ThermoLift, Inc. headquarters resides in the Advanced Energy Research Technology Center in Stony Brook University’s 246-acre Research and Development Park. Photo by Trevor Christian.
By JD Allen
Paul Schwartz quit his white-collar job to start a business that has the potential to save the United States up to 50 percent of its energy emissions — all at the recommendation of a friend.
He started writing pitch decks from his childhood desk three-years ago in the basement of his Woodbury home. His desk, which always seemed to be cluttered in homework papers, eventually was cluttered with bid sheets.
Schwartz’s company, ThermoLift Inc., which produces heating and cooling units using thermal heat pump technology, was named one of Long Island’s top start-up companies by Accelerate Long Island during an IdeaCamp event on Tuesday, March 24 at LaunchPad Huntington. Accelerate Long Island is a collaboration among the island’s research institutions and its business community to commercialize research and business comradery. IdeaCamp is one of many opportunities for start-up companies to be showcased by Long Island-based economic leaders.
“ThermoLift was the most disruptive technology reviewed and groundbreaking in its industry,” John Kominicki, author of the 2015 Long Island Technology Startups Report, said, according to a press release. ThermoLift was being compared to 20,000 new businesses and startups that have emerged over the last 4 years.
This praise did not come without sacrifices. For nine months the Schwartz family lived off of his savings, Schwartz said. Before he started ThermoLift in 2012, Schwartz spent 20 years in New York as an investment advisor and investment banker working on initial public offerings, private placement financings and strategic investments. Schwartz was also formerly the director of Advanced Propulsion Technologies and principle of Green Technology Consulting. But with one child in college and another going to go to college, the startup strained them financially, he added.
“I’ve always been in an entrepreneurial business’ commission-oriented position so we looked at this as a different commission-oriented position,” Schwartz said. “So instead of raising money for other people, it was raising money for technology that would be long-term for me. That’s how I went to work. I got up in the morning, I went downstairs.”
Now as the co-founder and CEO of a clean energy start-up company, Schwartz commands a 750-square-foot office at Stony Brook University’s Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center, as well as lab space in Ann Arbor, Detroit. The advanced energy center is one of two building housing incubators in the university’s 246-acre Research and Development Park. Stony Brook University is home to other business incubators as well, including the Long Island High Technology Incubator. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s economic policy, START-UP NY, offers a 10-year grace period in which selected startups do not have to pay any taxes or franchise fees in hopes of stimulating the economy. ThermoLift is one of startup companies taking advantage of limited tax expenditure.
“The market for this is infinitive now. It doesn’t even make sense to make a marketing study because if this works we can sell as much as we can produce,” Peter Hofbauer, co-founder of the ThermoLift technology, said. “The investors always say ‘if it works.’ The inventors always say ‘Of course it will work.’”
Hofbauer developed and created Volkswagen’s first turbocharged direct injection engine which increases the amount of fuel that can be injected and combusted, ultimately making the more precise engine control, more fuel-efficient. Following his 20-year career at Volkswagen, Hofbauer is the current Chairman and Chief Technology Officer of EcoMotors, Chairman of the Board of Directors for Advanced Propulsion Technologies, Inc. and Vice President for Combat Advanced Propulsion.
Channeling Hofbauer’s design, and the designs development of the company’s engineers, ThermoLift may eliminate a generation and transmission of electrical energy produced at a power plant. Normally, power plants generate electricity by burning crude oil or No. 2 gas and transmit the energy to residential and commercial areas losing approximately 60 to 70 percent of the electric power before it reaches its terminal destination. During seasons of high energy consumption, such as summers on Long Island due to air condition units, peak plants are used when the power plants are subjected to peak levels of energy need. The company’s product may eliminate the need for peak plants altogether by generating heat through burning natural gas or oil and through a thermodynamic process that can absorb heat even at low temperatures.
Since its origins, ThermoLift, with help from the Clean Energy Business Incubator program, gained funding in the form of grants and donations through the Long Island Angel Network, a group of local investors focused on private, early-stage companies.
“Paul is the epitome of an entrepreneur. He uses his resources; he taps into people when he needs them,” David Hamilton, the director of business development at the clean energy incubator, said. “He’s open and honest with his time and he’s been very successful in CEBIP. And he’ll be the first to tell you that our program has been instrumental for him getting to where he is today.”
Networking is where Schwartz excels, Hamilton said, because he takes the opportunity to attend every mentoring event, networking event and seminars offered by the incubator program.
A classic incubator is a physical building that may or may not have programs, but generally has space for rent. The Clean Energy Business Incubator Program is a program that is selective in clients — only allowing clean-energy technology companies that should have some type of significant impact in the utility world. The companies accepted will develop, manufacture and produce their innovation. The incubator program does not provide funding, and does not invest in clients.
Though the definitive future of ThermoLift is unknown, without Schwartz’ tenacity and enterprising spirit, a start-up company like his would be nothing more than an idea on a drawing board.
“But you have to take a leap,” Schwartz said. “Unless you do something full time and you’re committed to it, it’s a hobby.”