Reinventing the outboard | BU today
Daylin Frantin and Ben Sorkin grew up together on Long Island and spent their summers upstate at Sorkin’s family cabin on Lake George, where they spent a lot of time together working on old engines. of boats.
“He always took me on weird trips to buy old outboard motors from the locals around the lake,” says Frantin. “As young as in college, he was fixing outboard motors and he made me his assistant. I liked the nautical part, but hated the repair part.
Now the friends run Flux Marine Ltd., a start-up that’s about to shake up the small marine engine market. “We always knew we were going to do it,” says Frantin, despite many setbacks and challenges. “The passion for the idea kept us going.
Sorkin went to Princeton to study engineering, interned at Tesla, and wrote his thesis on efficient motors. Frantin attended the Questrom School of Business at the BU, where he studied business administration, with concentrations in finance and accounting.
He left campus in 2019 with some unfulfilled liberal arts requirements because he and Sorkin had taken creating an electric speedboat seriously.
Such an outboard would be better for the environment and require less maintenance than those old gasoline engines they had been working on. Together with Sorkin’s friend at Princeton, Jonathan Lord, heavyweight crew member and fellow engineer, they founded Flux, a start-up now based out of the port of East Greenwich, RI, in 2018. One year later Flux was a full time job. – if it is not always paying.
A lot of people already have electric motors on a skiff or canoe, of course, small trolling motors that will eventually move them from one fishing hole to another. In the high end, you can buy a powerboat with an expensive inboard electric motor to get to the yacht club. The Flux team has a different vision: to provide a reliable and non-polluting electric motor for marine use on a mass market.
“Unlike our competitors, who just reuse gasoline outboards and put a new powerhead on them, we are designing this from scratch,” says Lord, “which allows us to take full advantage of all the benefits. of electric propulsion ”.
The name Flux Marine has a double meaning, one derived from the definition of “flux” – “We are making changes to the maritime industry”, says Frantin – and the other from engineering – a magnetic flux field. is responsible for generating torque in an electric motor. “Without flow there is no power.”
The advantages of the Flux engine are obvious, they say, among them:
- Clean energy: Outboards are notorious polluters, from exhaust fumes in the air to fuel leaks in the water. “Recreational boating releases a huge amount of unburned gasoline into the environment each year, with researchers suggesting a range of a low of 150 million gallons to a high of 420 million,” according to an article on the EastBayRI Website. “It is estimated that driving a family pleasure craft for an hour releases the same amount of pollution as driving a typical gasoline car for 800 miles. ”
- Superior performance: With the electric motor, says Lord, “you get high torque at low revs, which means it’s a whole different proposition from a gasoline engine. You can use a larger attachment so it is much faster from 0 to 20 and has a higher top speed with higher efficiency.
- Low maintenance: No moving parts or internal combustion means less maintenance. Plus, it’s easier to charge a boat than a car: most marinas and other mooring facilities have a power supply, so you can plug in your Flux motor directly for a charge that only takes a few hours. .
Sorkin is CEO of Flux Marine, Frantin is COO and Lord is CTO. But all 3 are deeply involved in all aspects of the business, which currently employs 15 people, including the founders and 5 other full-time employees. Andy Whitman (ENG’20) is their subsea systems engineer, and more than one BU student has done his internship as an intern.
It has been a long and sometimes rocky cruise. They’ve competed in competitions including finishing third and winning $ 4,000 in an Innovate @ BU New Ventures contest in 2018. Together and separately, they worked on the project at BU and in the Seaport, all around Rhode Island. , and even in Hawaii, wherever they could find cheap, or better yet, free workspace.
They’ve gone through incubators, grants and angel funding, business openings and mechanical setbacks. They got a grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and sold an engine to the East Bay Sailing Club in Bristol, RI. They designed their own battery systems and built prototype after prototype. The first testers of a 15 horsepower model included coaches from the East Bay Sailing Club and the Brown University sailing team.
Things started to break the way for Team Flux in the fall of 2019, when they competed and won the 19th Annual Wye Island Electric Boat Marathon in St. Michaels, Maryland. With Sorkin at the helm, a rigid inflatable Flux outboard motor won the 24-mile race in a monohull record (one hour and 22 minutes), despite high winds that caused some competitors to retire.
In early 2020, Sorkin and Lord quit daytime corporate jobs that put food on all their tables, just as the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Some Flux investors have given up, saying they need to focus on getting out of the basic assets crisis.
But since then, the company has especially had the wind in its sails. A round of funding last fall placed over $ 1 million in Flux’s bank account with angel investors, many of whom love boats.
We are making changes to the marine industry.
“The next step for us is to build this 70 horsepower engine that we call the showroom model,” says Frantin. “It will be a little different from the prototypes that we have built in the past, so there will be a significant amount of money to invest. Don’t really fine tune the system anymore, just put something in the water that works and will be beautifully packaged.
The Flux team used part of their funds to purchase two new boats, a 22ft Bowrider Scout Dorado and a 12ft rigid inflatable that could generally be used as a yacht tender, to mount their FM-X15, FM -X40 and FM-X70 engines lit for tests and demonstrations. They hope to market mainstream models next year. And they got a six-figure grant from the National Science Foundation to start developing even larger versions.
“It’s definitely a rush,” says Frantin. “We have a lot of very good supporters right now, and they expect a lot from us.”
Frantin says he came to the BU to study finance and accounting, with the idea of working in an investment bank or in corporate finance. “It wasn’t to do that. I can’t say my co-founders knew we were going to do it either. It started with Ben and started with his thesis at Princeton: How do you build a more efficient boat?
But they had won $ 315,000 in scholarships and competition prizes by the time of Frantin’s last class at Questrom. (He hopes to submit final papers soon and transfer credits for his degree.) “I only know of one other cohort that earned that much, and they were doctoral students at MIT. It is the progress that we have made that has given us the confirmation that we will do so. It won’t be easy and the material is difficult because there are a lot of risks, ”he says. “But we always knew we were going to do it.”
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