At New Iridium, we commercialize low-cost and yet high-performance organic photoredox catalysts (PCs) to enable industrial scale photoredox catalysis by addressing the supply and cost issues associated with precious metal iridium or ruthenium PCs. Developed from the Miyake lab (jointly at the University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado State University; pending US patent 15/960,086), our dihydrophenazine and phenoxazine organic PC products were engineered as strong excited state reductants for oxidative quenching applications.
“[In my lab] we develop new catalysts that are derived from organic molecules that can absorb sunlight and convert that solar energy into chemical energy to run reactions and make chemicals at ambient conditions. That research project led to the spin out of New Iridium, which is run by Chern, CEO and co-founder of the company, [and a former post-doctoral researcher in my lab]. I took a lesson from [postdoc advisor Robert Grubbs] and patent everything because it’s hard to see how important something is going to be in the future. The catalysts we are working on, they have a lot more applications than the motivations we had in the first place. The motivations in the first place was to use them in polymerization synthesis, but Chern and I saw that those catalysts have applications that are bigger than just polymers.” — Co-Founder and CSU Professor Garret Miyake
“Early 2017, shortly after we registered company, Garret and I wanted to test the market. [CU Boulder and us] did a non-exclusive licensing agreement to sell two of our products on the Sigma website before New Iridium even had an SBIR grant. One of the two products sold out. That was just the beginning – those two products. We are pushing out at least 20 more. To me, I have a vision greater than [just licensing]. Ultimately, the customer can work with [New Iridium] to improve the [chemical] process. At the same time, this is just a product, but the whole market of using light to do chemistry, I can see the horizon what is coming. I see a great potential and I am risking everything to make that happen.” — Co-Founder Chern-Hooi Lim
“It’s really cool to see other chemists and other research groups using them and doing things that we never thought of doing with them. When I was a graduate student, I never thought about what happens after the fundamental research and, in a lot of cases, nothing happens if the scientist doesn’t take it a little farther forward. If they just publish a paper, that might be the end of it. It’s really exciting to watch our fundamental discoveries move forward to paths of commercialization. To have opportunities to impact things that my parents would understand what’s going on.” –Co-Founder Garret Miyake
“This will change the way we do chemistry. Instead of applying heat, we apply light. I see the opportunity to make things a lot more efficient and doing things that were not previously possible with traditional chemistry. The transformation with pharma is just the beginning. Other markets, such as commodity chemicals or fuel can also use them. Our product has been shown to turn CO2 to methane using sunlight. We can see the endless possibilities, but we have to start somewhere.” —Co-Founder Chern-Hooi Lim
“Market education is a big hurdle. The people in industry today that know about photoredox catalysis are the newly minted PhDs. Anyone who has risen to a management level may have heard about photoredox, but they didn’t study it in school. Therefore, getting the knowledge out about us and the new technology is a big challenge. We have been fortunate that there’s a pretty big connection at CSU generated by the grad program. Personal networks of academic colleagues that have gone into industry and they’re the ones we have reached out to. That started the connection to industry of getting our customer development ramped up and understanding how they are using it. Even the initial market test was a result of connections that started here at CSU. –Co-Founder & COO Brent Cutcliffe (not affiliated with CSU)
“There’s a huge push from the university (CSU) for commercialization. I see a concerted effort of CU and CSU collaborating and have expanding programs to support commercialization. When I was an undergraduate in chemical engineering [Drexel University], I would participate in pitch competitions and business plan writing competitions. To me, it was just for fun and interesting. I never thought I would do a startup.
In the front range area, people really promote startups, and my awareness started to go up [during PhD at CU]. It was just a spark of connecting your research to wanting to do a startup. Then, I became a postdoc at CSU in Dr. Miyake’s lab. The CSU Ventures Ambassador program was great, and I immediately took advantage of that. We learned about all of the details to educate people about startups. Since I wanted to do my own startup, it was just about applying these things. Of course, applying it is very difficult. If your startup only has 3 months left, actually doing it is hard, but at least you are more prepared. You are more well-rounded. You get a sense of what the investor wants, and doing customer discovery gives you a sense of what your customer wants. I did the R2M [Research to Market workshop] as an ambassador. I helped other teams do customer research and I saw value in it. I started doing customer development for my own company. That was an essential piece for applying to SBIR commercialization grants. How do you convey to the reviewers that you have something people want?
Through CSU Ventures [now CSU Strata], they have workshops on SBIR. They invite other people who were successful on it. You can’t learn it from textbooks, but you can learn from other people who were successful. I think that Ventures has education for any inventors if they are willing to learn it and want to make a startup of their own.”
—Co-Founder Chern-Hooi Lim