Thomas Marge

A theoretical math PhD turned startup founder intent on making an impact in the renewarble energy industry.

Company: inBalance

Role: Co-founder, CEO

What drew you to this particular niche of renewable emergy?

I’ve been interested in renewable energy assets my entire life. As an undergrad at Johns Hopkins, I did wind generation forecasting research pretty intensely for 2 years. While I was in Cambridge (UK) doing my PhD in Theoretical Statistics, I carried on and continued to collaborate with the team on their projects.

In my PhD work, I realized that if I wanted the models I was working on to be implemented, I had to actually speak with asset utility managers – no one was about to pick up my mathematics paper and spontaneously implement the strategies I’d built haha.

What was that transition like from the academic research world to the world of startups?

As a technical CEO, I love that I get to directly touch the actual models our team is building. But it’s also been fantastic to see exactly how we fit into industry. There are so many strange industry quirks I never would’ve believed had I stayed in the world of research.

What has been the most significant hurdle you've faced so far?

Our bootstrapping period was tough; for 6 months, we were a team of 7 full time employees with $0 in the bank account. 3 of our guys outside our founding team turned down full-time, high paying jobs at really prestigious institutions – the types of roles graduates from Hopkins or Cambridge would land and feel they’ve “made it” in the energy and quant trading industries. It’s a huge personal risk that our team has taken betting on us over a notable trading company and I feel that pressure, that sense of responsibility. But on the upside, we never doubt our team’s commitment to and belief in our vision – they’ve been in it with us since day 1.

Also, we’ve had to work hard to build trust with users that we understand the market – that we took the time to learn its nuances so that we build usable, reliable forecasts. One of key team members in this is Ida Petajasoja. Her background in legal policy & environmental law has been absolutely invaluable as we prove to partners we understand every aspect of this space. We definitely recognize the need to have non-mathematicians on our team haha and I’m not sure what we’d do without Ida.

How do you feel you've grown in building this company?

I’ve definitely had to work through some imposter syndrome as a theoretical math PhD. I’ve thought, ‘Do I have permission to change the world? Is that something I’m allowed to do’?

Hopkins itself has very little startup programming built out – there have been less than 10 entrepreneurs who’ve gone through YC afterwards. They’ve been working to ramp it up but it’s still not nearly as large as peer institutions. So not having a whole lot of folks to look to as those who’d walked this same path has contributed to moments of self-doubt.

What’s the best piece of user feedback you’ve gotten so far?

That we’re a partner to asset managers who really understands the intricacies of these markets. This understanding demonstrates to managers that our models are ones they can have faith in.

What’s been the most exciting milestone you’ve hit as a team?

Definitely running our first pilot. We were in a position to reduce CO2 emissions in all of New England by 0.2% per day. We calculated it out and we saved roughly 2 lifetimes of emissions per team member in the pilot alone. It was wild and humbling to see what we were able to accomplish. From the start, we’d set out to have a tangible impact like that but didn’t realize we’d be able to make it happen so soon.

What’s a song or album that’s gotten you through 2020?

Oh, that’s a great question haha. *Goes to Spotify.* After Hours by The Weeknd – that’s definitely it. Save Your Tears is our hype up song before 8am investor calls haha.

Favorite emoji or gif?

Let me look at the emojis I used for my recent Bookface post, haha. I really like the rocket but if that’s too generic then this little green one, 🌱.