The Sabin Stories will introduce you to former finalists of the Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize as they share experiences and reflect on their time as student entrepreneurs at Yale.
“When we found out we were finalists for the Sabin prize, we were thrilled! It was huge for us! It was so validating to have this well-respected competition recognize our efforts and encourage us to dream big.”
Becky Gallagher, SOM & FES’16 and Jessie Shoemaker, F&ES’15 had the chance to pitch their venture in the 2015 Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize finals. homE was meant to be a battery backup system that is cleaner and smarter than diesel generators and provides grid security by keeping essential appliances running.
The idea pivoted from a microgrid development company to a more commercial product such as a residential battery. The team received valuable support and guidance through the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI) Venture Creation Program, which allowed the young women to perform customer interviews and answer important questions around the market size and demand. The overwhelmingly positive outcome of a simple Facebook survey on experienced black outs was the last push in an exciting path towards starting homE.
Becky and Jessie are thankful for the support they received through various entrepreneurial resources around Yale. Besides mentorship, the YEI collaboration also brought them together with the third team member – Jie Pan, PhD candidate at the time. The Center for Engineering & Innovation Design (CEID) turned into a lab space where a prototype was assembled. Professors at both the Schools of Forestry and Management, notably Kenneth Gillingham, Richard Kauffman and Maureen Burke among others, provided generous guidance on developing the financial projections for the venture, getting the technical details right and polishing the Sabin Prize application. They also recieved valuable communication coaching from Julie Vance, who helped craft and deliver the message that homE has shifted from being a project idea in a lab to an early-stage company.
The Sabin Prize finals’ nomination was instrumental in the venture’s development as it validated the team’s efforts thus far.
A major hurdle for student entrepreneurs is time. homE’s team appreciates the administrative support they received as they were able to pursue their venture as an independent academic study, turning it to a core priority. Becky emphasizes the need to treat entrepreneurial endeavors with the attention they require, and believes both a flexible and formalized process incorporating entrepreneurship is crucial.
Despite the supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem, homE was faced firsthand with the “valley of death” – the financing gap for capital-intensive energy technologies. The team also had to solve a myriad of technical challenges and account for the safety risk of a lithium- ion battery.
“It is hard to be developing a hardware energy start up. Your friends and classmates are not your customers, the product is complicated to explain and it is mostly geared towards affluent families in rural areas.” shares Becky.
The entrepreneurial journey of homE recently ended, but the journey of its founders continues. The valuable lessons on the intricacies of battery technologies, the economics of the business as well as the insights on personal motivation, focus and openness to constructive feedback lead the way to new adventures.
Driven by her passion, Jessie now applies her knowledge from founding homE to help bring to market lithium-ion stationary storage technologies for Mercedez Benz. The entrepreneurial experience has revealed to Becky her true inspiration – to be in a dynamic, fast passed environment where she “gets to run the show."