By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Nick Sokol says he has always had the “entrepreneurial bug,” driven in part by his interest in atmospheric sciences, and today he’s scratching that start-up itch with a company focused on algae.
Born in Charleston, SC and raised in the Baltimore, MD area, Sokol moved here earlier this year after his wife accepted a job at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. We subsequently met in mid-July when he participated in the weeklong “Cultivate Appalachia Bootcamp” held in Knoxville (see teknovation.biz article here) and later when Sokol participated in the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s “Brandcamp.”
In graduate school – Louisiana State University for his M.S. in Geography and the University of South Carolina for his Ph.D. in the same field, Sokol says he thought he wanted to be a tenure track professor. Then, he decided he would rather develop products. Two early ideas – a wind turbine that people could carry on backpacks to generate energy and a saltwater battery that he “got pretty far with” – are now on the back burner.
Instead, he’s now focused on algae.
“I learned about algae and how people were trying to use it for biodiesel and fuels,” Sokol (pictured here from the “Brandcamp” event) told us. “It was too expensive to make biodiesel, but I found that algae absorbs 50 percent more carbon dioxide than trees annually. I also noted that companies were buying carbon credits, but they were not using algae for those credits.”
After arriving in Knoxville, he began growing algae in a two-liter Mason Jar. Fast forward to early July when his newest company named Algaeo began selling algae starter kits on eBay, Etsy, and his own website (Algaeo.com).
“You can grow algae on a windowsill or desk and have an impact on climate,” Sokol says. His vision is to grow the company into a multi-product platform focused on enhancing algae growth as a way to provide an alternative form of food, energy, and carbon sequestration services.
The start-up’s tagline says it all: “Grow Algae, Capture Carbon, Save the World.”
Today, Algaeo offers three products on the eBay, Etsy, and Algaeo sites:
- The Chlorella Vulgaris and Spirulina Live cultures are available for $14 each and can be used as a supplement, source of food, fertilizer, or in DIY products; and
- AlgaeoAuto Cap growth kit is available for $50.
- Education Kit for teachers to cover STEM topics in K-12 classrooms with students growing their own algae culture for $35.
Sokol, who is a member of the newest cohort of 100Knoxville, also has plans to have a kit for fertilizer and to open up a carbon credit marketplace for individuals and businesses in the near future.