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September 17, 2018 Newsmakers

LiquidPiston Pres. Shkolnik embarks on crowdfunding campaign

Alexander Shkolnik

On the heels of receiving a $2.5 million contract from the Pentagon for the second phase of a project to build lightweight engines, LiquidPiston Inc. President Alexander Shkolnik said the startup has embarked on another round of fundraising. And it's using a non-traditional model to do it: crowdfunding. The Bloomfield-based company, which was established in 2011, develops high-efficiency rotary combustion engines.

During an initial crowdfunding campaign last year, LiquidPiston raised about $1.3 million from online investors through a website called Wefunder, according to Shkolnik. The company can now raise up to an additional $1 million.

Shkolnik grew up in Hartford and worked as a research and postdoctoral associate at MIT before founding LiquidPiston. He chose to headquarter the company in Connecticut, in part, because the state offers access to desirable machine shops and manufacturers like East Hartford's Pratt & Whitney, and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. in Stratford. Also, his grandparents live in the Hartford area.

Why did LiquidPiston recently launch a new round of crowdfunding?

We've been approached by a number of people looking to support what we do, asking how they can help. Since our first Wefunder campaign was oversubscribed, we decided to open it up recently for round two. We've been working with the team at Wefunder and have already hit $404,390 as of Sept. 11.

What are your overall goals for LiquidPiston?

In the near term we are determined to bring a first product to market as quickly as possible to demonstrate the key advantages of our compact and efficient engine technology. In the long term, we intend to design and develop engines for various applications and customers, basically introducing the engine anywhere that piston engines had been used historically.

This was the first company you've headed. What was the learning curve like moving from academia to entrepreneurship?

MIT was an amazing place. I was surrounded by entrepreneurs, to the point where if you were not founding or catalyzing a startup, you were kind of an outlier. I think MIT attracts folks who have it in their blood to want to change the world through science and technology, and with that drive, it's not a big step from MIT's academic environment into entrepreneurship.

Are there any industries, companies or government bodies you plan to pursue as potential partners or customers?

The technology is scalable — down to handheld lawn and garden equipment, and up to 1,000-plus horsepower, which could be used in helicopters for propulsion or anywhere where piston engines are used today. This is a $400 billion-per-year market.

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