SoHHytec SA, a cleantech startup with unique technology for green hydrogen production, has successfully raised USD 2 Million in seed round financing led by Singapore-based Fund for Sustainability and Energy (FUND4SE PTE LTD). This seed round will enable product development and deployment for the industrial use case. The startup won Venture Kick stage 3 in February 2021 - we interviewed CEO Dr. Saurabh Tembhurne about the use of these funds and his entrepreneurial path.
SoHHytec’s technology enables decentralized production of Hydrogen, along with oxygen, electricity, and heat, without any CO2 emissions and with unprecedented solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiency. The technology is a result of more than 8 years of extensive research and development and is now ready to be applied to industrial use. SoHHytec has already won several entrepreneurship awards and previously secured a total of ~1.6 M USD in non-dilutive funding which fueled the development of its artificial tree ‘Arb’ system. This seed financing provides further support to expedite industrial deployment, and for the commercialization and industrialization of SoHHytec’s products.
Fund for Sustainability and Energy (FUND4SE) is a venture capital and alternative investments fund focused on investing in unique sustainability and energy efficiency technologies. FUND4SE’s deep and diverse industry knowledge enables it to shepherd product development from inception to completion. FUND4SE provides support and expertise, including production scale optimization, increasing manufacturing capabilities, and reducing costs.
Saurabh, how will the USD 2 million investment led by Fund for Sustainability and Energy (FUND4SE PTE LTD) help achieve your vision?
We are proud and excited to have FUND4SE, who shares our vision and values, onboard our journey of making sustainable fuels a reality of today. This investment will enable us to deploy our ‘Artificial Tree’ system for industrial use cases. Significant expansion of the team is planned in the coming weeks to expedite the commercialization and industrialization of SoHHytec’s product and enlarge market opportunities. Beyond monetary support, FUND4SE’s expertise in production scale optimization and its strong focus on clean transportation with renewable hydrogen will enable us to achieve unprecedented impact.
You won Venture Kick stage 3 last year, in February 2021. How did it help you lay the foundation for your growth and today's achievement?
We received the first kick from 'Venture Kick' in mid-2020 and the next 2 kicks by February 2021 indeed. The monetary support of CHF 150,000 was quite crucial for our very first product-scale pilot - which is up and running now at EPFL campus -deployment driven by strong customers’ feedback. Additionally, we benefited heavily from the Venture Kick camps and above all its network which helped us to succeed in acquiring our first Swiss industrial customers and partners and to connect with the Investors in Switzerland as well as abroad. Today’s achievement of successful seed fundraising is the eventual result of this support.
When, and what, was your inspiration to found SoHHytec?
I personally have always been very much fascinated with 'Sunlight'. During my Bachelors and Masters, I have been exploring the ways of 'Altering Sunlight', for example, to capture and trap light to make novel highly efficient solar cells, and also to make 'invisibility cloaks'. Also growing up in India, I got first-hand experience of the issues of Energy security and Availability. So I always wanted to make a positive impact in this field. After my master's in India, I got an interesting opportunity to work with Prof. Sophia Haussener here at EPFL on my Ph.D. The topic was about mimicking the process of photosynthesis. I developed the most-detailed physical model for Artificial Photosynthesis and used that model to develop a highly innovative concept for solar fuel production. We then complemented this physical model with techno-economic studies to prove that our innovation is not only the best performing and most sustainable solution for solar fuel production but also is the most cost-effective one. This led to the founding stones of SoHHytec, where I and Prof. Sophia, SoHHytec's co-founder joined forces to take our invention out of the lab to market. We then had a world-record bearing lab-scale demonstration of our invention, which was followed by development and demonstration of real product i.e. 'Arb' which you see now in full operation at our Lausanne site. The entrepreneurial journey of SoHHytec started during the middle of my Ph.D. Studies i.e. in 2015, and we legally incorporated the company in December 2019
What is your advice for the potential cleantech entrepreneurs launching companies in Switzerland today?
Switzerland has a very strong support system for promoting innovative ideas in their inceptive stages when normally most of the ideas die due to the lack of support. Most cleantech ideas are deep tech and require substantial research, larger investments, and a longer time to commercial success. Thanks to the Swiss startup ecosystem and Switzerland’s ever-growing emphasis on clean and sustainable technologies, not only to solve local problems but also to tackle global challenges, potential cleantech entrepreneurs shouldn’t be afraid to go after their crazy ideas.