Williams Summer Institute for Entrepreneurship
2022 was the inaugural summer for the Williams Summer Institute for Entrepreneurship (WSIE). Started by Tonio Palmer and assisted by Adriana Roman, WSIE exists to enable Williams students to pursue entrepreneurial projects full time during the summer. WSIE is something of an incubator, offering programming and mentorship and facilitating conversations with Williams alumni in relevant industries. This summer four groups were accepted into the program, and we met weekly to discuss challenges we faced and solutions we found, as well as to bounce ideas off each other in quasi-brainstorming sessions.
We started this work back in January, initially for the purpose of entering the Williams College Venture Pitch Competition in April. We began by thinking about the energy transition and difficult-to-decarbonize sectors: what solutions could we come up with to address issues such as intermittency and inefficiencies in energy storage and transportation? We began with hydrogen and theorized potential synergies with geothermal energy, so we reached out to dozens of experts in the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as the private sector, to learn about both. We read as much as we could about plant siting and development, as well as the hydrogen market and energy markets generally.
After a few months of work, we pivoted from hydrogen to ammonia, a hydrogen application that is more easily transported and stored. Zero-carbon ammonia is a rapidly growing and changing industry that has the possibility to contribute significantly to global GHG emissions reductions. We were able to meet with executives and partners at both small startups and large institutions. As we had more and more meetings, I realized that I had relevant knowledge, as well as a unique perspective on the space as we hadn’t been biased by past experiences.
Throughout the first half of the summer, we continued to pursue development of a zero-carbon ammonia production facility in Northern California. However we came to the conclusion that finding a few billion dollars to fund the construction might be infeasible, so we decided to tackle the same issue that we came across. How could we de-risk these zero-carbon ammonia production projects to lower the cost of capital for development firms? We found there is a paradox of adoption that creates something of a stalemate between ammonia producers and consumers. By making these two parties more visible to each other, we can reduce uncertainty, facilitating collaboration and ultimately encouraging adoption. Importantly, this brokerage-consultancy idea is far less capital intensive to get off the ground, presenting a more feasible business model for us.
I want to thank my sponsors, Mr. and Mrs. Case, as well as the ’68 Center for Career Exploration for the opportunity to pursue this work. It was an invaluable experience to work full-time in a space that I am so passionate about and to be able to take full responsibility for the outcome of a project.