Will McKnight

William Lee Mendes McKnight, founder of Farm to Flame Energy, has been selected as a semi-finalist for  the FuzeHub Commercialization Competition, part of the Jeff Lawrence Innovation Fund.

The $350,000 Commercialization Competition is a two-day event in Albany, NY that features a pitch competition showcasing innovative early stage companies, panel discussions and networking opportunities. Up to seven companies will be awarded $50,000 each to help move their projects forward.

Syracuse University startup SparkCharge was a winner of last year’s FuzeHub.

McKnight, a December ’18 Arts and Sciences major, is working to empower rural farmers by providing them with sustainable energy through a biomass combustion system that can be used to power micro-grids.  As the winner of the recent Syracuse University Hult Prize campus competition, he competed earlier this year in the Boston global regionals of the $1 million competition that is known as the Nobel Prize of student social entrepreneurship.

McKnight’s goal is to bring sustainable energy solutions to areas of the world without reliable power, through a proprietary biomass generator and microgrid solutions.  He is already partnering with farmers and energy entrepreneurs in countries such as Liberia, as well as utility companies in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The integrated biomass combustion system can provide electricity to communities without reliable power sources, or serve as back-up power for community-scaled solar and wind systems.  Working with a patented technology developed by his grandfather that is licensed to Farm to Flame, he is building a beta prototype that he will be testing as part of his path to commercialization.

McKinght’s smokeless, odorless, biomass generator and community microgrid solution will leverage the power of locally available energy crops and agricultural waste to create and distribute energy in developing countries. Farm to Flame will do four things.

  • Build biomass powered biomass generators
  • Build fuel processing units capable of grinding any feed stock or agricultural waste into a fuel source;
  • Work with farmers to help grow the best feed stocks for their climate and soils
  • Work with utility companies and energy entrepreneurs to distribute the energy through a microgrid

A single Farm to Flame generator can power an entire village, or 32 average American households, and can also power commercial buildings or schools, utilizing a wide range of feedstocks. While most biomass units can only use one feed stock such as rice husks or nut shells, Farm to Flame can use anything that is grown locally, including the agricultural waste from feed stocks.

McKnight’s entrepreneurial drive grew as he engaged in research and customer discovery as part of planning his venture.  As he realized the impact of his idea, McKnight has pursued a diligent path to commercialization over the past two years of working with the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars at Syracuse University.  He is now incubating his company as a member of the Clean Tech Center at The Tech Garden in downtown Syracuse, working with his venture partner Kwaku Jyamfi ’18, a Syracuse University engineering and computer science alumnus who is now pursuing a graduate degree at Carnegie Mellon.

Finalists will be announced closer to the event date in November. FuzeHub is a not-for-profit organization responsible for assisting small to medium-sized manufacturing companies (SMEs) in New York State.  Its commercialization competition was developed launched last year to support pre-revenue businesses and to target to a specific phase in a company’s product development. Competition award funds must be used to produce, or improve upon, a working prototype or beta phase to enable the applicant to pursue additional investment and customers, leading to the commercialization of their product concept.

The Jeff Lawrence Manufacturing Innovation Fund, consisting of $1 million annually for five years, supports a set of activities designed to promote technology development and commercialization across New York State, including Manufacturing Innovation Grants, a Commercialization Competition, challenges, strategic memberships, training programs, and other resources serving small and medium sized manufacturers and companies.

FuzeHub is administering this fund as part of its role as the Empire State Development (ESD)-designated statewide Manufacturing Extension Partnership center.

Learn more about Farm to Flame at: https://farmtoflameenergy.com/

For more information about FuzeHub, visit https://fuzehub.com/manufacturing-innovation-fund