THE BLOG
08/07/2013 08:03 am ET Updated Oct 07, 2013

DreamMakers Innovating for Good

My passion is to seek out and shine a light on people who found the courage to create big, bold visions and are transforming their visions into reality, to help make the world a better place. I call these people DreamMakers. They take on seemingly intractable problems like poverty, the degradation of the planet, global health, illiteracy, hate and prejudice... These visionaries are accomplishing extraordinary results in the face of tremendous obstacles.

I believe we learn best through stories, especially personal stories of challenge and triumph. I have interviewed numerous DreamMakers for my book series, documentary and my articles - it seemed like I was always talking to the same person. Although they are highly diverse and unique in their own way, they share some common characteristics that seem to transcend age, culture, ethnicity, geography, and circumstances. The secret to their success seems to be their attitude; how they think about themselves and the world around them. My goal is to share a little about their journey in hopes of giving people some information, inspiration and the courage to Dream Big.

I am sure you have noticed that young DreamMakers are emerging in record numbers around the world. Entrepreneurship is growing exponentially and many of these entrepreneurs are innovating for good. They are not taking the traditional path of either doing good or pursuing profits, they are achieving their success by transforming real world problems into opportunities to make a difference and making money. Aided by technology and a "can do" spirit, they are creating businesses that serve as an agent for world benefit.

I want to give you a glimpse into SiNode Systems, a startup company cofounded by six young entrepreneurs innovating for good: Samir Mayekar, Cary Hayner, Nishit Mehta, Guy Peterson, Joshua Lau and Thomas Yu. They have developed a company whose vision is to help impact the world's clean energy future. I was introduced to these young men at the Kellogg Innovation & Entrepreneurship Global conference at Northwestern University. Kin Global "...nurtures a community of change agents and generates opportunities for discovery and synchronicity".

SiNode was one of the finalists of the KIN Prize - four teams of Northwestern students who were competing on business proposals focused on global prosperity. All of the teams are developing amazing businesses with missions to positively impact our world. SiNode however, is developing a business to help impact what I believe to be the most pressing issue of our time, climate change and its affect on people and our planet. All other problems go away by default if we loose our planet.

Let me introduce you to Samir Mayekar, Chief Executive Officer of SiNode. He shares some of his views on SiNode's evolution and a little about his personal story; some defining events that led him take on such a big challenge.

"This all got started at Northwestern University via a class called NUvention. The class brought together MBA students from the Kellogg School of Management with engineers from the McCormick School of Engineering; that's where I met my fellow cofounders. We all shared an interest in helping mitigate climate change via new technology, so we decided to form a business that focused on commercializing novel materials that can enable the world's clean energy future."

The team formed SiNode Systems in 2012 while they were in graduate school. They have developed a new material that enables batteries to store more energy and charge faster. This will impact cell phones, tablets and the heavy soldier packs that military troops carry. Down the road it will help enable electrical vehicles.

" Energy storage affects us all on a personal level because we all get frustrated with our cell phones and tablets because the batteries don't last the whole day. Mobility and being constantly connected have changed the world and longer lasting batteries are a key component of letting people communicate. In the emerging markets cell phones are critical - many people don't have landlines so having long lasting batteries is essential in these markets. From a broader societal perspective, having electrical vehicles that charge faster and hold their charge longer is an incentive for people to buy electrical cars. SiNode can do our part to help mitigate the impact of climate change by providing better energy storage solutions."

Developing a startup business with such a magnanimous vision has to present a lot of challenges. I was curious how the SiNode team has learned to weather the storms and keep going.

"It is not just if you fall down get up, but expect to fall down. Knowing that will happen will help you get up even quicker. Don't spend too much time looking in the rear view mirror or focusing on your mistakes. You need to focus on the road ahead of you."

2012 was a year of formation and struggle for the Sinode team. They entered many business plan competitions to win seed funding. They faced their share of disappointments but they persisted. The team continued to work on their business plan, called on customers and they refined their technology. They course corrected and improved and that process led them to the successes they are now experiencing.

There were two tipping points for SiNode team. The first was the summer of 2012 when they won a federal research grant focused on battery technology for electric vehicles. That provided them with the seed capital they needed to advance the technology outside of the university lab. The second tipping point was winning the grand prize of the 2013 Rice Business Plan Competition. That gave them significant private funding and their first group of investors. The Rice Business Plan Competition is an award that has been described by Fortune and CNN/Money as the Super Bowl and World Series for startup companies. This was a major milestone for SiNode.

Samir shared their vision for the company three years from now and the values that guide the way they work.

"Three years from now we will be a sustainable, profitable company that has joined forces with a large strategic partner that can mass-produce our technology. There are three core values that guide our work: the first is Focus. There are plenty of distractions out there in the world. The most important thing for a startup company is to stay focused on what you are trying to accomplish. Second, is to Challenge Conventional Wisdom. The clean energy world has struggled to create successful businesses. At SiNode we challenge conventional wisdom about what a business model looks like in our industry and how you bring technology to market. We are always thinking about creative ways to build a successful company. The third is to Maintain Integrity in everything that we do. It is very important to be credible; it is important to be fact and data driven. We are a young management team so integrity is especially important given we will be partnering with larger more mature companies who need to trust us."

All the DreamMakers I have interviewed came to crossroads where they made important decisions that set them on the journey to pursue their dreams. Samir shared his defining moments. He started out as a management consultant and then decided to go work on President Obama's 2008 campaign. He wanted to use the skills he learned in consulting for public benefit so he joined the campaign's budget team. After the campaign Samir went to work for President Obama in the White House. Next, he worked for a small executive branch agency that focused on clean energy investments.

"It was that experience that helped me realize how much technology development our society needs to be able to mitigate climate change. That realization led me to business school. I really appreciated what the government was doing from a policy standpoint but ultimately we need a lot of successful companies out there leading the charge. It is interesting that the world of government service unlocked the passion in me to pursue entrepreneurship. The experience of working for President Obama taught me that I needed to think big. That inspired me to cofound a company that can contribute to the world's clean energy future. I also learned that it's not just government and nonprofits that can change the world; it is vital to have entrepreneurs and businesses working to make a difference in our world."

Samir shared some advice for leaders and entrepreneurs who are considering innovating for good.

"There was a philosophy that the President used to guide his campaign team - Respect, Empower and Include. We adopted this management philosophy at SiNode. It helps us to stay on course as we do our part to help create the energy future this world needs."

The entrepreneurs at SiNode are DreamMakers, innovating for good. Like all the DreamMakers I have interviewed, they share a sense of responsibility beyond their own lives. They take responsibility for the world they live in and are committed to making it better. They share a characteristic I call "practical optimism", although they clearly see obstacles, they unflinchingly confront them. They have a deep belief that any challenge can be overcome so their vision is large, deep, and unaffected by cynicism. We can learn a lot from the DreamMakers at SiNode.