Address to the Advance Research Projects Agency - Graduate Student Program

July 8, 2019, ARPA-E

My name is Jason Wang, I am a partner at Cypress River Advisors, a Silicon Valley advisory firm. Cypress River Advisors is proud to co-sponsor the ARPA-E Student Program.

First, I want to thank all the ARPA-E program directors and ARPA-E Fellows for taking the time out of this conference’s mad schedule to be here. I would have never have thought I would have the honor of Rachel Slaybaugh kicking off our lunch today.  To the grad students in the room, I encourage you to spend as much time as possible with these men and women who are the lifeblood of the ARPA-E program.  I am grateful for all that I have learned from them and their service to this country.  So let’s give them a round of applause.  

So, you may be wondering why “a bunch of dudes” from Silicon Valley is sponsoring YOU at America’s premier energy conference. 

The reason is simple.

Our energy choices affect the health of every single one of us on this planet. Pollution knows no borders. Like Rachel, we deeply recognize the value of having clean energy, fresh air and clean water.  I have a six month old baby. I want to leave the planet in a better place for her.

These resources directly impact humanity, and consequently any business. Without fresh air and water, our employees will get sick —destroying the very foundation of our knowledge economy. And sick customers, mean our fundamental source of long-term revenue is threatened.  As an proud American, we need clean energy to drive our economy, and our most important resource: our people.  I want to see America not just survive but thrive. 

To see it differently is to avoid facing the facts. Unfortunately, many people are doing just that. Science and the scientific method are under attack. One method to fight back is for the clean energy community to communicate better. We need to communicate how our research benefits the American people. We need to communicate with those who disagree with us in a way where we can find common ground.

I hope many of you will go on to contribute your technical talents to create clean energy solutions. Clear communication is the biggest skill you will need in attracting and sustaining support for your ideas. At Cypress River Advisors, I have seen firsthand that the biggest problem for startup companies is the failure to make complexity understandable. The Valley of Death between first idea and first revenue is very very wide, more so in clean tech than in other fields. 

The reason?  Investors do not have time to process complexity — you must do that for them. By clearly articulating the value proposition supported by the science. This is my best advice: tell the story why your research is scalable in the context of how it can help the American people, and for them as an individual. There is one more thing: investors and the public need to feel the the same joy of discovery as you do.

In addition to sponsoring all of you to attend this conference, I have also invited a speaker today who is an expert in science communication. Destin Sandlin is the host of the YouTube channel Smarter Every Day. I love his work because you can see and feel the joy of discovery.

He takes complex science concepts like laminar flow and the Schlieren Effect and makes them not only easy to understand but extremely enjoyable for a broad audience — of nearly 7 million subscribers. So it is my honor to have him here to share his expertise and advice with you. Let’s welcome Destin come to the stage.