July 12, 2024
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The Nexstera big thing

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Nexstera founders from left to right Stefany James, Kylene Landenberger and Penny Lane Case. (courtesy photo)

What started as a year-long senior project at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo could turn out to be a lifelong passion for Penny Lane Case and her fellow co-founders of Nexstera Tech.

Nexstera, founded in 2022, is a startup with a lot of momentum. 

The goal of the company is to help mitigate the risk of waste fires started by lithium-ion battery combustion by identifying these batteries and the devices they are embedded  within curbside bins before they’re collected.

“When these products or batteries are improperly disposed of in curbside bins, they end up in the back of waste vehicles and ultimately recycling facilities. In both instances they can be crushed or punctured, causing thermal runaway that reaches 500 degrees Celsius or more in seconds. This leads to over $1.2 billion in damages to the waste stream every year in the U.S. and Canada alone,” Case told the Business Times. 

The idea started from a year-long interdisciplinary senior project centered around sustainability that had mechanical engineering, computer science, software engineering and business students.

Through that project, the team saw the issues that arose from lithium-ion battery-induced fires.

“It  is catastrophic to the environment,” Case said.

“åThese fires are putting people’s lives in danger and nothing is being done.”

Through that project, the team identified a solution-attaching an ML-enabled deep detection radar system to the waste vehicle, capable of scanning through a bin and providing effective material detection to the waste industry. This realization got the team started on their mission.

Founded by Case, Stefany James and Kylene Landenberger, Nexstera has seen a lot of success in the two short years since the beginning of that senior project.

Once the project was completed, Case and James went through the summer accelerator program through the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Cal Poly. Shortly after, the two found Landenberger to develop  the software component of the company.

Since then, Nexstera has raised an oversubscribed pre-seed round worth $650,000 — which includes $165,000 the team won at the CIE and SBDC’s annual AngelCon event this past May.

Case said the team is aiming to raise a bit more through a bridge round before it goes for its seed round in January. 

The bridge round will allow the company to begin making key technical hires. The seed round will go toward the initial production of the product.

“To sustain the pace we are moving at, we need to make these key hires,” Case said.

Aside from raising capital, Nexstera has also been making partnerships — a big reason why the company aims to hire people before the end of the year.

According to Case, Nexstera has beta partnerships with Waste Management and Waste Connections, the No. 1 and No. 3 largest waste management companies in the United States, respectively.

“We are committed to partnering with these major players to expand into this field and deliver this crucial technology as quickly as possible,” Case said.

“These fires are only going to become more prevalent, because we continue to buy and use battery-powered devices, and we subsequently continue to dispose of them improperly. So solidifying thesebeta programs has been instrumental in our success and instrumental in securing investment for future build-outs of our technology.”

Case said the company plans to begin production in July 2025 and by the end of the year “have our products on 50 to 100 waste management automated side loader recycling vehicles in California.”

“We’re very strategic. We’re very clear with the steps we need to take in order to reach our larger milestones,” Case said when asked how the team is able to move at such a quick pace.

“Being transparent with our workflows and our daily and weekly tasks, and having those structured conversations is crucial, all the while making sure that everyone is delivering while still working towards the big picture vision.”

It isn’t often that a senior project can turn into a company, but in Nexstera’s case, it is the reality.

Case noted how since she was a kid, she knew she would “be leading an organization that had a global impact.”

“It is an innate feeling that has been with me since early childhood and so I knew that it was a matter of time,” she said.

It isn’t easy for women founders, considering that only 2.1% of venture capital funding went to solely founded women companies in 2023, but that never discouraged Case from going down the path.

“We deserve to sit at the same tables and have the same opportunities. Our abilities support that,” she said.

Nexstera is wholly focused on the waste management industry at the moment, but Case knows the company will expand its sights even further one day.

“It’s important to recognize that our technology goes far beyond just the waste industry. This is our first target, but we are changing the way that we manipulate sensors to provide noninvasive material detection, which can be applied to security, agriculture, healthcare, and an abundance of other industries that require this service and are doing it with either more expensive or highly regulated technologies,” Case said.

“We will be the solution.”

email: jmercado@pacbiztimes.com