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Beyond the Pitch

Simple-Fill Achieves Milestones

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How would you like to save one-third to one-half of the cost of gasoline or diesel fuel?

Simple-Fill, a Columbus-based spinout of The Ohio State University, is developing a new technology that reliably and affordably compresses natural gas (CNG) so that it can be used to fuel cars and trucks.

It’s been about six months since Rev1 Ventures announced that Simple-Fill was the inaugural recipient of an investment from the new $1 million Technology Concept Fund, LLC. The company is making significant progress toward commercialization.

Proving the Concept to a Market that Cares

“This solution is more efficient and affordable than the reciprocating compressors that are used throughout the industry today. Current technology, the reciprocating compressor, will face a new challenge in the marketplace from this unconventional way to compress natural gas,” said Wayne Embree, Rev1 Ventures executive vice president of investments and venture acceleration.

“During the due diligence process that precedes these Concept Fund investments, we work with the entrepreneur to set forth a business plan that matches critical milestones to new funding. Simple-Fill is right on plan,” Embree said.

Simple-Fill’s business plan includes three broad stages of development—alpha prototype to demonstrate the concept in a controlled environment, beta prototype to redesign for manufacture and test preproduction units in an operating environment, and then commercialization.

The Concept Fund investment (with additional funding from the Ohio Third Frontier Technology Validation and Start-Up Fund, Honda, Worthington Cylinders, and Simple-Fill founder and CEO Rob Underhill) funds a portion of the alpha prototype. Simple-Fill is on a path to produce a compressor that is small and affordable.

“What we’ve accomplished in the last six months is to compress a gas to 250 pounds per square inch,” Underhill said, “The big deal is that we’ve shown not only that we can compress the gas and realize the efficiencies and energy savings that aren’t found in the conventional compressors, we were able to demonstrate that we have a compressor that doesn’t require a certain level of incoming pressure to produce the required level of outgoing pressure. We truly have a variable rate compressor.”

Next Steps

Simple-Fill is working to complete the alpha phase in the first quarter of 2015. The firm’s initial target market is based on market research that actually caused the company to pivot from consumer vehicles to companies with small to medium-sized fleets.

“Our beta phase will involve manufacturing a product that we can take into the field for demonstrations and to gain data from customers to improve the product,” Underhill said. “Right now we already have one company that has agreed to host a beta prototype. The alpha prototype is proof that we are actually able to turn the compression of natural gas on its head.”

The company, which has operated so far from the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) at Ohio State, is moving into the Rev1 Labs.

“Working out of CAR has been extremely helpful,” Underhill said. “The time has come to be in a place surrounded by people who are doing the same sorts of things—maybe in different industries and different ways, but at the core, there is this common thread of entrepreneurship that runs through all of us.”

Take-aways for Other Entrepreneurs

There are informed lessons for every entrepreneur in the story of Simple-Fill.

  • Match your solution to a huge industry problem that everyone wants solved. In Simple-Fill’s case, it’s developing new, more efficient fueling technology for vehicles.
  • Match risk-reducing critical milestones to capital raising milestones.
  • Involve prospective investors in your business plan from due diligence on; gain agreement on milestones. Let investors know where they can help.
  • Establish partnerships with entities who are vested in your success. For Simple-Fill, it’s Ohio State, CAR, Worthington Cylinders, Rev1 Ventures, and others.
  • Think in scenarios and have contingency plans.
  • Build a great team.

“I’ve been around technology development long enough to realize that “Murphy” is alive and well. Nothing goes as fast or as cheaply as you expect it to,” Underhill said.

“On the other hand,” he said, “we are making these little amazing discoveries every day. That’s part of the excitement. I’m blessed with a great team. We work very well together and are focused in terms of what we need to do.

Contact Rev1 Ventures for venture advisory services and information about SpringBox Labs.

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