Innovating Hydrogen Trading: Blackcurrant Counts Another Win as the 2023 George Shultz Innovation Fund Awardee
Blackcurrant adds to its accolades as the winner of the spring cycle of the 2023 George Shultz Innovation Fund – a win that follows its New Venture Challenge success and acceptance into the Polsky Center’s new data science and AI accelerator.
Managed by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the George Shultz Innovation Fund provides up to $250,000 in co-investment funding for early-stage science-based ventures coming out of the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory, Fermilab, and the Marine Biological Laboratory.
“There was rigorous analysis and debate throughout the Innovation Fund decision-making process. After much discussion, Blackcurrant emerged as a favorite because they are a first mover tackling a unique problem in the hydrogen space with a highly experienced and motivated team,” said Omkar Bhave, director of investment strategy at the Polsky Center.
Blackcurrant is addressing the hydrogen market’s challenges, including limited price visibility, time-consuming contracts, unmet hydrogen demand, inadequate buyer adoption tools, and fragmented demand visibility for producers. Its unique platform brings hydrogen producers, transporters, and buyers together, offering a price and volume discovery tool that provides accurate market pricing and introduces the world’s first hydrogen index. This increased transparency enables well-informed decision-making and enhances market efficiency.
The funds will be used for “innovating hydrogen trading,” said CEO Akshay Thakur, MBA ’24, who cofounded the company with Yaroslav Kharkov, CTO.
“With cutting-edge technology and early adopter customers, our mission is to revolutionize the outdated hydrogen trading process.”
– CEO Akshay Thakur
The Innovation Fund investment will help drive growth, establish an industry presence, and bring key executives on board to spearhead the startup’s go-to-market strategy and solidify its position as a transformative leader in hydrogen trading.
Thakur explained that participating in the Innovation Fund was an intricate and time-intensive journey. The team dedicated two to three hours per week to closely collaborate with the Innovation Fund Associates (IFA) – an interdisciplinary group of students and post-docs who act as venture capital associates, performing due diligence on the ventures selected to participate in the program.
“The process proved to be immensely valuable as it allowed us to gain firsthand experience of how institutional investors evaluate and invest in seed-stage startups, providing valuable preparation for our upcoming fund raise,” Thakur said.
“The thought-provoking questions posed by the IFAs and advisory committee played a pivotal role in driving our commercial traction and direction, resulting in significant progress for our venture,” he added. “Ultimately, the process taught us invaluable lessons and enriched our understanding of the investor landscape, strengthening our position as we move forward with our business goals.”
Blackcurrant last year took second place at the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge (NVC), receiving a total of $352,500 in investment, including the Moonshot Prize, which is awarded to a team whose unique technologies are catalyzing innovative solutions to global challenges. It also was accepted into the inaugural cohort of Transform. Housed within the new Deep Tech Ventures initiative at the Polsky Center, Transform provides approximately $250,000 in total investment alongside full-spectrum support, including access to business and technical training, industry mentorship, venture capital connections, and additional funding opportunities.
Thakur said the NVC program played a crucial role in refining the business model and development pathway. “Thanks to Transform’s support, we successfully created essential AI trading products for the hydrogen industry. The Innovation Fund’s comprehensive market perspective validated our product capability and customer response, confirming the path outlined during NVC,” he explained. “As we move forward, our focus with the next chapter is to achieve sustained expansion for our valued customers.”
Blackcurrant’s platform also incorporates payment processing and a transportation portal to significantly shorten contract negotiation and logistics coordination time. It also publishes the carbon intensity for each trade to enable customers to capitalize on the $3 per kg credit from the Inflation Reduction Act for trading green hydrogen.
“I am excited about Blackcurrant because they are tackling an important roadblock faced by the hydrogen industry,” noted Bhave. “By creating a marketplace for hydrogen, Blackcurrant has the potential to accelerate the proliferation of this industry which is a key component in the shift toward clean energy.”
Interested in learning more? Please contact Omkar Bhave at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.