To paraphrase an old saying, “If one is good, then two and even three must be better.”
That’s certainly the case for Megan O’Connor, one of three Co-Founders of Nth Cycle and the start-up’s representative in the “Innovation Crossroads” initiative at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). She and four other entrepreneurs that comprise Cohort 2 of the two-year program will be graduating in May, better prepared for long-term success.
As O’Connor completes her work at ORNL, she’s also spending time with two other accelerators – “Plug & Play” in Silicon Valley and “Creative Destruction Lab” (CDL) in Calgary, Canada. Since 2006, the former has worked to help accelerate start-ups by matchmaking them with corporations and also making investments in the new ventures. CDL describes itself as “an objectives-based program for massively scalable, seed stage science- and technology-based companies.”
Both offer O’Connor significant opportunities on top of what she has already gained after nearly two years at ORNL.
“We’re getting pushed in the Calgary program (CDL) to finalize our business model,” she says. “We have a very good idea now of our ‘go to market’ strategy.”
The CDL effort, which began last November, is eight months in length with what had been face-to-face sessions every eight weeks until the COVID-19 pandemic. From now until completion, it is shifting to a virtual format.
At each bi-monthly check-in session, O’Connor says she has four one-on-one meetings in the morning followed by feedback sessions with investors in the afternoon. She described those interactions as like having “a bunch of John Brucks in one room!”
She also drew a comparison between the CDL experience and a popular television show.
“It’s like the Voice,” she said in explaining that participants are selected to move forward after each eight-week period or sent packing. When we talked with O’Connor in the latter part of March, she had just completed her third session and had been selected to continue to Session 4.
“The goal is to make it to Session 5 which is the finale, or the super session, in June,” she explained. In past years, it was in Toronto, but will obviously shift to the virtual environment this year or be postponed to a later date.
The next critical event is the currently scheduled May 6 session that will determine those who make it to the finale.
“I joined to gain more mentorship and gain more access to investors on the West Coast,” O’Connor said. “I don’t think it would have been a good fit for me last year, but it is now as we’re gearing up for our first raise.”
Ironically, in the case of “Plug and Play,” Nth Cycle and ElectroActive Technologies Inc., a member of Cohort 3 of “Innovation Crossroads,” are two of 15 start-ups chosen for the new materials and packaging category. In all, 111 participants were selected across seven categories.
“The focus here is to connect you to large corporate partners,” she said of the three-month program with a finale in May. “The goal is to help you get pilots and strategic partners.”
With three accelerator programs coming to a conclusion in the next few months, she says that Nth Cycle believes its first market opportunity is in lithium ion batteries. That is on the near-term horizon, but O’Connor also emphasizes that she is not giving-up on the initial focus of recycling of rare earth and specialty metals domestically to reduce the nation’s dependence on other countries, particularly China.