All together now: Chicago cleantech startup wins inclusivity award

🏆 AWARD: Today, Clean Energy Trust and U.S. Bank named NUMiX Materials (previously featured in Centered) the recipient of the U.S. Bank Cleantech Inclusion Award. The program supports women and minority entrepreneurs who are working to improve the environment, create jobs, and drive economic development. I spoke with NUMiX CEO Katie Kollhoff this spring about the Chicago-area startup’s mission and the role of inclusivity in her business model. Read more about NUMiX, the award, and an interview with Clean Energy Trust CEO Erik Birkerts after the rest of today’s tech headlines.

(NUMiX Materials CEO Katie Kollhoff)

🤝 PARTNERSHIP:

  • Detroit’s NextEnergy has entered an agreement with HEAT X, a clean technology company in Auburn Hills, Michigan, to bring several clean heating technologies to market later this year. The partnership will help HEAT X scale and market its products, which use magnetocaloric and magnetic induction technologies to deliver emission-free heating with less electricity consumption and lower costs.

  • Virgin Hyperloop has brought on Wichita-based Spirit AeroSystems as a partner to develop its commercial hyperloop product, reports the Kansas City Business Journal. The company claims the underground vehicles, or pods, will be able to travel at 700 miles per hour with zero emissions.

⚡ ELECTRICITY: Michigan State University researchers developed a remote forest fire detection and alarm system that powers itself by harvesting energy from the movement of tree branches on which it hangs. It’s believed to be the first system to achieve this, considering most current detection systems rely on batteries.

Now, more on NUMiX Materials winning the U.S. Bank Cleantech Inclusion Award.

  • The startup develops innovative processes for removing metals from wastewater using sorbent powders, or powders that absorb other materials. The recovered metals can be reused instead of the current standard practice of landfilling them.

  • I interviewed NUMiX CEO Katie Kollhoff earlier this year and it was evident that boosting diversity and inclusivity and elevating underrepresented groups in tech is central to her operating model. The founding team consists of three women. “I decided early that I wanted this to be women-run business, so the majority of the company is owned by women,” she said.

  • She highlighted some challenges of being a woman cleantech business leader, such as perceptions from others in the industry. “I don't think people always think I look like someone should look who is doing this kind of work,” Kollhoff said. She knows other women tech founders who report more difficulty with securing funding compared to men.

  • Maintaining a positive and inclusive culture among employees is paramount at NUMiX. “We want to make sure that whoever joins us recognizes that our culture is a priority. Maintaining diversity and inclusion is part of that,” Kohlhoff said.

This is the inaugural U.S. Bank Cleantech Inclusion Award. Winners receive a $25,000 non-recourse grant and 12 months of business mentoring and programming from Clean Energy Trust and U.S. Bank.

I asked Clean Energy Trust CEO Erik Birkerts a little more about the award and inclusivity in tech.

Q: Why is this award significant, and why does Clean Energy Trust view it as important to highlight inclusion in cleantech?

A: We have witnessed firsthand how difficult it is to launch and scale innovative cleantech companies for any entrepreneur. These challenges are compounded for women and people of color. The gravity of the climate imperative is so significant that we can't be selective in who receives funding and support and who does not. We need the best minds working on solutions, irrespective of gender or skin color. 

Q: What qualities do judges look for in awardees? What made NUMiX stand out?

A: There are two primary dimensions. The first being the innovativeness and potential impact of the business or technology. Are they solving a problem worth solving? The second dimension is whether the founders are passionate and committed to making their business a success. The journey will be hard and they will require utmost conviction. NUMiX stood out because their technology is simple, elegant, and efficient and attacks the problem of water contamination, a major environmental challenge. Katie and the NUMiX team are incredibly dynamic, passionate entrepreneurs. We felt confident that their passion and commitment would help carry them through to success. Moreover, they serve as compelling role models of powerful women working in STEM.

Q: Does this initiative take on a new importance in the current social climate with increased attention to racial and environmental justice?

A: This initiative certainly highlights the importance of supporting and respecting entrepreneurs who are women and people color. However, it is also essential that terrific innovations and the benefits they confer reach underserved people and communities. The benefits and gains from cleantech innovations can't just accrue to the wealthy and well-off.

Q: Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs who wish to keep equity and inclusion at the forefront of their tech business?

A: Building a diverse team of women and people of color is only the first step. It is essential to then listen to and embrace the diverse and rich perspectives that this team brings forward.

If you know other Midwest businesses or organizations advancing inclusivity in the Midwest tech space, let me know so I can highlight them in a future newsletter. Send news tips, press releases, and feedback to katie@centered.tech or connect on LinkedIn and Twitter @centereddottech.


Centered is a publication of the Energy News Network, in partnership with the Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation and mHUB.