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OSU lends support to sustainable energy technology start-up

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

(From left) OSU Center for Innovation and Economic President Joe Alexander and CIED Vice President Tom Grey join David Orne, CEO of SOL Inc., in signing an agreement that may bring the start-up company's manufacturing operations to Payne County. OSU CIED entered a partnership with SOL, a developer of products and systems to manage sustainable energy in buildings.
A partnership with Oklahoma State University’s Center for Innovation and Economic Development may bring to Payne County a start-up company with roots at the University of Oklahoma.

Sustainable energy system provider SOL Inc., whose building products are based on research developments by OU College of Architecture Associate Dean James Patterson, will first consider Payne County as a site for its manufacturing operations as part of an agreement with OSU CIED.

“We’ll be located where it makes the most financial sense to do so, with preference to Payne County,” said David Orme, CEO of SOL Inc.
OSU CIED President Joe Alexander said investment in emerging Oklahoma start-ups complements the mission of the center, which exists to further OSU’s commitment to economic development through sharing university know-how, building entrepreneurial strengths and participating in regional strategic alliances that create jobs and wealth for the citizens of Oklahoma.

“When President Schmidly organized this center, one of our missions was to create good jobs for Oklahomans, and this investment is just one of the steps that allow us to do that,” Alexander said. “We’re going to invest in two types of companies. . . Oklahoma companies or companies that are going to move to Oklahoma.”

“We had known David before he went with SOL,” Alexander said of Orme, an OSU engineering alumnus and former vice president of manufacturing and provisioning at Lucent Technologies. “We have a lot of confidence in the company and its leadership, and we are really pleased to partner with them.”

For use in existing buildings as well as new construction, SOL’s products are designed to improve profitability by conserving energy and natural resources. Its first, the patented Horizontal Opening Solar Solution (HOSS), will be marketed primarily to large retailers, an industry sector whose annual $9.5 billion expense for heating, ventilation and air conditioning and lighting is second only to payroll.

“The SOL HOSS is an energy management system we’re in the process of developing for skylights and window openings,” Orme said. “It effectively addresses energy conservation in the retail sector by minimizing heat coming into a building while maximizing daylighting, an improvement on retail display appeal.”

Patterson developed the technology, initially at Iowa State University and later OU, while heading a research project for the Department of Energy. He and Brooks Hull, director of development for OU’s College of Engineering, and Robert Workman, CEO of Tulsa architecture and engineering firm BSW International, co-founded SOL Inc. in 2003 to produce it. The entrepreneurs eventually turned to i2E, the technology commercialization arm of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology.
i2E evaluated the HOSS technology and assisted with market research and development of a business plan. The commercialization center also provided SOL financial assistance and helped the entrepreneurs in obtaining additional support, suggesting they contact OSU CIED.

“We have a small amount of funds that we are making available, in exchange for an equity interest, to companies where we see an opportunity to get a return on investment,” said Tom Gray, CIED vice president for economic development. “With this seed capital, OSU and i2E are helping launch and commercialize SOL’s innovative technology and create jobs in the state.”

“They’ll use this funding to produce the first production models,” Gray said.
According to Orme, the effectiveness of the HOSS system is supported by computational data and extensive evaluation by Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, an independent testing facility, but SOL hopes to validate the product additionally at a large, live demonstration site.

“We expect to have the prototypes done in three or four months, and we’ll start marketing it then,” Orme said. “We would really like to have a big building – a Walmart or a Lowe’s or a Home Depot – as the beta site where we can actually track the total energy consumption with and without the system to prove its viability.”
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