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NPLaunchpad: Micatu’s Michael Oshetski on the Electrical Grid of the Future

May 24, 2021 | #NPLaunchpad

Author: Kate Hennigan
NPLaunchpad: Micatu’s Michael Oshetski on the Electrical Grid of the Future

Apple isn’t the only company that catapulted itself right out of a garage. On this week’s #NPLaunchpad webcast, Nathan Harris talked to Micatu’s CEO and founder Michael Oshetski. Michael started Micatu in 2011 and just a decade later the company is transforming how we operate electrical power systems. You might say Micatu is transforming transformers. Nathan and Michael talked about marketing in an industry that’s both risk-averse and rapidly evolving, and how Micatu is pushing the envelope.

We pulled out some of Michael’s salient points below. But there’s a lot more to explore. Watch the complete video or read the transcript for the full interview.

About Micatu

Founded in 2011, Micatu produces the next generation of highly accurate grid measurements and analytics through a modular optical sensing technology platform that is safer, more accurate, and more affordable than legacy grid technology. Their compelling solutions bridge the gap between yesterday’s one-way analog grid and today’s need for more two-way, real-time data and visibility as more intermittent renewables come online and drive the evolution of our modern grid.

About Michael Oshetski

Michael Oshetski is the founder of Micatu and currently serves as the President and Chief Executive Officer. He also serves on its board of directors. He has over 20 years’ experience in the optics industry. He created Micatu with the vision of fundamentally changing the way the world senses with light, using solutions that transform operational awareness for the power and industrial industries. Michael earned his Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology. He placed first in the 76West Clean Energy Business Competition One Million Dollar Grand Prize, is an honorary inductee at the RIT School of Engineering, and has published numerous patents within the field of optics and optical sensing applications.

Key Points from the Interview

 

Power isn’t linear anymore.

“There’s more of a bi-directional topology to power. It’s not linear like it used to be in the past, where you have your power station, transmission, sub-transmission, distribution to your house. It’s more of a circular topology, where you have renewable energies, you have people that are generating and consuming, you have ‘prosumers,’ as we like to call them.

“So there’s a lot of interesting challenges. And, like with all interesting challenges, it can create really interesting businesses and opportunity for businesses. So that’s what’s exciting about the status of power, at least in North America. But this is also global — I want to see [the] evolution of the grid. People say it’s a problem, [but] I really see it as the grid evolving to really embrace new technologies, and a lot of those technologies are newer forms of energy generation.”

Yes — Michael used the word “prosumer,” and here’s what we’re going to prosume.

“I think the grid of the future, the vision I have is that it’s really decentralized, and it’s a little bit more self-sustained in a manner of a residential level. So less dependence on big power suppliers. Our very complex grid is now very regional and circular. So I’m excited for that future. I think we can get there. I think we can get to net zero designs for homes, and really get to a carbon zero type of energy generation. I think that’s all really possible. And it’s going to take 100-150 years, but it’s the next evolution, where we’re going anyways, right? You really look at how the grids evolved over time. It’s something that was bound to happen. It’s that you get more decentralization of generation. We want to see more power to the consumer.”

More control, more efficacy, less centralization, huge potential.

“There’s always stuff coming around the corner. I think optical sensing is really going to enable this next generation of control, but also just higher efficiencies. What we’re really going to see is a game of higher efficiencies of our solar panels. I was reading some papers on solar panels becoming more efficient.

Also, you’re going to see the total paradigm shift in wind turbines. I think they’re going to go towards more of a passive wind turbine design. The blades cause a lot of issues. You’ll see a lot of tidal power, you’ll see a lot of geothermal power. There’s a lot of potential in the earth, I think a lot of that’s going to get tapped into. So it’s just like I said before, it’s going to be a shift from centralization to decentralization, and a lot of variation of power.”

This is a risk-averse industry but they depend on innovation. That helps in terms of marketing.

“Utilities are pretty risk-averse. They really have a big responsibility because they have to keep the power on at the end of the day. So just getting over those hurdles. I think the other thing too, is that being a small company in a really big ocean of large companies, you have to be able to navigate those waters.

So it’s challenging, but I think [on] the other hand too … technologies like mine are needed to help solve these problems. That really helps us in the marketing, because they’re searching for new ways to solve very complex problems [and those solutions] didn’t exist until we put this together. So that’s kind of the exciting part about it.”

Ready for Launch

We’re thrilled to host the NPLaunchpad because we’re passionate about the stories you tell. We love to hear about businesses that are disrupting their industry’s status quo and bringing change for the good. Have a great story for NPLaunchpad? We want to hear it. Contact us today. And be sure to follow the hashtag #NPLaunchpad so you never miss an episode!

 

Let's talk

FULL INTERVIEW

NATHAN: The New Perspective Launchpad is a new show where we speak with leading voices in the startup world and hear their stories and the challenges they face on their path to rapid growth.

With me today is Michael Oshetski, who is the founder and CEO of Micatu. Micatu provides innovative optical sensing grid technologies that help manage the chaos of today’s power grid. Michael is an expert in the optics industry, and is an inspiring business leader and entrepreneur. He’s also one of the smartest folks I know, personally. Michael, thank you very much for spending some time with me. It’s always a pleasure talking to you.

MICHAEL: Thanks, thanks for having me today. I’m really excited to talk about my journey and hopefully inspire other entrepreneurs. So thank you.

NATHAN: So let’s rewind the clock back to 2011, when you started the business. How did Micatu form?

MICHAEL: It really just formed because of a quest for more. When I formed the company in 2011, I wanted to really have an impact, not only for my own personal experiences, but also [to] have a positive impact for humanity.

And the opportunity of optical sensing came around. And I thought, you know, what the hell? Might as well go for it. So myself and Dr. Atul Pradhan started Micatu in 2011. As all good companies, we got started in my garage and kind of went from there.

NATHAN: Has the company’s purpose changed since it initially formed?

MICHAEL: Yeah, I think we’ve evolved. Our original technology base, the mission was to really have optical temperature and vibration sensing, but [in the] 2016 timeframe, we partnered with Gridview Optical Technologies, which was a company owned by Michael Sexton.

And over the last approximately five years, we’ve really focused on the utility industry, around providing the most highly accurate voltage and current measurement for control of the grid, and that goes from the distribution, the sub-transmission, the transmission side.

NATHAN: It’s a complex subject, we’ll probably just scratch the surface of it today. But tell me about the name Micatu. It’s a really interesting name. What led you to that?

MICHAEL: Micatu is actually my first name and Atul’s first name. If you took the “MIC” from Michael and the “ATU” from Atul, and you put them together, it’s “Micatu.” It’s a play on words, and then the [peaks of the] “M” represent the rising sun of opportunity. So that’s why we picked the “M” in the middle [of the circle]: for Micatu and the rising sun.

The idea was that there are always opportunities. You just have to look for them.

NATHAN: Sort of an inspiring perspective, right? Especially for all the entrepreneurs.

MICHAEL: Yeah, you’ve got to, right?

NATHAN: Yeah, you have to get through the waves.

Let’s talk about power for a minute. What do you think people need to understand about operating power plants now, as opposed to the way they were historically, or in the past?

MICHAEL: I think it’s just more complicated. I think there’s more of a bi-directional topology to power. It’s not linear like it used to be in the past, where you have your power station, transmission, sub-transmission, distribution to your house. I think it’s more of a circular topology, where you have renewable energies, you have people that are generating and consuming, you have “prosumers,” as we like to call them.

So there’s a lot of interesting challenges. And, like with all interesting challenges, it can create really interesting businesses and opportunity for businesses. So that’s what’s exciting about the status of power, at least in North America. But this is also global — I want to see evolution of the grid. People say it’s a problem, [but] I really see it as the grid evolving to really embrace new technologies, and a lot of those technologies are newer forms of energy generation.

NATHAN: That’s a healthy way to look at it. As you endeavor down this path to help support and evolve this change taking place, what would you say has been the biggest challenge in terms of marketing Micatu’s GridView platform?

MICHAEL: Utilities are pretty risk-averse. They really have a big responsibility because they have to keep the power on at the end of the day. So just getting over those hurdles. I think the other thing too, is that being a small company in a really big ocean of large companies, you have to be able to navigate those waters.

So it’s challenging, but I think [on] the other hand too, is that technologies like mine are needed to help solve these problems. That really helps us in the marketing, because they’re searching for new ways to solve very complex problems [and those solutions] didn’t exist until we put this together. So that’s kind of the exciting part about it.

NATHAN: Speaking of exciting, there’s some good news that just has come out, we’ll have to see how it ultimately shapes [out]. But from the Biden side, we’re talking about a $2 trillion infrastructure plan, with money set aside for the grid and modernization. Probably early stages here, but is that going to make a positive impact for Micatu? What do you see the impact might be for you?

MICHAEL: I’m excited about that. I think there’s a lot of opportunities for us, particularly as this infrastructure plan includes a lot of integration of renewables and more complex architectures. So for us, it’s just a really exciting opportunity. So we’ll see how it plays out.

But any investment in infrastructure, particularly on the utility side, really helps us. And also, we have our vibrational platform, which is interesting for condition monitoring of critical infrastructure assets around transportation rail, and a lot more thought is going into what it takes to really deploy infrastructure, but also to maintain it. I think that’s really where we add the most value.

NATHAN: Texas experienced a massive crisis back in February. From your vantage — did you see this coming?

MICHAEL: Yes and no, I mean, it’s kind of a freak thing of nature to see that type of condition in Texas. It really goes back to the fact that it’s a difficult job a lot of people have to do, and there’s so many variables to it, and just one small thing can really disrupt a lot of people’s lives.

I think that’s why condition monitoring is becoming more important. I think we understand the risk — until it really happens is when you appreciate the mitigation for it.

NATHAN: Is there a scenario in which Micatu’s technology could have helped or maybe provided data to prevent the crisis that happened?

MICHAEL: Well, I think what we could have done is a little bit more distribution control of the power. I think we could have helped a lot there. I think the other thing we could have done is, this wasn’t really a grid issue versus just not being prepared for the weather.

So I think we could have helped on some aspects, but some aspects — the disaster is just waiting to happen. And it happens. Because there’s a lack of winterization, and just other practices that — who knew they needed to do it? I think we could have helped with situational awareness and the control after, but before, not exactly sure where we would add the most value.

NATHAN: It’s a tough topic. How about the future? When you look ahead, first and foremost, for the grid, what major changes do you see looming ahead for us in the near term?

MICHAEL: I think we’re going to see a more prosumer-based model. I think the grid of the future is going to be very decentralized. The role of power plants is going to be — I’m not going to say it’s going to be diminished, but it’s going to be supplemented by the use of more solar energy on a residential basis, but also on a commercial / industrial basis. You’re going to see a lot of homes now that are going to have better standards for net zero, better insulation, less power consumption and more generation.

Now, I think the grid of the future, the vision I have is that it’s really decentralized, and it’s a little bit more self-sustained in a manner of a residential level. So less dependence on big power suppliers. Our very complex grid is now very regional and circular. So I’m excited for that future. I think we can get there. I think we can get to net zero designs for homes, and really get to a carbon zero type of energy generation. I think that’s all really possible. And it’s going to take 100-150 years, but it’s the next evolution, where we’re going anyways, right? You really look at how the grids evolved over time. It’s something that was bound to happen. It’s that you get more decentralization of generation. We want to see more power to the consumer.

NATHAN: Any particular technologies on the consumer end that you’re keeping your eye on that you think are going to be pretty game changing?

MICHAEL: Cold fusion. (Laughs). That would be cool, though. Cold fusion.

But no, there’s always stuff coming around the corner. I think the optical sensing is really going to enable some of this next generation of control, but also just higher efficiencies. What we’re really going to see is a game of higher efficiencies of our solar panels. I was reading some papers on solar panels becoming more efficient.

Also, you’re going to see the total paradigm shift in wind turbines. I think they’re going to go towards more of a passive wind turbine design. The blades cause a lot of issues. You’ll see a lot of tidal power, you’ll see a lot of geothermal power. There’s a lot of potential in the earth, I think a lot of that’s going to get tapped into. So it’s just like I said before, it’s going to be a shift from centralization to decentralization, and a lot of variation of power.

NATHAN: Creative solutions. And when you look ahead to the future for Micatu, for 2021, what are you most excited about?

MICHAEL: Really excited about our focus product launch, it’s really a game changer. It’s equivalent to what the GridView was, but for the industrial sensing market. Its focus stands for photonic vibration sensor. It really is a game changer, because it is a drop-in replacement for existing vibration sensors, but it’s 10x more sensitive. It’s really focused on condition monitoring solutions. And it really can give that operational insight to really make decisions and understand the condition of your equipment much, much sooner. So I think that’s going to be a game changer. Really excited to see that drop.

We’ve got some really big deployments going on with the GridView platform. Got some really cool technology coming out, really big announcements here soon. So 2021 will be another great year for us. Now, we’ve locked in a really big investment from Wave Equity Partners out of Boston. And we have new partners — SVB [Silicon Valley Bank] — that are a really great bank to work with. And we’ve some other stuff in the works that are going to be some big announcements once we put that out there. So another big year, big growth for us is what we’re seeing.

NATHAN: It’s been really exciting working with you guys up to this point, just to watch you guys catapult. Tell me, if someone wants to get a hold of you, what’s the best way for them to reach you?

MICHAEL: LinkedIn is a great way. Just reach out to my LinkedIn account. I’d love to talk to you. I’m really a huge supporter of the entrepreneur community. I think it’s a journey. People step into entrepreneurism, and it’s going to be a life-changing tech journey. It was for me, and you understand that you have to start somewhere. You know, Apple started in the garage. But everybody started somewhere.

NATHAN: I did not know you had the garage story.

MICHAEL: Yeah. Pretty cool. It was awkward too, just having zero space. And we got out of it. Actually, we’re excited. We’re moving to a 50,000 square foot facility this year, we’re expanding so it’s going to be fun.

NATHAN: Yeah, I mean, how many new hires have you onboarded in the last 3 months?

MICHAEL: I’ve lost count. I think 50-ish? Yeah, it’s been fun. So we’re just really geared towards the next phase of the company. It’s an exciting journey.

NATHAN: Thanks for spending some time. I really appreciate it.

MICHAEL: I appreciate it, too. So thank you.

 

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