Why the New GCxN Cohort Is Just the Start

Dec. 5, 2023 | By Jeffrey Wolf | Contact media relations

For Wendy Owens, founder and CEO of Hexas Biomass, applying for the sixth cohort of the Shell GameChanger Accelerator Powered by NREL (GCxN) just made sense. One of the two themes for this cohort is Energy and Chemical Products via Biology, falling squarely in Hexas’ sweet spot.

“How could we not apply for it this year? We feel like the scope was written for us,” Owens said. “It’s right where Hexas is as a company. We are truly on the cusp of large commercial contracts, and the timing couldn’t be better.”

A few people sit at a table, with a few others standing behind them, watching a woman at the end of the table signing a piece of paper. Several of the people are wearing GCxN shirts.
Members of GCxN staff meet with members of Cohort 6 during the onboarding and signing ceremony in May 2023.

Hexas, based in Olympia, Washington, fits the first theme because it produces a nature-based alternative for wood, food crop, and fossil fuel-based feedstocks for biofuel production.

Another Cohort 6 company, DTE Materials, of Fresno, California, fits within the second theme of Carbon-Negative Building and Infrastructure Materials. 

“We have a patented process called ClearWash that converts forestry and agriculture debris into aggregates for concrete,” Tanner Jolly with DTE said.

DTE’s GCxN cohort, which includes Hexas as well as two other participants, comes after the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) worked with Shell on a major extension of the program. This fall, Shell and NREL agreed to extend the GCxN program for another five years.

“I see it as a vote of confidence and an investment in the continuation of our relationship so our resources can be brought together to create something meaningful,” said Johanna Jamison, GCxN program manager at NREL. “They believe in what we are doing, and they know that we are the right partner to continue to carry this successful program forward.”

The extension allows GCxN to provide another 30 startup companies with access to $250,000 in nondilutive funding to conduct technical assistance projects. The sixth cohort brings GCxN to a total of 23 portfolio companies across various technology sectors and stages since the partnership began in 2018. The portfolio companies have collectively raised over $317 million since joining the program, translating to a leverage ratio of $67 raised for every dollar of Shell project funding. On average, startups enter GCxN at a 3.6 Technology Readiness Level and graduate at a 5.6 (on a scale of 1–9). These results, in tandem with the 285 jobs created by the portfolio companies, showcase the program’s substantial impact on the cleantech ecosystem.

“It’s a celebration of the enduring and successful partnership,” Jamison said. “It’s a celebration of a model that we have proven and demonstrated.”

The themes from Cohort 6 move GCxN into technical areas it has not explored in prior cohorts, piecing together different expertise from across the laboratory in ways that are industry relevant.

“Tackling the climate challenge requires multifaceted solutions. At Shell, we believe technology that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will be essential for lowering emissions from energy and chemical products,” said Yesim Jonsson, Shell’s GCxN program manager. “The companies in GCxN's sixth cohort embody these objectives and have the potential to usher in a more sustainable future.”

Another member of this year’s program, Invizyne, based in Monrovia, California, joins Cohort 6 having already worked with NREL in the past.

“We have an active and robust collaboration already with NREL,” said Tyler Korman, co-founder and director of R&D for Invizyne. “With the support of Shell’s GameChanger award, we will be able to supercharge our renewable energy biomanufacturing scaling efforts, including identifying potential bottlenecks and the best ways to resolve them.”

Invizyne designs and builds enzyme-based biomanufacturing systems based on their proprietary cell-free enzyme technology platform, SimplePath, that vastly improves the economics and scale of biobased chemical production.

The fourth member of Cohort 6, ZILA BioWorks, based in Renton, Washington, created a bioepoxy resin from hemp seed oil that has a 60% smaller carbon footprint in comparison to petroleum-based epoxies. The idea is to formulate them for thicker and larger sections of wind turbine blades.

“To get into this program is a huge boost in confidence to us,” said Jason Puracal, CEO of ZILA, “but it also demonstrates to others the capacity of our technology. It’s a great validation for us.”

The members of Cohort 6 are the latest in a series of successful innovators using GCxN as a launch pad to help the world accelerate into the energy transition.

“It makes me really proud about how well our cohort companies have done,” Jamison said. “I think that’s really what this comes down to. They have been able to succeed for a lot of reasons, one of which is the expertise from NREL and guidance from Shell provided through the GCxN program.”

Learn more about the GCxN program.

Tags: Entrepreneurs,Partnerships