Orange to Red: Syracuse Startup, Heliohex, Participates in Cornell’s JumpStart Program
Adam Milam is the Founder and CEO of Heliohex, a horticulture LED-lighting technology company based out of The Tech Garden in Syracuse NY.
Adam shows true entrepreneurial spirit and resourcefulness in his ability and desire to take advantage of the many opportunities available to him in Central New York. He is now seeking a $300,000 investment for his company, HelioHex. The funding will be used to get units manufactured for first delivery and build out a specialized and highly skilled team, as well as help accessing the innovator and early adopter farmers on the product adoption curve.
In addition to being a Tech Garden member, Adam is a member of the Clean Tech Center program, and has been the recipient of many awards that have enabled him to move his business forward. The first of which was the Syracuse Center of Excellence (CoE) Award through the Analysis and Design Center, which allowed for the CFD analysis of a 3D model design for cooling his LED. Then he applied and was approved for a full Track 2 Grants For Growth Award, which is convertible debt note to advance ideas that are beyond the proof of concept stage. Following Grants for Growth, he was awarded a SyracuseCoE Innovation Fund Grant, which is given to help overcome barriers to commercialization of potentially transformative innovations.
One of the most interesting and impactful aspects of this entrepreneur’s journey and his company has been his relationship with Cornell University, and in Spring 2017, Adam was chosen for the Cornell Center for Materials Research (CCMR) JumpStart Award Program.
Taking a step back…
Adam was born and raised in Georgia and studied mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech before starting his career in manufacturing, aerospace casting in particular. When he saw the opportunity he left his position to start his first company; a dog treat manufacturing company. Turns out, Georgia grows 45% of the countries peanuts so he sourced peanuts from farmers directly for his product.
When he sold this business, a product development job became available in CNY back in the aerospace casting space and he took it. While working back in corporate, the startup itch returned, so he invested in a trucking company. With a co-founder that had 25+ years experience as a driver, Adam left his corporate position and together they bought two 53′ trucks/trailers and transported refrigerated goods across the U.S. Unfortunately, this business had to shut down.
It was at this time that he was faced with a choice. Does he go back to corporate or continue on the path of the inventor and entrepreneur? Needless to say, entrepreneurship won out. He had two potential inventions with very different applications, so as he did his research he ultimately decided to pursue his current patent pending technology for an LED lighting system for plants. As most great entrepreneurs start, he built the prototype in his basement and set out to create his company.
While pursuing the patent on this technology, his IP attorney was the one who recommended The Tech Garden as a potential resource for him. Adam had never heard of Tech Garden, but registered to attend a public MeetUp event and jokes about how he showed up in a suit and tie without knowing what to expect. Being from Georgia, he found the events at the Tech Garden to be a great way to connect with people in the local entrepreneurship ecosystem, so he continued to attend events until he finally decided to apply for membership of both The Tech Garden and the Clean Tech Center Program. He was accepted to both on November 7, 2015. Adam remarks that this was the best day of his life because it also happened to be the same day his daughter was born.
“The Tech Garden has been a really good hub for connecting to the whole startup scene in this region.” – Adam Milam, Founder and CEO of Heliohex
Mike Cartini of the SBDC is accredited as the first true mentor Adam came across at the Tech Garden. It was Mike that urged and pushed Adam to go talk to Cornell and take advantage of the greenhouses at the university.
With that encouragement, Adam cold called a Dean in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who graciously connected him to Dr. Neil Mattson, who now runs Cornell Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). The Cornell CEA was formed back in the 1970’s by two emeritus professors, Dr. Robert Langhans and Dr. Louis Albright, whom Adam got to meet and who still stay as involved as they can with the program. It combines horticultural sciences with engineering to come up with better solutions for growing plants. Adam goes down as often as possible to join their Friday meetings and Dr. Mattson invited Adam to join their industry advisory board.
Adam had originally met John Sinnott, who runs the CCMR Jumpstart program, in passing at an event. When they reconnected, John told Adam about the open applications for Jumpstart and Adam co-applied with the researchers at Cornell. They were accepted in Spring 2017. In particular, Adam works with Dr. Neil Mattson, who specializes in plant science, and Dr. Kale Harbick, who is an engineer of CEA program and who, Adam proclaims, has one of the greatest papers on greenhouses vs. indoor farm energy efficiency. They continue their work together.
Adam tells us that he and his wife love it in Central New York and feel they’ve been thoroughly adopted by the region and are happy to have built their family here. He affirms it is a very welcoming community with lots of activities. He states, “I don’t think the people who grew up here appreciate how nice of a community this is.” As Adam continues to grow Heliohex, he hopes to give back and looks to source locally as much as possible for his business. Long term, he would love to have a manufacturing facility right here in NYS, which he calculates would take about $10 million to complete.
We look forward to Adam’s continued success with Heliohex.