Brooklyn is becoming a magnet for tech startups.
By 2018, more than 1,200 new technology firms planted roots in the borough compared to just 264 a decade earlier. And while Silicon Valley remains the dominant location, New York City is increasingly competitive with local tech talent and investors readily available.
RoadPower, a clean energy startup at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, is part of the wave that's putting Brooklyn on the map as a tech destination.
On Wednesday, RoadPower showcased its new prototype that converts energy from vehicles in motion into sustainable electricity.
The Brooklyn Navy Yard is RoadPower's first pilot customer for this technology, which could generate clean energy for a range of commercial and industrial customers, as well as public facilities.
Generating clean energy from vehicles
RoadPower's system generates electricity when passing vehicles compress its hi-tech ramp, which powers a generator that produces clean energy. The electricity is then stored in batteries.
CEO and founder Ryan McIntosh told BK Reader it was similar to how turbines use wind energy to make electricity. The wind turns turbine blades around a rotor, which spins a generator that creates electricity.
Instead of the wind, RoadPower uses the energy from vehicles driving over its ramp, a sort of mechanical speed bump that McIntosh dubbed a "regene-ramp" unit.
"We invented pretty much everything here," McIntosh stated.
In addition to the ramp, RoadPower's intellectual property includes a unique hydraulics system that captures the energy generated from vehicles and sends it for processing. The company also invented the software and a type of radar system that detects the size and speed of approaching vehicles to relay data to its computing systems.
It's no surprise that the Brooklyn Navy Yard is a customer. The industrial park, which houses more than 450 businesses, announced the installation in 2016 of more than 3,000 solar rooftop panels that generate 1.1 million kilowatt hours of energy annually. RoadPower's system adds to its clean energy system.
The range of potential customers is almost endless, from big box stores and large apartment complexes to campuses and sports arenas. As electric cars become more prevalent, parking garages could use the technology to set up recharging stations on their premises.
RoadPower could also integrate its technology with facilities that already generate electricity from solar power. In fact, McIntosh looks forward to building partnerships with solar and wind power companies.
Deploying the system at locations like bridges and tunnels could go a long way toward making New York a clean energy city.
McIntosh said he was more inventor than engineer. As a kid he enjoyed tinkering with electronic and mechanical devices, which he coupled with his entrepreneurial streak. His first experiences in business came from repairing gadgets like Xboxes and smartphones.
Like many entrepreneurs, McIntosh took a leap of faith when he walked away from his secure corporate job.
In 2019, he officially launched RoadPower -- and did so with only a few months savings in the bank.
"It's pretty nerve-racking to leave your job," he recalled. But luckily for him, investors came on board just before he reached a financial breaking point. Now, RoadPower has three employees.
"We're now coming out of stealth mode to show what we've done," he said. "We're about a year from being able to go to market full scale."
Brooklyn: a startup destination
RoadPower is based at Newlab, a community of entrepreneurs, engineers and inventors, located at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Newlab enables its members to test and pilot their technologies in real-world environments and scale their businesses. RoadPower is one of the more than 170 different early-stage companies based at the facility.
All the community members are at the cutting edge of innovation in a wide range of technology fields, from quantum computing and artificial intelligence to life sciences technologies.
Newlab CEO Shaun Stewart told BK Reader that Brooklyn had become an attractive location for tech startups for several reasons, including its academic ecosystem, access to venture capital and desirability as a place to live.
It has a competitive process that draws applications from every corner of the country. Currently, about 38% of its members relocated from outside New York. Newlab and similar tech startup communities, like Urban-X in Greenpoint, have pushed Brooklyn to number one or two behind the Bay Area as a top location to launch a startup tech firm, Stewart stated.