In 2015, Georgia was the number one job creator in the clean energy industry, according to an Environmental Entrepreneurs report. Atlanta continues to grow as an emerging market in the renewable, clean energy industry and Emily Morris, founder and CEO of Emrgy, saw that potential.
Emrgy harnesses hydropower through unused energy resources in small or shallow water flows to offset grid power consumption, without interruptions through their patented machinery. Their SUV-sized Cycloidal Magnetic Gearbox currently focuses its powers for municipally-owned treatment centers and utility providers.
Since its inception in 2014, Morris and her team have secured $1.6 million in grant funding, become the first company inducted into the City of Atlanta’s Innovation Center, and received the first-ever equity investment from the Atlanta Development Authority. This June, the Atlanta Technology Development Center (ATDC) added Emrgy to its roster of “Signature” companies, those deemed most ready to succeed, get investors, and thrive as stand-alone enterprises.
Morris talks to Hypepotamus about the importance of hydropower, how the gearbox works, and what sets Emrgy apart.
Congrats on becoming a Signature Company at ATDC! What does this mean for Emrgy?
It was really exciting. We had realized through the desire to grow our team that we really needed to establish a home base to house them. Looking at where in the landscape of Atlanta, startup ecosystem that we belonged, ATDC was really a natural fit with the current relationships that we already have with Georgia Tech. Also, have some colleagues and common investors with some other companies who are here at ATDC, who really helped us learn about it and then get our foot in the door to talk about becoming a signature company here. We just recently joined, or were approved as a signature company, the week before last and got the keys to this new space that you’re sitting in now.
What is your company’s product and who is it really for, as far as consumers go?
Emrgy is really re-framing the delivery of clean electricity from hydro, or water resources. Almost all hydro power today comes from very large facilities, very large damns that are located far from the actual demand for that energy. Transmission of that power can be costly and inefficient. What we are doing is developing a local source of hydro-electric power through modular, compact systems that we’re deploying at water treatment and water transport facilities today. That way we are similar to what large, good scale solar installations have now come straight to someone’s rooftop of their home.
What local sources does Emrgy use?
We are very strategically and deliberately focused on water treatment facilities and water transport facilities as our key customers, because they have continuous flows of water that are used for creating drinking water or treating waste water.
They would generate the electricity and use it right there on sight. They would lower their energy, lower their overall operating costs, and we’d love to see those benefits trickle down to the customer eventually. The customer wouldn’t necessarily be using or, the end user of the water, wouldn’t necessarily be able to tap into that electricity. Eventually, we’d love to do that. Opportunities in potentially internationally in emerging and industrialized markets where hydro-power is much more prolific.
From a personal standpoint, why do you think this kind of hydro-power, clean energy initiative is important?
Hydro-power and other clean energy options have the potential to transform the way we live our everyday lives, not just here in the U.S. but across the globe. The impact and potential for having no electricity for over a billion people worldwide to having clean, locally generated, locally used electricity really has attributes for economic development potential in the same way that the internet or smartphones had with mobility.
We are pursuing not just returns from a financial perspective, but we’re also really passionate about the impact this can have on the development of and the increase in quality of life for our customers.
Where did this idea come from?
I was working at a small technology developer here in town. We built this core technology there through two federally-funded research an development programs, one under the office of naval research and one under the department of energy. In 2014, I proposed to them to acquire it and offered them some shares in Emrgy as a consideration for the technology because they are working on lots of different technologies under federal research programs. They weren’t necessarily missing too much, or so they thought.
I was able to acquire the technology. We filed all of the patent work and IP protection under Emrgy, so we’re the owner of all that, and then we started building our team, our go-to-market strategy, and our potential customer pipeline from there.
Tell us about the box itself. You said it’s SUV-sized.
We’re optimizing very well-understood principles. We utilize a rotary motion for harvesting kinetic energy out of existing flows of water. We’re entirely self-contained in a pre-cast concrete, very reliable, very solid box, that allows the unit to be portable. As water flows through the box, it turns a vertical access set of turbines. From there, we are converting the mechanical energy into electrical energy, utilizing a proprietary gearing and drive system.
We’re currently building our first four units that are going to be deployed in Atlanta and a few other select pilot sites around the country that we’ve already identified.
What’s your funding situation at the moment?
We were awarded in the last six months about $1.2 million in federal funding from the Department of Energy that funds our team as well as our product development. We also just closed our first equity round at the end of April and are now funded.
And your revenue model?
Today, we are positioned as an equipment provider. We are essentially selling these pieces of equipment to our municipal or industrial water treatment or water transport customers, in lieu of a diesel generator or other on-site generation options. This gets us into the market quickly. It has very limited regulation around it, permitting requirements. Allows us to start generating revenues this year. Over time, we will be developing a strategy for owning our own equipment and selling the energy output pro-rated that you would see similar to other renewable energy developers. That’s a financial strategy that we anticipate coming on line about 36 months from now.
Do you have any competitors right now?
There are other companies trying to solve the same problem that we are. What we have seen is that many of those customers still require a lot of the high-capital costs that makes hydro-power projects and all renewable energy, or large-scale energy projects difficult in the first place with construction and environment modification. We’ve been very deliberate about the design of our system being portable, and being modular, and being able to come to the site, drop the unit into an existing water way, and do the electrical inter-connection without disrupting the environment or having to do significant construction.
How does Atlanta weave into your company’s story?
Atlanta has been extremely supportive of me and my company. I get asked pretty frequently what it’s like starting a renewable energy company in Atlanta because Atlanta is not know for these types of companies. It would be more typical to launch this type of company in Boston or out in California where renewable energy is very popular, or renewable energy companies are very popular. The city of Atlanta, through its emerging markets, was Emrgy’s first seed investor.
A group of Atlanta investors led this last equity round that we just closed in April. Emrgy is the first company to be inducted into Atlanta’s Innovation Center for testing and demonstrating our product on city infrastructure. Really, we’ve been so fortunate to have a team of leaders in Atlanta that understand our vision and are enthusiastic about helping us succeed. I can’t be more thankful to be in a city that supports its entrepreneurs, at least like me, the way that they are.
All photos courtesy of Emrgy.