This week in our Startup Spotlight blog series is our 2022 Enabling Tech Category Winner and Female Founder Winner – Incooling!
Cooling Down the Planet One Server at a Time.
Six Questions for Helena Samodurova, Chief Commercial Officer and Founder, Incooling of the Netherlands
Helena graduated with degrees in International Business and Spanish language from Leeds Beckett University in Great Britain and then earned a Masters in Climate Change Mitigation from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. After that, she participated in the world’s largest climate innovation and entrepreneurship program organized by EIT Climate-KIC where she founded her first environmental startup. This led to engagement with HighTechXL based in Eindhoven, Netherlands, which some consider “the Silicon Valley of Europe”. HighTechXL is an accelerator building venture teams around tech from CERN, European Space Agency, Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, Philips, ASML, NXP and other global innovators, which generated ideas and connections which resulted in her founding Incooling in 2019.
1. What problem is INCOOLING solving and how?
The explosive growth in data is exciting for AI, environmental pattern recognition, drug discovery, etc., but it also burns ALOT of energy much of which is wasted as HEAT – like how you notice when your laptop is doing heavy image rendering it can get too hot to actually hold on your lap. Datacenters are filled with tens of thousands of “blades” just that hot, and operators have to air condition the whole cubic volume of these warehouses in order to cool these servers. Estimates are that data centers will consume 20% of all the world’s electricity by 2025, and their GHG output is as much as the entire maritime and aviation industry combined. So, doing your work in the cloud is not as green as you might imagine.
Incooling is addressing this by what you might call “precision cooling”, directly refrigerating the chips rather than the whole cubic volume of the datacenter or even the whole rack or blade. And we’re not just blowing away heat, we are actually chilling the chips below what their ambient temperature would be. Our mission is “Cooling Down the Planet One Server At A Time”.
2. What is your background that led you to developing INCOOLING?
Well my path has certainly not been a straight line, but I guess that I always loved nature and science and its applications out in the world. I started with an interest in medicine, but when our family moved, there were transfering complications, so I ended up studying business. My first jobs were in the “general business” space, but that did not thrill me either.
In the meantime, I had learned Spanish and ended up in Spain and was lucky to get connected with Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona where I got a Masters Degree in Climate Change Mitigation. That led to a sustainability project at the High Tech XL accelerator in the Netherlands which engages with alot of elite research groups, such as ASML, Philips and CERN. There I met Rudie Verweij, who had an IT focus, and through all that he and I came to more deeply appreciate the datacenter thermal challenge. CERN had developed this thermal phase change solution to support their Large Hadron Collider, which was presented to us via HighTechXL. Rudie and I saw the potential for a commercial datacenter implementation, which energized my previous business training… and that turned into founding Incooling!
3. What is unique about your technology and what is the validation status?
The first thing to note is that applying the concept of a heat pump to electronics is not new. I think Intel and IBM filed some initial patents on the concept over 50 years ago, and attempts were made again in the early 2000s with initial breakthroughs in microfluidics. But, the CERN technology uses recent advances in microfab and phase-change materials – which is the medium of heat transfer. These allow us to do something which is unique: not merely dissipating added heat, but actually refrigerating the chip below ambient temperature. And that allows us to overclock the chip to extract every last logic cycle out of its capacity. We have demonstrated a 56% increase in compute performance WHILE also using 54% less energy.
Also, moving the heat directly off the chip gives us actually hotter heat, which is “higher quality” for direct recycling uses like campus-heating in temperate climates.
4. What are your Go-To-Market ideas and traction received so far?
We’re going to work with the datacenter supply chain to produce and market components. Our first milestone is encapsulating chips in a cooling radiator on-board and packaging that as a blade unit to install in racks. No secret, this will be an expensive product, a Ferrari not a Vespa or Golf, so our target will be High-Performance Computing (HPC) applications like high-frequency trading and simulation engineering where that 56%/54% statistic has real value.
So, this is ON-chip cooling. Our -later- evolution will be IN-chip cooling where we bring the “heat pump” components and embed them within the multiple layers of advanced semiconductors. That will open much broader markets and we’re very fortunate to be based in the Netherlands surrounded by world leaders like ASML, NXP, Philips and others that can offer integration opportunities.
And we have enough expressed interest in our roadmap to keep us very busy right now !
5. What’s next?
Well, you have caught me and Incooling right at an inflection point. We are just now wrapping up a pre-Series A round of investment which should allow our efforts to scale up and next year address a number of demos, pilots and collaborations that we are actively soliciting regarding our first stage server blade design. We are actively scouting for pilots – if you have computing and energy limitations, please reach out to us!
6. Tell us about your experience with XTC and what were the benefits/takeaways?
It’s been a great experience for me and for Incooling. Much as we are very fortunate in our home ecosystem in the Netherlands, the experience of coming to the USA for the Global Finals was unbeatable. The elite quality of the people involved with XTC, not least Young and Bill, both super experienced in our space – Samsung and TSMC – and the top caliber of others we met at TechCrunch Sessions was great. These were clearly the folks anyone would want to get in front of, and I am pleased to say that we have had, I’d say, between 5 and 10 direct follow-ups interested in investment or collaboration that came out of that XTC week in The Valley.
Also, our nomination for TechCrunch Startup Battlefield came directly from our exposure at the XTC Finals.
At Disrupt, there were folks who remembered Incooling from being cheered on at the XTC Global Finals in June which made a memorable impression to them. Being associated with the XTC brand has certainly boosted our validation when we present to investors and collaborators.
Interviewed and edited by John Martin
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