacturing process that uses supercritical water, which has very different and unique properties than water we use for drinking, bathing and pretty much everything,” the website states. “It’s hard to imagine, but think about the drastic differences between ice, water and steam; supercritical water is still water, but with very different properties. Under the right engineered conditions, we use supercritical water to produce nanomaterials in a continuous fashion with narrow particle-size distributions, high chemical selectivity and high scalability.
“The best part, we don’t need toxic solvents or harsh chemicals, and nearly all the water we use can be recycled and reused.”
The firm’s clean tech focus is one that Schultz, a husband and father of three, is proud to promote.
“When you have kids, that perspective really becomes more important: You want to help them and their grandkids and their grandkids after that,” he says. “So part of my motivation is to use eco-friendly production processes and produce products that help us save energy, to make us more sustainable as a society.
“At the same time, our mission converges with what the investment community is looking for,” he says. “Clean tech is an area where there’s a lot of interest from venture capital and investors. It’s techno-economically very important. We’ve always been motivated by clean tech, and we think it will not only make our company more sustainable, but more profitable, too.”
Sustainable Development Goals:
11. Sustainable cities & communities: Developing safe, resilient and sustainable places to live
12. Responsible consumption & production: Developing sustainable methods of product invention and consumer spending